We all know that certain foods affect our mood….

Research on the connection between a person's mood and the food he or she eats has revealed what many people have long believed, that eating a certain food can influence a person's mood—at least temporarily.

Food intake affects mood due to biochemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters. They can control mood, appetite, thoughts and behaviors. The most food sensitive neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.

Serotonin, released when eating carbohydrates, calms and relaxes us – and can also make us sluggish and drowsy. For relaxation and anti-stress, eat carbohydrates.

Dopamine and norepinephrine, released when eating protein, are responsible for alertness, increased energy with quicker more accurate reaction times. So you can boost your alertness with protein.

For the most beneficial effect of either carbohydrate or protein, eat them separately.

Caffeine is a stimulant and can be an effective antidepressant with one or two cups of coffee a day being beneficial. However caffeine is a diuretic and can dehydrate the body and cause mood swings.

Another group of chemicals that can influence mood and appetite are the endorphins. These are the body's natural opiate-like chemicals that produce a positive mood state, decreased pain sensitivity, and reduced stress. Endorphins are released when a person is in pain, during starvation, and during exercise—resulting in what is known as a "runner's high." Endorphins are natural tranquilizers, which are released with exercise and through the consumption of chocolate.

A food substance related to endorphins is phenylethylamine, which is found in chocolate. Phenylethylamine is responsible for the endorphin response that is similar to the feelings experienced with a hug or being in love. Chocolate has always been a highly valued commodity in many cultures, and there is some evidence that chocolate may improve mood temporarily due to its high levels of sugar and fat, phenylethylamine, and caffeine.

There are other chemicals and food factors that can affect our mood including the size of the meal. Overeating will make us drowsy whilst light meals can increase performance. Foods high in fat are more slowly absorbed by the body, slowing blood flow to the brain making us feel sleepy and sluggish.

So, it is well established that certain foods can affect our mood but ....

...can our mood affect the food???

Not only does our food affect our mood, but our mood affects the food we prepare and the food we’ll choose – and our mood can affect our perception of a meal.

In the movie “Like Water for Chocolate”, the central character, Tita, frustrated by her unrequited love for Pedro creates food so vibrant and sensual, so imbued with her feelings of longing, frustration, rebellion, and love, that it affects everyone who eats it.

Chef’s are well known to be passionate and emotional. Just look at Gordon Ramsey! Cooking is a passionate skill, and the care and emotions of the chef can be seen in the food he/she creates. When at their best, chef’s create works of art both visually and sensually.

As diners, our mood also affects the way we perceive a meal. Everyone has different tastes and perceptions – and as shown above, every chef and restaurant has better days than others. However our own mood can cloud our expectations and the perceptions of what we eat.

The Context of a meal is important – where we are, who we are with, what the occasion is, our frame of mood, our preceding experience – affects our perception of the quality of the food and wine we are consuming. Food or wine that has been rated exceptional by someone else may not impress us when we are forced to eat it with people we dislike or are in the wrong frame of mood.

Business meetings in particular, where tensions are high and where food and wine are secondary to accomplishing some corporate goal can ruin good food and wine. It is difficult to enjoy and objectively evaluate food and wine when we are distracted by other factors and events.

Pleasure, passion and emotion are important to the enjoyment of food. When we are happy and relaxed, food will taste better; the flavours will seem stronger and the elements more distinct. Moreover when we are in a happy frame of mood, we are more likely to forgive small errors. Some of the best meal experiences we will have will be due to the context as much as the quality of the food.

Good service and hospitality make us relaxed and happy – so improve the experience and the food. Conversely, poor service makes us angry and critical; we find fault in the little things and the meal will not be as good.

Hospitality is a fine art, mixing theatre, personalities, improvisation, chemistry, heat, egos and fresh produce… at least half the responsibility for having a good time falls on the customer. 

Stephen Downes – SMH Food Critic “Never Order Chicken on a Monday”

 We are all food critics – especially today, with the internet and social pages. So when we tell a friend about our experience, write a review on one of the food websites or write a blog – we should be careful to ensure that our experience is not biased by external influences. A food critic by his/her very nature, seeks and finds errors, faults and inconsistencies that others will miss. When acting as a food critic one must be as objective as possible.

  • Never critique a meal when you are hungry! Hunger affects our moods and food is consumed more quickly, giving complex flavours less time to develop. Hunger increases the proportion of saliva in our mouths altering the taste and texture of the food.
  • Only critique a meal when you are in a positive frame of mood – do not critique a meal after an argument or bad day at the office.
  • Actively seek out the “positives” about a meal – the negatives are much easier to see!
  • Don’t allow the food and/or service to be a scapegoat for another poor experience such as the 30 minutes it took you to find a parking space!
  • Share meals with true companions (“com panis” = with bread) – people you enjoy eating with – and not with other critics who will assist you in finding fault or, worse, someone you dislike or who makes you tense.
  • Don’t make your comments on just one visit – most reputable critics visit a restaurant 2 or 3 times before writing the review