Food doesn’t just affect our waistline; it also affects our emotions and is even linked to depression. You can actually find particular foods that make you happy, and we’re not just talking about delicious ice cream!
Our brains are fuelled by food and control how we’re feeling so it makes sense that a poor diet can be detrimental to mental health.
Researchers have found that the best food to eat to boost your happiness is healthy food full of nutrients.
Fruits, vegetables, and food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, seeds, legumes and lentils, are excellent brain foods.
In fact, eating a healthier diet has many health benefits, including leaving you feeling less stressed, improving your quality of sleep, and increasing your concentration. This, in turn, helps you feel better mentally and have better well-being overall.
Clare Marcangelo is one of our amazing Healthy Mummy wellness experts. In a recent podcast, she explores the link between diet and depression. You can hear more about this topic in her podcast on the 3 Day Anxiety Program.
Clare says if we aren’t feeling good about ourselves and at risk of depression, we aren’t producing enough serotonin. This feel-good hormone stabilises our mood and controls our well-being and happiness.
The first place you should focus on if your mood is low is in your gut and what it’s absorbing suggests Clare. If you have an impaired gut function, like trouble going to the toilet or feeling sluggish and bloated, then you may have trouble absorbing nutrients properly.
“Without the right nutrition, you won’t be able to make the neurotransmitters in your brain, like serotonin, which help you feel good about yourself,” says Clare.
“This is why new mums tend to feel like this. After having a baby, the body is depleted of essential nutrients. But rather than address that, women are expected to just soldier on, and we normalise it.”
“It’s time we stop and support ourselves the best we can. We may not feel like we have the time to eat well or sleep, which is a vicious cycle, as we are too tired to make good healthy food choices.”
The best diet to improve your mood
A new paper published in Psychosomatic Medicine has revealed what foods make you happy and healthy and improve your mental health.
Experts analysed the findings from 16 studies with nearly 46,000 participants from the United States, Australia, and Europe, ranging from ages 21 to 85.
Each study was diverse and varied. Some asked participants to boost nutrient intake, follow a vegan diet or reduce fat intake.
Other studies restricted calories; some asked people to attend nutrition classes together, some asked participants to attend counselling, while some just took home a set of guidelines.
These diets were followed for periods ranging from a couple weeks to a few years.
Adopting a healthier diet overall made you happy.
The good news is, overall, adopting a healthier diet did lead to reduced symptoms of depression.
“Including more non-processed foods, more whole foods—fruits, vegetables—is very beneficial in terms of your psychological well-being. Particularly mood,” says Joseph Firth, the lead author of the paper and a research fellow at Western Sydney University.
When it comes to having one particular diet to help improve mental health, though, there isn’t one.
This is because certain diets may increase inflammation or disrupt our mitochondrial function and neuron production, as well as our gut microbiome.
“There’s no real evidence to suggest that one diet works better than another,” says Firth.
“It’s more important to actually stick to any healthy diet than it is to try and go for some aspirationally perfect one that’s ultimately unfeasible or disgusting for you to stick to.”
Dietary vitamins and minerals that will help make you happy.
You know about including a certain amount of carbs or healthy fats in your healthy eating meal plan. Still, if you want to help boost your mood, you should also look for these vitamins and minerals.
- Omega 3 fatty acids can prevent low mood in people as they affect the neurotransmitter pathways in the brain. Omega 3s are in oily fish, chia seeds and walnuts, to name a few.
- Vitamin D – found in oily fish, eggs and yoghurt. It can increase levels of serotonin in the brain.
- Selenium – found in Brazil nuts, oats, legumes, seafood and seeds. There is a link between low mood and reduced levels of selenium.
- Vitamin B – known to have an impact on those who suffer from depression. Making sure your levels are not low by consuming enough of this vitamin in foods will help reduce depression and negative thinking. Foods that contain B vitamins are eggs, broccoli, dairy and meat. It is important to note that alcohol consumption depletes our levels of vitamin B.
- Vitamin C is a great way to boost your immune system with antioxidants. But did you know your immune system and your brain are connected? You may often notice that when you’re not feeling well, you also don’t feel very happy, so it’s best to maintain a healthy immune system.
- Magnesium plays a role in hundreds of different metabolic functions and helps balance serotonin. You can usually find magnesium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, pumpkin seeds, avocados, whole grains, yogurt and kefir helpful additions to your diet.
You’ll likely find that any foods that make you happy will likely include some if not all of these dietary vitamins and minerals.
Suppose you struggle to get these vitamins and minerals in your healthy eating meal plan. In that case, you may want to discuss adding some supplements to your routine with your doctor.
5 healthy foods that will help make you happy
A critical factor when using foods to help with your mood is to ensure your meal plan includes a well-rounded diet. But you don’t just want to focus on the health benefits of the foods you eat; enjoying some ice cream from time to time because doing so will make you happy is perfectly fine.
But if you really want to help boost those serotonin levels, you’ll want to include these foods in your diet.
- Dark Chocolate – This cocoa-rich treat gives you an instant mood boost and improves blood flow to your brain, helping you feel more vibrant and energised.
- Avocados – Enjoying all those monounsaturated-fat-rich avocados, which are healthy fats, helps decrease anxiety symptoms.
- Leafy Greens – Including folic acid-rich foods like spinach and other leafy greens will help maintain healthy serotonin levels.
- Berries – The flavonoid anthocyanidin found in berries is known to have anti-inflammatory attributes, and inflammation has been linked to increased rates of depression. Darker coloured berries such as blueberries also contain high levels of vitamin C.
- Fatty Fish – Fish full of healthy fats like salmon, tuna, and more are full of Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent low moods.
You can also consider enjoying a smoothie or cup of green tea along with these foods. These drinks can contain vitamins and minerals that similarly impact brain function and mental health.