Happiness foods? Is there really such a thing…? Well, food is a big part of maintaining optimal fitness, health, and happiness. It’s a simple thing, really: the food that you eat provides the nutrients your body uses to nourish all body systems. If you spend hours in the gym and eat an unhealthy diet, you won’t get the kind of results as eating a healthy combination of whole natural foods, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (and leave out the junk food).
Different diets can help you achieve specific goals, and they can also counteract any potential benefits. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, eating processed foods won’t help you get there, and if your goal is to gain muscle, eating foods low in protein won’t deliver maximum results.
But, if your goal is to simply have a healthy and happy life, there are certain foods you can add to your daily menu to help you get there. Today, the focus isn’t on weight loss, muscle development, or a lifestyle overhaul – it’s just your well-being.
Here are ways to use food to boost your optimal health and happiness:
Beans & Legumes
Boost Energy with beans and legumes. They are packed with protein to support body-shaping goals like muscle growth and weight loss. They’re also a good source of magnesium, an important mineral involved in energy production.
Most people in the U.S. are magnesium deficient, and don’t even know it. Needed to regulate communication in the body between neurons, a magnesium deficit can cause health problems, including depressive symptoms, anxiety, headaches, and sleeplessness – all factors that zap your energy supply. Keep mid-day energy slumps from destroying your happiness by eating magnesium-dense foods.1
Tip: For more dietary magnesium, also try apples, quinoa, seeds and nuts, lean meats, and leafy green vegetables.
Boost Brain Power with walnuts. These tasty nuts offer omega-3 essential fatty acids known to help improve mental functions like cognition, memory, and mood. Seeds and many other nuts offer similar benefits. Foods rich in omega-3’s may help to reduce inflammation and lower the risk of blood clotting. They also support weight management.
One more wonderful thing about nuts is their nutrient density. They contain a range of antioxidants, including vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols, along with unsaturated fatty acids that have been shown in clinical studies to protect against the development of cognitive decline and depression.2
Tip: For more omega-3 essential fatty acids, also try sardines, olive oil (find out five ways you can sneak more olive oil in your diet), and flax seeds.
Boost Your Mood with dark chocolate. Yes, you can eat chocolate! But having a candy bar won’t offer the same health benefits as a pure bar of 70 percent cocoa (or more). That’s because the mood-boosting abilities of chocolate come straight from polyphenols, which are found in cocoa.
Polyphenols possess powerful antioxidant properties believed to increase the production of brain chemicals, including phenylethylamine and endorphins, that create a good mood feeling. These endorphins are the same chemicals that are produced in the brain when you experience love. The phytonutrients in dark chocolate are also known to help reduce the risk of developing heart problems and some chronic illnesses.3
Additionally, chocolate has topped the list of must-have sweet treats. Why? Because scientists have also found that cocoa polyphenols were able to enhance mood, alleviating symptoms of clinical anxiety and depression.4
So, go ahead and have a few squares of dark chocolate, but just a few – don’t overdo it.
Tip: For more polyphenols, also try eating dark-colored produce, such as blueberries or seaweed.
Probiotic Rich foods (Yogurt / Kombucha)
Boost Your Immunity with more “good” gut bugs. You may not realize it, but a large portion of your immune system lies inside the digestive tract. In fact, by keeping your gut healthy, you may also be able to fight off common infections, including colds and flu, more easily.5
Your gastrointestinal tract (GI) is home to an enormous community of microbacteria. It contains an estimated 100 trillion bacteria. For this reason, scientists call it the gut microbiome. Numerous studies have confirmed the role of balanced gut microbial populations in a healthy immune system.6
To boost the functions of your immune system, support the gut microbiome by consuming more probiotic bacteria. These “good” gut bugs can kelp keep things on track inside the GI tract, allowing the body to fight off unwanted infections from foreign pathogens.7
Tip: For more “good” bacteria, try yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha tea, (probiotics) as well as dandelion greens, garlic, onion, and asparagus (prebiotics).
Tart Cherry Juice
Boost Your Bedtime with tart cherry juice. For people struggling to get to bed and stay asleep during the night, cherries might be the answer. They provide a good source of a natural hormone known as melatonin. Produced in the brain, melatonin plays a vital role in sleep. Scientists have found that drinking cherry juice may help reduce sleeplessness in older adults.8
Tip: For more melatonin rich foods, try pineapple, banana, orange, tomatoes, barley, oats, rice, and sweet corn.
To Your Health and Happiness…
A bad mood can ruin an entire day, and eating sugary foods for a quick pick-me-up doesn’t always help. Many people struggle with emotional eating, and comfort foods are also commonly junk foods.
If you are someone that gets happiness from instant gratification, eating may become something that you use to boost your mood. And that’s okay, provided you eat the right foods. Don’t reach for comfort foods, junk foods, or something that’s loaded with sugar to satisfy your nutritional needs. Reach for foods that support your happiness and health at the same time.
2. Fernando Gómez-Pinilla. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008 Jul; 9(7): 568–578.
3. Chun Shing Kwok, S Matthijs Boekholdt. Habitual chocolate consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease among healthy men and women. Heart doi:10.1136.
4. Pase MP, Scholey AB. Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Psychopharmacol. 2013 May;27(5):451-8. Epub 2013 Jan 29.
5. Purchiaroni F, Tortora A. The role of intestinal microbiota and the immune system. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2013 Feb;17(3):323-33.
6. Hill DA, Artis D. Intestinal bacteria and the regulation of immune cell homeostasis. Annu Rev Immunol. 2010; 28():623-67.
7. Hsin-Jung Wu, Eric Wu. The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut Microbes. 2012 Jan 1; 3(1): 4–14.
8. Wilfred R. Pigeon, Michelle Carr. Effects of a Tart Cherry Juice Beverage on the Sleep of Older Adults with Insomnia: A Pilot Study. J Med Food. 2010 Jun; 13(3): 579–583.