Tomato Fennel Soup
Oprah's chef, Art Smith's tomato fennel soup in an undated file photo. REUTERS

An unpleasant mood would likely influence a person to seek comfort in mood-boosting foods, which are usually easy-to-prepare and rich in carbohydrates. However, a recent study at the University of Minnesota states that good feeling swings back shortly, and so there is no need to perk oneself up with a treat. The research, funded by NASA, aimed to find out whether eating comfort foods are really mood soothing. If so, dietary changes can be made to help astronauts cope with long and strenuous space voyages. Astronauts have a variety of food during space explorations. However, they are subject to stressful work conditions.

For the study, a survey on 100 individuals was conducted for several weeks. The subjects were asked to choose three different foods they believe would make them feel better if they feel down. They were also instructed to name the foods they liked but not necessarily the ones that would improve their mood. To induce negative feelings, the researchers let the subjects watch an 18-minute video of scenes compiled from different feel-bad films. Next, the viewers answered a mood questionnaire, and all seemed to feel upset that some had to quit the study soon. After that, some of the subjects were served their choice of comfort food. Another group ate foods they liked, but not the mood boosters, while some were given granola bars. The rest were not served any food at all. The laboratory was filled with different aromas of the subjects' favourite comfort foods during the study. Every now and then, food was served to the subjects under the pretext of thanking them for their time. They were again given another mood feedback form. All felt better, but there seem to be no considerable mood difference among the groups who were given comfort food, other foods, or no food at all.

Other experts think that the study was limited as the subjects' unpleasant moods were induced in the laboratory and were short-lived. Professor Larry Christensen of the University of South Alabama noted that people who try seek comfort in food are usually the ones who have felt awful for some time.

The study's lead researcher, Dr. Traci Mann, said that findings helped shed light on the idea that comfort food is exceptionally soothing. The study was short-term because the authors focused on measuring the psychological effects of these foods on mood. The biochemical effects of food components were secondary. Details about the Minnesota research was published in the journal of Health Psychology.