Kitchen science  August 2010

A mouthful of good humor

Eating is one of the pieces in the puzzle for enjoying life. But it is not what we taste, but how we taste it, says psychotherapist Paolo Mordazzi.

The psychoterapist Paolo Mordazzi


Can chocolate really make us happy?

A recent study conducted at the University of California, Davis and San Diego campuses, supports the claim that “the food of the gods” may just be the food of the depressed.

How many times, when your are feeling down, do you end up reaching for a chocolate bar, a slice of chocolate cake or a cup of hot chocolate? Well, here is some good news. It seems as though “the food of the gods” may actually make us depressed. Researchers at the University of California, Davis and San Diego campuses, have just published a study in the “Archives of Internal Medicine”, supporting the claim that chocolate, the traditional home remedy for happiness, actually contributes to depression.
The study, conducted on 931 participants, revealed that people who ate about 8.4 portions of chocolate a month, showed signs of depression. The more they ate, the more depressed they were compared to people who only ate 5.4 portions. It is not clear, however, say the authors of the study, if depression stimulates one’s desire for chocolate, as an auto-therapy (there are many studies that say chocolate lifts our spirits) or if it is chocolate that can lead to depression.
So the next time that something goes wrong – a fight with a loved one or trouble at work – think before you reach for the chocolate.

Ma. Vi.

It’s true: there are foods that put us in a good mood. The trick is purely chemical. Certain ingredients work as natural antidepressants because they contain substances that can stimulate a series of endorphin neurotransmitters. From chocolate, which contains Phenethylamine, a molecule that our bodies release when we fall in love, to bread, pasta, rice and potatoes, that slowly release sugar into our blood stream. Other mood-altering foods include fish, some types of fruit like avocado, strawberries, bananas, kiwi, plums and citrus. Then there are peanuts, almonds, walnuts and vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant and spinach. Parmigiano-Reggiano is also a trigger. 

It is also true, however, that in order to experience well-being from food, we must be open to the experience. It’s a question of mind games. “It is necessary to lay the foundation in order to smile. It is not so much the food, as the experience of eating that is the key to the puzzle, allowing us to taste the serenity, joy and pleasures of life,” explains psychotherapist Paolo Mordazzi, teacher at the School of Psychotherapy in Arezzo and personal coach with offices in Parma and Milan. “It is not necessary to seek out foods that contain substances that will improve our mood: we must be open to smiling. All the foods that we like and that tickle our senses can make us smile. The foods that we find satisfying are those that cause the muscles in our face to smile and those in our bellies to relax. They can even cause your eyes to shine.” 


It is the concept of pleasure that guides our relationship with food: “only if we learn to control it, can it become a sort of boomerang that will come back to us. Otherwise, we risk becoming slaves of food. Let’s not overindulge and try to taste more.” The secret is that “we should not eat foods that are good for us, but the ones that we like: the foods we love.” As the Hippocrates, considered the father of modern medicine, once said: “It is better to eat food that is a slightly bad for us, but pleasing, than food that is undoubtedly healthy, but unpleasant.” 

To make sure that “the experience of eating is a precious moment of regeneration and positive emotions,” it takes more than just our favorite foods. One must be predisposed to happiness. Eating is more than just an action, other aspects influence the experience, like “eating with friends or family, a pleasant and relaxing environment, as well as the preparation of the meal.” 

Awareness is important: “We must prepare ourselves for eating so that we are predisposed to pleasure. Eating, for example, can be seen as an opportunity to cultivate friendships or one’s relationship with their relatives, or as a way to get back in contact with nature.” We all have the ability to learn to cook, even if you are haunted by the memory of your last burnt roast. “Cooking is the first step in changing our relationship with food from a passive one to an active one: cooking allows us to train ourselves to have more control over the experience of eating and makes us feel more secure and when we feel more secure, it is more likely that we will smile.” 

A mouthful of good humor 

Smiling and, above all, laughing have positive benefits on our body and spirit. Laughing is exercise for our soul and an elixir for long life. However, “it is the effect of our state of being, something that we can’t change voluntarily.” We have to condition ourselves. Sitting down to dinner is just one way to do this. 

Mariagrazia Villa

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“A mouthful of good humor”

  1. MJ says:

    I appreciate Mr. Mordazzi’s perspective on food as presented in this article. I am interested in getting in touch with him before my trip to Italy this fall- hopefully, including Parma & the Academia Barilla. Please advise me.. Sincerely, Mary Rehn

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