You are what you eat and, as the classic dad joke goes, you sure seem to eat a lot of nuts — also hamburgers — just before you feel angry. As it turns out, the connection between food choice and mood is nearly impossible to disprove. While gluten does not objectively make people feel tired and sugar rushes are more myth than fact, decades of research has shown that foods change moods and moods change food choice.
You’re more likely to wolf down candy when you’re feeling sad, for instance, and stick to healthy snacks on less gloomy days. Red wine will make you feel more relaxed, but it’ll also make you less fun to be around (try a white, instead). Fast food increases your mental distress while sticking to fruits and small servings of pasta seem to help. Think of food as a mood-altering drug that you’re taking very irresponsibly and in very small doses. That’s a behavior you might want to consider changing.
How Food Impacts Mental Health
Although several studies have examined how food choice impacts mental health, perhaps the most ambitious was a 2017 study that managed to linked specific eating habits to psychological distress. Researchers first asked each participant how often they ate certain foods. They then measured their levels of distress by asking specific questions, such as how often they felt nervous, hopeless, depressed, or restless during the last 30 days. The results suggest that certain food choices are correlated with mental distress and that some correlations are far stronger than others.
Interestingly, the effects differed by age group. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 were most influenced by meat and fast food (neither were great for their mental health), while adults over the age of 30 were most influenced by coffee (low intake made them even more unhappy than high intake).
Pick Your Poison: How Alcohol Impacts Mood
After you’ve modified your diet to optimize your mental health, perhaps you’ll fancy a strong drink. Choose wisely. One recent study in The British Medical Journal interviewed 30,000 social drinkers and found that different types of alcohol evoke different positive and negative emotions. Hard liquor imbues those who sip responsibly with energy but increases aggression. Reds make you feel sexy yet sad; whites render you confident yet queasy. Crack a beer if you want to chill out, the results suggest, but know that you risk chilling out so much that you fall asleep on the couch.
Happy People Don’t Eat Chocolate
Just as foods influence mood, studies suggest our moods influence our food choices. There are certain foods we choose when we’re feeling happy that we’d never choose when we’re feeling sad, and vice versa. One striking example of this phenomenon appears in a 2007 study, which examined the chocolate versus raisin-eating behaviors of happy, sad, and neutral people. Happy people, it turns out, eat a lot of raisins. And as anecdotal evidence suggests, sad people hit the chocolate — hard.