Diet affects our mood

03 - 09 - 2014

Fish, chocolate, potatoes... certain foods have a positive or negative effect on our mood. An interview with Jean-Michel Cohen, the well-known nutrition expert, and Catherine Grangeard, psychologist and psychoanalyst specialising in obesity issues, throws some light on this area.

How can food play a role chemically?

Food contains macronutrients such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins which are essential for the body. However, there are also lots of chemicals in food that are capable of changing our behaviour. These chemicals can be found in food and influence our entire body.

There is another mechanism at work too, which is just as powerful as the chemical mechanism, and that is the power of a food’s connotation. Food has associations that we learn within our family, or that may be regarded as part of our global cultural heritage. For instance, we used to be told that you should mainly eat meat in order to be strong, because we knew that it contained protein and were convinced that protein was needed in order to resist disease. A bowl of rice does not have the same connotation in China as it does in Europe. The cultural context is different.

A food’s symbolic value creates hormonal receptors in the brain that influence our responses. There are two effects: purely chemical effects and the way we see food.

Why doesn’t our brain have complete control over our mood?

Because the brain consists of two things: consciousness and chemistry. Consciousness is the result of the development of thinking. Chemistry brings together all the receptors that govern our sensitivity to emotions, reactions and good and bad moods. This makes programming more complex.

Drinking coffee is stimulating, chocolate makes you feel relaxed... what other types of sensation can food trigger?

Eating protein has the effect of waking you up. When you eat carbohydrates, it puts you in a good mood because they contain vitamin B, which probably boost your mood. Eating potatoes gives you a good night’s sleep. The effects won’t always be the same and the same food doesn’t have the same effect on everyone.

What is the ideal good-mood menu?

According to Jean-Michel Cohen, it’s a potato salad for vitamin B6, which puts you in a good mood, combined with fish and olive oil, providing omega 3 which has a beneficial effect on your concentration. For afterwards, he recommends chocolate ice-cream with a cup of coffee.

Potatoes as a new recipe for losing weight?

Jean-Michel Cohen has devised new healthy recipes. Potatoes cooked in various ways: boiled, steamed or baked. The advantage of potatoes, in addition to their low cost and the energy they give you, is that the potato can be prepared in endless different ways. You can eat potatoes in a salad, as mashed potatoes or baked in the oven.