Five Foods That Make You Happy
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own. Amen sister!
When we feel low, it is natural to reach for food to comfort us. When life gets tough the tough get eating.
Can certain kinds of food really make us feel better? Yes, experts say.
“Foods are chemicals,” explains Gary Wenk, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State University and author of Your Brain on Food. “Because these chemicals resemble the ones found in our brains, they have a powerful impact on our mindset.”
What kinds of food make us happy? Before you reach for junk food like doughnuts or potato chips – hang on a minute. “Comfort” foods may make you feel better for the short term but later can make you feel downright cranky. According to research by the Public Health Nutrition, people who indulge in junk food often are 51% more likely to develop depression than those who rarely or never eat it.
So that got me to wondering which foods make us want to jump for joy. Here’s a list of five foods to get you munching down and singing zippity do da in no time:
Seeds and Nuts
Tryptophan helps produce serotonin, which makes us feel relaxed. Food that has tryptophan can help fight depression, insomnia, and anxiety. Most people know that milk, bananas, and avocados contain tryptophan, but so do protein-rich nuts such as cashews, pistachios, and almonds as well as sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
Enjoy that cup of Joe. Drinking four or more cups of coffee a day was associated with a 20% lower risk of depression in women, according to 2011 research in the Archives of Internal Medicine. That’s because caffeine activates serotonin and dopamine release in the brain.
Want to be happy as a clam? Eat them. Even canned clams such as those used in clam chowder provide plenty of vitamin B12 which help produce feel-good dopamine and serotonin. In fact, a deficiency of this important vitamin can lead to depression. Other seafood, including trout and salmon, as well as beef, chicken, dairy products, and fortified cereals also contain a good dose B12.
Eat three servings of fruits and vegetables a day for a bit of that Pollyanna attitude. According to a 2013 study in Psychosomatic Medicine, optimistic people had 13% higher carotenoid levels in their blood (an antioxidant particularly abundant in sweet potatoes and carrots) than those with a more negative outlook. Folate helps produce that good ol’ serotonin that regulates mood and can be found in spinach, brussels sprout, broccoli, avocado, asparagus, and kale. Fruits like blueberries and oranges contain high amounts of antioxidants and vitamin C which both help reduce stress.
I wrote a whole blog about how chocolate makes us happy. That’s because chocolate contains a variety of chemicals, some of which make us feel good by boosting our endorphins (the feel-good hormones). Tryptophan is also found in chocolate which, as I mentioned earlier, is used by the brain to make serotonin and can help us feel relaxed and happy. Caffeine gives us an extra boost of energy. Scientists at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego even suggested that chocolate contained substances that produce a cannabis-like effect on the brain. Who doesn’t want a bit of happy high?
So next time you’re feeling a little down in the dumps, go ahead and chomp on one of these five foods and you just might find yourself singing, “My oh my, what a wonderful day!”
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic and stock images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Julie, I love how you back up your article with research. I absolutely love nuts and chocolate, especially when they are mixed together. But it is so true, when we don’t eat correctly, we are not happy and even sleep is a fleeting joy. Great article.
I love thinking about food as chemicals, in fact I love to think of it more like medicine. Knowing what we are putting into our bodies and the reaction it creates gives us so much more choice and control. I was ill last year and became very sensitive to a lot of foods and I learnt so much about how sensitive our bodies are to these chemicals. Thank you for a very thought provoking post.
Glad you enjoyed!
Coffee!!!! something I gave up when i went alkaline and had one the other day and enjoyed it
I eat all the others most days- maybe need more fish- especially as I have just had a low B12- clams in can- not sure if we have then in Australia. Think our clams might be called pippies. xx
Could be. When I visited Australia some years ago, I noticed we had some different words for foods. Like our ketchup equals your tomato sauce. And I’m glad that most studies are saying now that coffee is healthy for you because I can’t imagine my morning without it.
I’m going to try eating a better mix of these goodies. I have so much trouble with depression and mental fogginess. Maybe they’ll help.
Especially the chocolate! 😉
Yup, chocolate always makes me feel a little bit better. I know from lots of experience!