Feeling tetchy? Itching for a scrap? Maybe it’s something you ate. I have long believed in “food swings”– ply me with sweets and jam puddings and I’m a different person to my salad-eating alter ego. It’s not so much a sugar rush, like the ones that some parents of small children can testify to (and which the jury is still out on), but more of a sugar slump.
A growing body of research indicates that what we eat may also affect how angry we feel. Yet, for many, the food-mood link still has an aura of quackery. One recent University of California study showed that “greater trans fatty acids were significantly associated with greater aggression,” says lead author and professor Beatrice Golomb. “Trans fats interfere with omega 3 metabolism” – and apparently, the brain’s neurons need these essential fatty acids to keep us bright and snappy.
Lack of omega-3 has already been linked with depression and antisocial behaviour, and according to some experts, it seems many of us post-industrialists have woefully omega-3 deficient diets.
It’s not exactly “eat a sausage roll; punch someone,” but patterns of eating. Another study indicated that when levels of the brain chemical serotonin dip, from stress or not eating, it affects the brain regions regulating anger, potentially resulting in “a whirlwind of uncontrollable emotions”.
So why is the food-mood link not more widely accepted? Sketchy evidence, say some scientists. Correlation does not prove causation. For one thing, there’s a good argument that someone feeling cheesed off may be more likely to pig-out on transfat-loaded junk food in the first place.
Then there’s the contradictory flow of nutritional research, which, thanks to, “simplistic media coverage” pull us in confusing directions. Take one study that claimed to show that people who plumped for an apple instead of chocolate were more likely to be drawn to violent films. Apparently, exerting self-control led to feeling, well, a bit wound up.
This, of course, puts you in a tricky position. Succumb and eat the sugary snack laced with bad fats and you’re hopping mad; resist the urge, eat a carrot instead and you still feel angry. It’s an impossible call, and probably accounts for my rather over-complicated personal life. Interestingly, the researchers advise companies to capitalize on this rage by: “advertising anger-themed movies and video games next to healthy food aisles.” Talk about spreading the love.