I’m a sucker for a good documentary, and the BBC didn’t let
me down a couple of weeks back when they aired ‘The Truth About Stress’ in which host Fiona
Phillips explored ‘perception, experience and management of stress’ - how every
day stresses affect us in a host of different ways.
Some of the more common symptoms were no surprise to me,
ranging from insomnia, increased blood pressure and nausea to loss of appetite
and avoidance of social situations. However,
one study in particular caught my attention; is there a link between how we’re
feeling and our sense of taste?
Fiona joined Professor Robin Dando of Cornell University, to conduct research on a stadium full of fans after a football match. Half were
over the moon that their team had won, while the other half were naturally
feeling less than thrilled about the outcome. Both sets of fans were given the
same product to sample - Lemon Curd Doughnuts - and were asked to score them on
two taste attributes; sweet and sour. They were also asked to rate how stressed
they were feeling.
The conclusion was fascinating.
The fans whose team had won the game (and who scored low for
stress), noted significantly higher levels of sweetness. In comparison, the
losing fans who were more stressed, noted lower perceptions of sweetness and
reported much higher levels of sour. Ultimately, this indicated that our mood
does indeed affect how we perceive taste.
If we’re feeling stressed our perception of sweetness is significantly
lower, therefore we crave higher volumes of sugar (that explains why scoffing a
sharing bag of Doritos and an entire box of Maltesers STILL doesn’t make us
feel any better after a bad day at the office!) Those of us who experience
consistently high levels of stress and regularly binge on intensely sweet
foods, are also more likely to suffer from diet-related illnesses such as
diabetes and heart disease.
Nutritionist Christine Bailey reports that mass consumption
of high fat, sugary comfort foods cause blood sugar levels to spike (then
subsequently plummet), which leads to increased anxiousness. Instead of
reaching for the cookie jar we should consider satisfying our cravings with
fruits, such as berries, that will give us the sweet taste we crave without the
high levels of fat and sugar. Pumpkin seeds, almonds and walnuts are a great
snack that not only help to stabilise blood sugar levels, but also contain
Omega 3 and Magnesium, which are great for brain health and alleviating
Here someone much more scientifically inclined explains more...
From a researcher’s perspective then, context is an
important part of the research design. As I’m currently in the process of
buying my first home, I’d better steer clear of any surveys for a while!
Laura Smith is Marketing Communications Executive at MMR