Eat your way to happiness

20 April 2017 by
First published: 18 October 2016

Can you eat your way to happiness? We find out…

No, we’re not talking about ordering a box Krispy Kreme donuts (although that may well make you happy, too). We’re talking about the foods that actually possess mood-boosting compounds and can have a positive effect on our mental wellbeing. What are these magical foods? And how do they do it? Never mind smiling from ear-to-ear, you’ll be smiling from the inside out with these foodie tips.


A good place to start is with serotonin. You may have heard of serotonin as the happy hormone, so it makes sense to fill yourself up with foods that are rich in it. According to Lily Soutter, nutritionist and weight loss expert, bananas, kiwis, plums, tomatoes and walnuts are all great sources of serotonin. ‘By boosting serotonin, we can ultimately boost our mood,’ she says.

It’s also helpful to look at how this feel-good brain chemical comes about. ‘Your body makes serotonin from an amino acid called tryptophan, which is an important amino acid for depression,’ explains Dr Marilyn Glenville, a leading nutritionist and author of Natural Alternative to Sugar. Tryptophan occurs naturally in turkey, dairy products, dried dates and soya, to name but a few. ‘Consuming a small amount of carbohydrates with tryptophan-rich foods can increase the absorption rate and conversion to serotonin,’ says Lily.


Neurotransmitters, also known as chemical messengers, are responsible for keeping our mind and mood balanced. ‘When protein is broken down in the body it will make amino acids,’ says nutritionist for Shona Wilkinson. ‘These are then used to make neurotransmitters.’ So up your protein intake with eggs, nuts and seeds.


Many people turn to chocolate when they’re sad, but it might not be the guilty treat we think it is after all. ‘New research has shown that eating a square of chocolate a day can relieve emotional stress,’ says Lily. We’re not complaining, but how can this be? ‘It’s the high quantity of antioxidants called flavanols that are responsible for these positive effects,’ continues Lily. ‘Stick with dark, organic, unprocessed chocolate for maximum benefits.’


‘It may sound strange, but our gut is now referred to as our second brain,’ says Lily. ‘Even stranger – 90 per cent of serotonin is located within our gut, with only 10 per cent in the brain.’ Why? ‘Our gut is jam-packed full of bacteria that has a strong positive influence on serotonin production, which relays information to the brain,’ explains Lily. ‘No wonder probiotics can have such an effect on our happy hormones!’ To maintain a happy ‘second brain’, pick up a probiotic yoghurt or take it in supplement form. ‘I’d recommend taking a good-quality gut bacteria supplement such as Pro-Ven Probiotics’ Adult Probiotic 25 Billion, (£13.41,, which contains Lab4, the most comprehensively studied group of bacteria of any product in the UK,’ explains nutritionist Cassandra Barns.


We already know that healthy fats – omega-3 in particular – are good for our health, but did you know they can help our mood, too? ‘Healthy fats, especially those found in fish oils called omega-3s are essential for brain health and mood,’ says Lily. ‘Our brain is 60 per cent fat after all. Studies have shown an increase in blood levels of omega-3 fats correlates with an increase in serotonin.’ Why? ‘This is down to the fact that omega-3 fats are involved in building serotonin receptor sites,’ continues Lily. So what are the best foods to give us our omega-3 fix? Lily recommends oily fish such as wild salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies.

Vitamin B

‘Vitamin B12 and other B vitamins are known to play a role in producing and stabilising mood-boosting brain chemicals,’ says Lily. ‘An adequate intake is vital for that feel-good factor.’ The easiest way to incorporate them? Start your morning with a warming bowl of porridge, which is high in B vitamins, and reap the benefits for the rest of the day.