For thousands of years, people have believed that food could influence their health and well-being. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, once said: “Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food”
In medieval times, people started to take great interest in how certain foods affected their mood and temperament. Many medical culinary textbooks of the time described the relationship between food and mood. For example, quince, dates and elderberries were used as mood enhancers, lettuce and chicory as tranquilizers, and apples, pomegranates, beef and eggs as erotic stimulants.
The past 80 years have seen immense progress in research, primarily short-term human trials and animal studies, showing how certain foods change brain structure, chemistry, and physiology thus affecting mood and performance. These studies suggest that foods directly influencing brain neurotransmitter systems have the greatest effects on mood, at least temporarily. In turn, mood can also influence our food choices and expectations on the effects of certain foods can influence our perception.
The relationship between food and mood in individuals is complex and depends on the time of day, the type and macro nutrient composition of food, the amount of food consumed, and the age and dietary history of the subject.
The effects of the meal differed for female and male subjects and for younger and older participants. For example, females reported greater sleepiness after a carbohydrate meal whereas males reported greater calmness. In addition, participants aged 40 years or older showed impairments on a test of sustained selective attention after a carbohydrate lunch. Furthermore, circadian rhythms influence our energy levels and performance throughout the day. “Early birds” feel most productive the first part of the day and their food choices become particularly important during lunch and throughout the afternoon. “Night Owls” feel most energetic later in the day and should pay attention to their breakfast choices as they can increase or decrease energy levels and influence cognitive functioning.
If you are an evening person and you skip breakfast, your cognitive performance might be impaired. A large breakfast rich in protein, however, could improve your recall performance but might impair your concentration. This illustrates the complexity of relationships between food and mood and the need to find a healthy balance of food choices.
If you want more information on what food creates what kind of mood, see
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