Using food to reduce stress: Effects of choosing meal components and preparing a meal

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12 Scopus citations


Many people experience stress as a part of their daily lives. Chronic stress can have an impact on physical and mental health. Since food and eating are generally associated with positive moods, we explored how aspects of meal preparation can relieve stress and improve measures related to mood.Our main objectives were to determine whether choosing meal components and/or preparing a meal would improve measures related to mood and reduce stress.Participants came individually to our lab at dinner time. We measured stress (salivary cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure) and took measures related to mood on arrival. We then induced stress (Trier Social Stress Task) and took measures related to stress and mood again. Each participant was assigned to one of four experimental conditions. In the prepare-choice condition participants prepared a meal (pasta. +. sauce. +. inclusions) and had control over selection of meal components. In the prepare-no-choice condition participants prepared their meal, but had no control over the menu. In the choice-no-prepare condition participants had control over the menu, but the meal was prepared by someone else. In the no-prepare-no-choice condition participants were provided with a meal prepared by someone else. Food preference questionnaires conducted before the stress induction ensured that all participants received foods they liked.Having no choice produced greater reductions in the mood-related measures of anxiety and anger compared with the choice condition. Systolic blood pressure was reduced more in the no choice than in the choice condition after the meal. Preparing versus not preparing had little effect on measures related to stress and mood.People may find choosing to be a depleting task on their limited psychological resources; hence, choosing can add to their general stress. Not faced with choosing, one avoids this unnecessary stress. Consuming a meal without the burden of choosing has potential as a stress-reduction strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-250
Number of pages10
JournalFood Quality and Preference
StatePublished - Jan 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This material is based upon work supported by NASA under award No. NNX12AE56G . This research has been supported in part by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station . We thank Matt Niezgoda, Sara Olson, Samantha Bzdawka, Claire Burrington, Sean Lee, Dana Osdoba, Zach Baggio, Amanda Schlink, and Stephanie Elsbernd for their help conducting the studies; Britt Ahlstrom, Rachel Burns, and Heather Scherschel for their input on the experimental design; and Megan Heyman and Zhongnan Jin for their help with statistical analysis.


  • Cortisol
  • Emotion
  • Food choice
  • Mood
  • Stress
  • Trier Social Stress Task


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