Power of the Pickle: The Food Mood Connection

Power of the Pickle: The Food Mood Connection

We are happily preparing for the start of our Food for Thought family workshop! I thought it’d be fun to share one of my most helpful parenting tools… Pickles!

A profound insight that I’ve gained from spending time (both professionally and personally) in the company of children, is the powerful connection between diet and behavior. Over the years I have seen consistent patterns between the food children eat and their performance in school.  There’s no doubt in my mind that the food we eat is directly correlated with our mood and behavior.

As a classroom teacher, I learned very quickly that you simply cannot give a child a cupcake + candy and expect her/him to be productive or able to focus. It’s for this reason that we always had birthday celebrations at the end of the day.

This seems like a simple concept, but it has important implications for our children. We need to make sure that the food we feed them is in line with our expectations for their behavior.

I met my husband in college while he was studying nutrition. He introduced me to the macrobiotic philosophy and it changed the way I viewed my diet. While we no longer adhere to a strict macrobiotic diet, we’ve been greatly influenced by the importance of making “balanced” food choices. Yet, the type of balance I am writing about is a bit different from eating balanced meals based on the food groups (although that is important too). From the macrobiotic perspective, all foods contain either yin or yang energy.

One extreme of this continuum are foods that are very yin, such as sweet foods that contain refined sugar or sweeteners. On the other side of the spectrum, there are foods that are very yang such as meat, eggs, and salt. If you eat food from one extreme, you are likely to crave foods from the opposite side of the spectrum. It’s for this reason that hamburgers and soft drinks go so well together. The goal is to keep our food selections balanced meaning not too yin and not too yang. Below is a chart that helps to give a visual reference.

Playful Learning: Finding-Balance

*Source: The Self-Healing Cookbook: Whole Foods To Balance Body, Mind and Moods by Kristina Turner (2002)


Most of you may know that while we have very clear values in our family, I am not one to create forbidden fruits (because they have backfired on me a number of times). Rather than not allowing certain foods, we encourage open dialogue about the foods we eat and how they make us feel.

We also talk about how to “balance” the food we eat when necessary. For this reason pickles have become life-savers in our family. When my oldest daughter (who is particularly sensitive to food) comes home from a birthday party where she had a lot of sweets, and starts to exhibit yin behaviors (see the food-mood connection lists below) we encourage her to grab something salty (she happens to love pickles, but olives and sauerkraut are great too) to balance out all of the sweets she ate. Like clockwork, after she has a pickle or two, she instantly starts to feel more grounded.

The Food Mood Connection

Eating foods from either extreme (see chart above) can cause mood swings and make you feel off balance. A good way to evaluate your diet and find ways to use food to even out your moods is by understanding how your food makes you feel.

Too Expanded (Yin)

Below are some symptoms you will feel if you eat too many sugary foods:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Confused
  • Worried
  • Anxious
  • Overly Sensitive
  • Sad
  • Hysterical (break-downs)

Too Contracted (Yang)

Below are some symptoms you will feel if you eat too much meat, salt, etc.:

  • Aggressive
  • Frustrated
  • Stubborn
  • Angry
  • Compulsive
  • Manipulative

Interesting food for thought, huh? The goal is to bring this awareness to family conversations so that our children can start to make connections between the food they eat and how how they feel. That way they can make healthy decisions on their own, which is the ultimate goal.

Oh, and by the way… We have a great pickle recipe, here.


Related Posts