Americans are more likely to turn to food as a mood-booster above any other coping mechanism, new data suggests.
A recent survey asked 2,000 respondents about the strategies they use when they’re in a bad mood, finding that 43 percent will “eat something” to feel better.
And the most popular food category they reach for? For half of all respondents, it was “sweet treats,” with “salty snacks” trailing behind as a distant second (38 percent).
Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Hope Foods, the survey also found that other commonly-recommended methods for lifting one’s spirits didn’t prove to be nearly as popular.
For example, only 32 percent of respondents say they stretch or exercise, while even fewer (29 percent) will go outside for some fresh air.
But although eating turned out to be the most popular pick-me-up in the short term, only 25 percent of those polled believe that their diet has a major impact on their long-term mental health.
Instead, they were more likely to blame a bad mental health day on stressful life events (43 percent), poor sleep (34 percent) and stress in general (34 percent) before citing the effects of a poor diet (25 percent).
Similarly, respondents also cited stress (42 percent) and lack of sleep (42 percent) as bigger mood-killers than hunger (35 percent) or even digestive problems (15 percent).
When asked what steps they’ve taken to improve their mental health on a long-term basis, Almost 4 in 10 respondents preferred to focus on their sleeping habits (38 percent) and workout routine (36 percent).
So far, the results of those efforts appear to be mixed; 45 percent of respondents said they frequently struggle with issues of mental illness, while another one in ten only feel like they’re in an actively good mood for one day out of the week.
"What we choose to eat can have a huge impact on how we feel," says Integrated Nutrition Health Coach Nicole Pavlica. "Serotonin, the hormone that influences mood and feelings of happiness, is regulated by the gut. When the microbiome of the digestive system is optimized, all the body's systems work better—including the brain."
Not surprisingly, most respondents were not aware of just how deep this connection goes; while three in five respondents had heard the term “gut-brain axis” before, only one in five felt confident that they knew what it meant.
Similarly, less than half of the respondents specifically consume foods, drinks, or supplements for their gut health, while another one in 10 respondents don’t think about gut health at all.
That may change as awareness of the gut-brain axis continues to spread, as 44 percent of survey-takers already believe it’s lack of education that has the biggest negative impact on mental health.
But even if they’re fuzzy on the science, 72 percent of respondents admitted that eating healthier often does make them feel better.
“Eating a variety of nutritionally dense foods and limiting consumption of damaging foods, like sugars and highly processed foods, helps the body and mind operate at their best," Pavlica added. "You can support your physical and mental health by dramatically increasing your consumption of colorful vegetables at every meal, and by taking a daily probiotic. These support the microbiome and provide the body with needed nutrients."
And if faced with the knowledge that their all-time favorite food was harmful to their health, three out of four people said they would cut back—or else give it up entirely.
AMERICA’S MOST POPULAR SHORT-TERM MOOD BOOSTERS
- Eat something 43 percent
- Take a bath 40 percent
- Distract yourself with a book, TV show, etc. 37 percent
- Cook or bake 37 percent
- Meditation/deep breathing 37 percent
- Cleaned or tidied up 34 percent
- Exercise or stretches (e.g. yoga) 32 percent
- Go outside for fresh air 29 percent
- Talk to a friend or family member 26 percent
- Cuddle with a pet 18 percent
- Have a cocktail or other alcoholic beverage 10 percent
HOW DO AMERICANS TRY TO IMPROVE THEIR MENTAL HEALTH?
- Changed my sleeping habits 38 percent
- Changed my workout routine 36 percent
- Changed my diet 35 percent
- Gave up a bad habit 34 percent
- Reduced sugar intake 32 percent
- Taken vitamins or supplements 27 percent
Click here to see the full infographic.