I’m always a little dubious when I read claims about certain foods. Like is there really such thing as a superfood? BUT, I do know that there are plenty of experts who believe there are such things as feel good foods. I trawled through all the nutritionist advice on alleged foods that can make you happy and found some ingredients that just kept on cropping up.
According to the experts and some in-depth research, these feel good foods are packed full of nutrients that can have a positive impact on your health, make people feel better, improve brain function, and even reduce the symptoms of depression.
In this article you’ll find some of the key vitamins and nutrients to consider adding into your diet, but also just some general food choices we could all do with eating a little more of to feel good.
A Happy Combo of Folate and B Vitamins
According to Edward Reynolds, MD at the Institute of Epileptology, King’s College, getting a combination of foods high in folic acid (folate) and Vitamin B12 is the key to feeling good. In fact, it’s believed by plenty of experts that these two vitamins can help prevent mood disorders and depressive symptoms or depression.
So, trying to combine foods with these vitamins could really help boost your mental health. The first four feel good foods on this list are high in folic acid and/or B Vitamins so try mixing and matching them up in your meals!
Spinach, kale, rocket, cabbage and all types of lettuces fall into the leafy greens category. Just 30 grams of spinach is enough for 15% of your recommended daily intake of folate. Not only that, but leafy greens are also packed with fibre, Vitamins K and A, and magnesium. Experts say that magnesium is excellent as a stress-reducer and muscle relaxant. So, if you’re feeling stressed, bring on the spinach!
Two large eggs can provide nearly 50% of your entire recommended allowance of B12, so they certainly pack a vitamin punch. They’re also packed with healthy fatty acids, protein and Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) which helps keep your skin, eyes and nervous system healthy. Egg yolks are believed to have higher levels of B12 than the whites, so experts recommend eating the whole egg to see the most benefits. To combine with folates, try a spinach omelette!
Beans, peas and lentils
AKA legumes! These are some of the best foods to eat if you want to up your intake of folic acid – and they’re vegan-friendly too. A cup of cooked lentils (around 198 grams) could provide 90% of your daily intake of folate! Cooked kidney beans are another addition high up on the folate chart, with 33% of your folate coming from 177 grams.
Beans are also low on the glycemic index which means they won’t spike your blood sugar. According to Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, PhD, RD, of Roseville, California, maintaining blood sugar levels can help maintain a stable mood too.
To go with your high-in-folate-beans, how about some beef? It’s an excellent source of B12 with around 190 grams of grilled steak equating to 467% of the daily recommended intake. Yes, really! That same amount of steak also has fairly high amounts of Vitamins B2, B3 and B6, so plenty of B Vitamins! Lean beef has higher concentrations of B12, so go for the lower fat cuts of meat to really boost your mood. There’s no better excuse to dig into Mexican food than knowing beans and beef make a mood-boosting combo!
Don’t Forget Your Vitamin C
While we’re specifically looking at foods that can boost your mood, it’s important to make sure we’re considering our overall health and wellbeing. With that in mind, make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin C in your diet to help with the proper functioning of your immune system. Here are some top picks:
One of the most popular sources of Vitamin C is the humble orange. You can get around 78% of your daily intake from one medium-sized orange – and they’re delicious! Oranges are also great for fibre, and contain folate. Just be careful you don’t eat too many, as they do contain quite a lot of sugar.
While you may never have heard of a Kakadu plum, they’re definitely going something you want to keep an eye out for if you want to boost your immune system. Why? Because they contain 100 times more Vitamin C than oranges! Around 530% of your daily recommended intake can come from one little plum. All you have to do now is find somewhere that sells them!
Just one green chilli pepper added to your food can provide around 121% of your recommended intake of Vitamin C. Red chillis have slightly less, at 72%. However, chilli peppers are also packed with capsaicin which is thought to help reduce pain and inflammation. It looks like Mexican food is still a winner then…
Other Foods That Can Boost Your Mood and Make You Feel Great
We’ve covered some excellent mood boosting vitamins and nutrients already, so let’s dive into seven more feel good foods.
Complex carbs that come from whole grains are thought to have plenty of health benefits, including helping indirectly produce serotonin. Serotonin, which is thought to stablise your mood and help prevent depression, can be created in your brain using an amino acid called tryptophan.
It can be hard for our brains to absorb the tryptophan but if you eat complex carbs (like whole grains) alongside foods rich in this amino acid then it seems more serotonin can be produced. Whole grain pasta, wholemeal bread, and brown rice can all reportedly boost your mood and serotonin levels.
On the subject of tryptophan, it’s believed that oily fish are rich in this mood-boosting amino acid. Salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout and pilchards are some of the best oily fish to add into your diet, according to experts. Not only are they packed with tryptophan, but they also contain important Omega 3s which are vital for a healthy brain. Omega 3s can also assist in the communication of serotonin and dopamine, which are important hormones for mood regulation.
Nuts and Seeds
Yet another excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids that can help you feel good are nuts and seeds. Chia seeds, hemp seeds and flax seeds, along with walnuts and brazil nuts are must-haves in your diet. And they’re vegan-friendly, too. Not only are they full of healthy fats, but they also contain plenty of fibre, calcium and antioxidants. Granola, anyone?
You’ll find prebiotics in complex carbs that, while we technically can’t digest them, the good bacteria in our guts likes to eat them. Try adding more bananas, oats, berries, onions, leeks and asparagus to your diet to improve your mood (and your overall health). Prebiotics have been found to help increase happiness whilst decreasing anxiety, meaning better mental health overall.
The same can be said for probiotics, which are live bacteria found in fermented foods and several dairy products. Adding probiotics into your diet is believed to help improve your mood and make people feel better in general. Yoghurt, live yoghurts, Kombucha, Kimchi and Kefir are all excellent sources of probiotics that could make you happy!
While it’s generally best to avoid a lot of sugar for your health, research has found that dark chocolate could actually be good for us and our brains. You don’t need to tell me twice! Plenty of studies have been undertaken to look at the correlation between eating dark chocolate and feeling happy.
Five out of eight of these studies showed improvements in mood, and three showed “clear evidence of cognitive enhancement.” Not only can dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids) help us feel happy, but studies have shown it can also prevent memory loss and improve overall brain function. Try these two-ingredient chocolate and peanut butter cups to get a double whammy from dark chocolate and nuts!
One final note
Finally, consider cutting down on food packed with sugar, like white bread, pasta and rice, and saturated fats. While sugary food or saturated fat may give us a spike of dopamine and happiness to start with, it can quickly bring us back down. We can often feel guilty or experience energy slumps after we’ve eaten this kind of food, which will then have a knock-on effect on your brain.
Changing up our diet slightly can have such a big impact on our health and well-being. Of course, eating an orange a day isn’t necessarily going to cure depression. However, being mindful of the food we eat can certainly help alleviate some of those symptoms of depression and ensure our brain stays healthy (and happy).
This took a lot of research and I’ve tried my best to back up all claims with all sources cited below. However, please note that I am not a medical professional and so please do see your doctor or a nutritionist if you’re worried about your diet or depression.
Foods high in folate, Heathline
Foods high in Vitamin B12, Healthline
Foods high in Vitamin C, Healthline
What are the best sources of Omega-3? Medical News Today
Effects of chocolate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review, Nutrition Reviews Journal