God answers our (usually unprayed) prayer for daily bread with bodies for our food and minds for our food. Tomorrow we’ll look at how He provides food for our souls. But today I’d like to briefly think about the link between food and mood. Does what we eat affect how we feel? Well, obviously there are many factors that influence our emotions:
- Our spiritual condition: The back-slidden Christian is not going to have the joy of a Christian living close to the Lord.
- Our circumstances: Maternity wards are usually happier places than funeral homes.
- Our health: Someone fighting terminal cancer or multiple sclerosis is not going to laugh as much as a fit and healthy 20-year-old.
- Our upbringing: Happier homes and marriages generally produce happier children and adults.
- Our models: It’s hard to be the life and soul of the party if we’re surrounded by sullen, pessimistic, and morose people.
- Our nature: Some are just constitutionally more bubbly and optimistic than others
- Our food: Our food?
Yes, food not only impacts our bodies and our minds but also our moods. In a way this should be obvious. If our food affects our thinking (see Brain Food), then it will also affect our feeling, because what we feel is hugely impacted by what we think. So food indirectly affects our moods (through our thought-processes).
But at times, food directly impacts our our moods. For example, our body’s blood/sugar levels have a big impact on our emotions. When we are hungry, when our blood/sugar levels are low, we tend to be cranky, fearful, weepy, irritable and confused. When we have eaten too much candy and ice cream, we can also have swings of emotion. This is a developing area of science, but God is allowing researchers to actually watch via PET scans the impact of certain foods upon certain parts of our brains and the subsequent emotions that are generated. Some of the early findings are:
- Soluble fiber foods such as oatmeal, strawberries, peas slow the absorption of sugar into the blood, smoothing out mood swings.
- Some foods like walnuts, salmon, and vitamin-D rich foods increase the number and efficiency of neurotransmitters (the brain’s messengers – see yesterday’s post)
- Tuna, and higher fish consumption in general, has been linked to lower rates of depression, and a stabilized mood (depression is virtually unknown among Eskimos!).
- Combining carbohydrates and proteins lifts serotonin levels, which in turn can have a calming effect upon us.
- Lentils and broccoli are an excellent source of folate, a B-vitamin that appears to be essential for balanced moods and proper nerve function in the brain. A Harvard study showed that 38 percent of depressed women are deficient in folate.
- Junk food contains a type of fat that does not help mood but rather raises stress levels.
Now, of course, this science can be abused. Let’s not start blaming all our bad moods on what we ate for lunch. As I said above, food is one of many factors in our feelings. If I’m feeling angry or depressed, I usually have to confess sin not change my diet.
However, we need not expect to have strong and stable emotional health if we break basic nutritional rules that God has built into our world. Unfortunately, many depressed and stressed-out people turn to Macdonalds rather than to the salad or sushi bar.