Eat Yourself Happy

Anyone for cake?

Anyone for cake?

Food can make us happy – yes, this is a wonderfully welcome scientific fact. Now, before you begin ranting in the comment section, I am not advocating comfort eating. Over-eating is, of course, unhealthy and as earlier blogs have mentioned, a healthy lifestyle is one key way to boost your happiness. But that doesn’t mean we can’t experience happiness when eating in a normal, healthy way. Whilst the media continues to project the image that happiness is only achievable when you can slip your bony body into a size zero dress, extensive research by neuroscientists, psychologists, nutritionists and doctors have proven otherwise. Here are some of the top ‘happy’ foods currently known to science:

  • Walnuts – containing antioxidants, which protect our cells, and magnesium, which combats depression, these brainy little nuts help monitor our blood sugar levels, preventing us from experiencing a mood-plummeting sugar crash. Magnesium is also found in legumes (peas, beans and peanuts) if you’re struggling to work out how to get walnuts into your daily diet.
  • Bananas – as well as their famous potassium, bananas also contain tryptophan. Basically it’s a brain chemical which regulates our mood and also turns into serotonin, a happy hormone. Not only that but they are wonderfully void of vitamins which are linked to depression all the while being high in Vitamin B, which our bodies like!
  • Pork and beef – yep, red meats are good for you! Predominantly thanks to an amino acid called l-glutamine which helps our brain produce a neurotransmitter called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). Too many scientific terms? Basically pork and beef contain a chemical which has a calming effect on the body and is sometimes referred to as Nature’s Valium.
  • Oysters – not only are these an aphrodisiac but they also improve our heart’s pumping performance. Apparently this increase in circulation makes us feel better. The zinc in oysters is also linked to the part of our brain which regulates our mood.
  • Coffee – I’m not just including this because I drink several cups every morning but coffee has been proven to reduce depression and the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Us caffeine fiends are also have a more positive outlook on life, after the coffee, of course. I suppose I’m also obligated to tell you that it works best in small doses.
  • Chocolate – ok, dark chocolate. But chocolate none the less. The cacao in this tasty treat contains a high quantity of antioxidants, protecting our bodies from day to day damages caused by other food, medicine, and pollutants.
  • Berries – the bright anthocyanin which give this delightful fruit group their colouring is also an antioxidant. They also improve your brain functions and can delay aging along with their ability to moderate our mood and reduce risk of stress.
  • Mushrooms – filled with selenium, these little fungi offer our bodies a mineral many of us are deficient in. Selenium is not only an antioxidant but it also reduces our risk of depression, fatigue and anxiety. Plus, it contains Vitamin D so can top up your levels if you can’t get out in the sun and will stop you getting SAD (read more about Seasonal Affective Disorder here).
  • Quinoa – a flavonoid in this superfood has been proven to have anti-depressant effects. And no, I didn’t know what a flavonoid was either: it’s a plant pigment compound.
  • Spinach – loaded with antioxidants and also increasing our brain’s production of serotonin, this green vegetable is just all goodness! It also contains folic acid which supports our regulation of serotonin.
  • And finally, all food we like! – It doesn’t matter if this means biting into a healthy apple or munching on a block of cheese (I’m guilty of doing both on occasion), at the end of the day, each of us as individuals enjoy eating food. At least, we should. Everyone has a different type of comfort food, often with a distant link to a memory in our past, and it’s not bad to indulge yourself every now and then. But remember, everything in moderation!

So food makes us happy in the same way experiences and people do: chemical reactions in our brain. Specifically, when it comes to food, these reactions tend to keep our mood balanced and our bodies healthy. I have previously written about the fact that ‘hangry’ is an actual thing because food regulates the messages our brains is producing and therefore controls our mood. Comfort foods may also positively influence our mood not necessarily because they’re filling our bodies with goodness (unless your comfort food is a spinach and walnut salad) but because they are reviving a distant memory, providing literal comfort, and generally making our taste buds dance for joy.

We need food to live, of course. But don’t see it simply as a life-giving substance. Shake off the media pressure to feel guilty whenever you eat a bar of chocolate. True, it is better to stick to healthier options and most of the above items would fall into that category even without the happiness benefit. But there’s more to life than eating healthy food. Every now and then, eat what makes you happy (note that above is included coffee, pork, chocolate and berries …). So consider adding some of these both happy and healthy ingredients into your daily diet. Try it and see if you notice a difference in your mood and happiness levels. Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below.