Everyone has that one dish they can eat over and over and over again without ever getting tired of it. For some, it’s homemade mac and cheese, for others, it’s fish tacos, no matter how healthy or how simple the recipe is or isn’t, food is still important nonetheless. It’s about much more than simply getting the nutrition you need to feel energized for the day, which is why there is a major focus of study on cuisine from the scientific to the socio-cultural aspects it represents.
Regardless, there are intricacies to food, and it’s good to know why we love food so much, and not just mowing down on our plates without appreciating it. It’s good to have a deeper appreciation of it so we can understand the reasons why that homemade mac and cheese reminds us of our childhood, or why chicken is your go-to for nearly every dinner meal. Here are 4 reasons why delicious food can improve your mood and why it’s so important to recognize.
The act of cooking is therapeutic
Some people love to eat food, some people love to cook food. Those seem to be the two camps, with a lot of overlap in between. For those that love to cook, there are probably some abstract reasons you can’t explain that makes cooking such an enjoyable hobby or process. This is often why cooking is considered therapeutic. It gives us time to reflect and allows us to fully immerse ourselves in something that requires a tender balance of love and focused rigidity. Cooking is therapeutic because it gives you time to appreciate the process of turning raw ingredients into an entirely new form, which is amazing from a taste perspective as much as it is a labor of chemistry. Even if you don’t love cooking, it’s hard to ignore how it can help you forget about your stressful workday and focus on making your hollandaise sauce just right for your eggs benedict.
Eating healthier helps more than just our physical health
Eating well is often associated with weight loss, improving your form, making sure you’re taking care of your glucose levels, getting enough nutrients, etc., etc., but there are more benefits beyond our physical and biological health to food. A paleo honey beef chipolata recipe isn’t just about the ratio of carbs to fat to protein or the vitamin content, it’s about how it makes you feel when you take that first bite. The feeling of ecstasy is a legitimate chemical process that makes our brains produce serotonin when we feel excited to smell or taste something delicious. Vitamins and nutrients help our brains work well, but it’s also about the pure enjoyment of cuisine that makes delicious food so valuable to our mood.
Delicious food can remind us of better times
Harking back to the introduction and the reference to comfort food, there are undoubtedly ties to the things you ate as a kid that reminds you of better times. Similarly, things you ate while on a special date, or a friend’s birthday, or generally good times you’ve had in your life. A scent is one of the strongest senses our body has and provides us an unusual ability to recall memories based on smell alone. Food allows us to inhale the scents that take us back in our minds to better times, which is an inevitable way that it can help improve our mood.
Many of the functions of food have been outlined here so far, and they can all pay tribute to the fact that they help act as a social practice. Feeling good through socialization like dinner with friends, recalling memories, and feeling better because of expectations of food are all examples of social practice. Food is a social practice, it always has been since our early days as Homo sapiens sitting around the campfire together. We usually enjoy a meal at a restaurant or Thanksgiving dinner not for the food alone, but because it allows us to mingle and catch up with friends, dates, and family. This is a core value that food offers to us that helps make it so important in our lives for the better.
Food isn’t just about the scents, the spices, the tastes, and the construction, it’s about the hard to describe moments and emotions it makes us feel. Food can help improve our mood, but it’s not just because of how it helps fuel our bodies, but for the way it helps fuel our souls, our hearts, and our minds.
Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.