There are days when I just know that my path to happiness exists in a chocolate donut, but I also know that this type of happiness will not be lasting and this is not ultimately the way to a happy life. Lots of research exists showing the connection between food and our mood or happiness level though and eating healthy food can increase that happiness level. Mood, which includes happiness, is regulated by brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. There are types of healthy food that can stimulate these brain chemicals thus giving us a mood boost. Eating your way to a happy life means including foods in your diet that will trigger the release of these brain chemicals as well as foods that will help you sleep better and that have the nutrients needed for sustained energy. Because after all who feels happy when they are tired, fatigued and cranky? Not me!
Happiness Foods to Boost Your Mood
When looking for healthy food to support your way to happiness, here are some of the categories to include.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Studies show that a lack of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet can lead to a depressed mood. Omega-3 is essential to brain functioning and can be found in AFA bluegreen algae, fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, flounder, haddock, and herring, dark-green leafy vegetables, various seeds like flax, chia and hemp, nuts, and olive oil.
Tryptophan – The nonessential amino acid tryptophan helps in producing serotonin, the brain chemical that produces feelings of calmness and happiness and regulates mood. You can get tryptophan from eating nuts like pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and cashews and from “good” carbs from foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Whole grains have the added advantage of providing fiber that helps keep blood sugar levels stable which means more energy for you. You will also get tryptophan from protein foods like red meat, dairy products, soybeans, tuna, shellfish, and turkey. Elizabeth Somer, RD, Food & Mood author, advises not eating protein foods at the same time as your whole grains however if you are looking for a mood boost as the amino acids from proteins can interfere with tryptophan going to the brain and lead to a decrease in serotonin.
PEA – PEA (phenylethylamine – from amino acid phenylalanine) is a chemical that affects energy, mood, and attention. It is important for brain functioning and is associated with feelings of pleasure and mental acuity. A lack of PEA can negatively affect learning new things, making quick decisions, forming new memories, and finding pleasure in life. AFA blue-green algae and cheddar cheese are two of the best healthy food sources for PEA.
B Vitamins – Vitamin B9, also known as folate, helps the brain to produce serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine which are all mood affecting brain chemicals. Healthy food sources for folate include dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach and Brussel sprouts, beans, asparagus, peanuts, liver, lentils and sunflower seeds. Vitamins B6 and B12 are also important B vitamins for sustaining mood. Foods high in vitamin B6 include papaya and oranges, tuna, chicken, turkey, rice and wheat bran, garlic, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Vitamin B12 food sources include cottage cheese, liver, tuna, cheese, eggs, yogurt and AFA bluegreen algae. B vitamins are naturally produced in our intestines so good digestive health is important to keep the production of B vitamins up. This could include taking probiotic supplements such as acidophilus and bifidus to support the digestive system.
Vitamin D – Vitamin D aids in increasing serotonin, melatonin and dopamine levels that all affect mood. Eating healthy food that provides 600 IU a day of vitamin D can help lower the risk of depression. Food sources for vitamin D include fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel and raw fish gives you more than cooked fish so if you are a sushi lover you are in luck for vitamin D. Vitamin D is also available in fortified cereals, dairy and soy products, and mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light. One cup of mushrooms exposed to UV light provides 100% of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin D, plus mushrooms have a wide variety of other benefits especially for immune system support. An easy way to get the nutritional benefits of mushrooms is with this mushroom and algae supplement that combines organic wild reishi, maitake, cordyceps, wild black trumpet, and Poria cocos mushrooms. Our bodies also create Vitamin D from exposure to sunshine so getting outdoors for a while every day is important to getting your vitamin D.
Selenium – The trace mineral selenium has also been linked to mood through research studies and not getting enough can lower mood even to the point of depression. Foods such as oysters, clams, crab, sardines and fish, nuts and seeds, lean meats, whole grains, beans and legumes are all good food sources for selenium.
Now that you have some ideas of healthy food that can help you with a happy life, put away those donuts and other comforts foods that only have a short-term happiness span. Eating healthy, living a healthy lifestyle and supporting the brain chemicals that boost mood is the true path to happiness. It ensures we stay active and feeling good as we get older which improves our quality of life. And isn’t that what real happiness is all about?
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