YOU don’t have to tell us that food is the secret to all happiness. Plonk us down in front of a three-course meal, hand us a fork and watch the happiness unfold.
Yet – depending on whether you eat raw and clean like Gwyneth Paltrow, or prefer 3am binges down Curry Mile – some foods can bring long-lasting happy benefits, while poorer choices can send you down an emotional landslide. We probably all know this from experience.
So just how much truth should we lend to the saying 'you are what you eat'? Are some foods 'happier' than others? (Well, in a toss-up between a donner kebab and a quinoa salad, we already know which is the happiest). Ultimately, could we eat ourselves to a more positive outlook?
A combination of nutritionists have provided us with their pick of top ten foods to boost your mood.
"Scrambled, boiled or poached for breakfast? Eggs are a great source of protein, which when broken down in the body will make amino acids and these are then used to make neurotransmitters, to help keep our mood balanced,” says nutritionist Shona Wilkinson, of healthy shopping destination www.superfooduk.com.
NUTS AND SEEDS
"Fancy a mid-afternoon snack? Snack on nuts or seeds as these are a source of protein which is broken down in the body to make amino acids and then used to create the neurotransmitters responsible for keeping our mind and mood balanced,” explains Shona.
Most people will tell you chocolate is their vice, but it can be a guilt free treat too. “New research has shown that eating a square of dark chocolate a day can relieve emotional stress. It’s the high quantity of antioxidants called falvonols, which are responsible for these positive effects. Stick with dark, organic, unprocessed chocolate for maximum benefits,” says Lily Soutter, nutritionist and weight loss expert at www.lilysoutternutrition.com.
We'll all have heard that probiotics are good for gut health but now they make us happy too? "It may sound strange, but our gut is now referred to as our second brain,” explains Lily. “Even stranger - 90% of serotonin is located within our gut, with only 10% in the brain. Our gut is jam packed full of bacteria, which has a strong positive influence on serotonin production that relays information to the brain. No wonder probiotics can have such an effect on our happy hormones”. Pick up a probiotic yoghurt with your lunch or mix it with berries and granola for a happy breakfast. Not a fan of yoghurt? No worries, you can get your probiotics other ways, such as taking it in supplement form. “I’d recommend taking a good-quality gut bacteria supplement such as Pro-Ven Probiotics’ Adult Probiotic 25 Billion (£13.95, Boots), which contains Lab4, the most comprehensively studied group of bacteria of any product in the UK,” explains nutritionist Cassandra Burns.
Looking forward to a Friday fish dinner can put a smile on your face in more ways than one. “Healthy fats, especially those found in fish oils called omega 3’s are essential for brain health and mood. Our brain is 60% fat after all. Studies have shown an increase in blood levels of omega 3 fats correlate with an increase in serotonin. This is down to the fact that omega 3 fats are involved in building serotonin receptor sites," says Lily. Her recommendations are oily fish such as wild salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies.
You may have heard of serotonin as the happy hormone, so it makes sense to fill yourself up on the foods that are rich in it, such as bananas. “By boosting serotonin, we can ultimately boost our mood,” says Lily. Kiwis, plums, tomatoes and walnuts are also good alternatives.
So how does this ‘feel good’ brain chemical serotonin come about? “Your body makes serotonin from an amino acid called Tryptophan, which is an important amino acid for depression,” explains Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading nutritionist and author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar (www.marilynglenville.com). So how can we get our daily dose? Tryptophan occurs naturally in turkey, dairy products, dried dates and soya, to name but a few. If you want an extra happiness boost, think about how you eat these foods. “Consuming a small amount of carbohydrates with tryptophan-rich foods can increase the absorption rate and conversion to serotonin," says Lily.
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and starting your morning with a warming bowl of porridge could determine the way the rest of your day pans out, thanks to the vitamin B12 hit it provides. “Vitamin B12 and other B vitamins are known to play a role in producing and stabilising mood-boosting brain chemicals. An adequate intake is vital for that feel-good factor,” advises Lily.
When you’re feeling low, it’s so tempting to reach for the comfort food, but this is actually the worst thing you can do. “Carbohydrates and sugars are often termed ‘comfort foods’ as they stimulate the release of happy neurotransmitters such as endorphins and dopamine”, explains Lily. “Unfortunately, they only give us a temporary quick fix, and may stimulate further cravings”. Help us, how do we stop the cravings? Lily recommends sprinkling a teaspoon of cinnamon onto food, or supping on cinnamon tea. “Cinnamon helps to keep our blood sugar levels balanced, this minimizes insulin spikes which can lead to hunger and further carbohydrate cravings.”
SIP GREEN TEA WITH YOUR FOOD
“Green tea is an excellent healthy mood booster. It contains some caffeine, which gives you a bit of a lift, but also contains the amino acid theanine. Theanine can have a relaxing effect and may help to relieve anxiety and mental stress, potentially by increasing your levels of serotonin, dopamine (responsible for reward and pleasure), and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA, which has a relaxant effect),” explains Shona.