The happiness diet: Five smile-making tips

Searching for a natural and nutritious way to feel fabulous? Here are five dietary tips to help improve your mood.

There’s an emerging body of research examining the relationship between diet and mood. And according to Rosalyn D'Angelo, accredited Bupa dietitian, eating some foods “may help to buffer the brain against depression”.

Try D’Angelo’s five mood-enhancing dietary tips if you’re looking for some nutritious ways to help boost your mood.

1. Fuel your brain with a regular supply of glucose

Your brain needs the right amounts of specific nutrients to function well, and glucose is essential fuel for your brain. A healthy, well-fuelled brain may also help to regulate your mood – so it’s important to ensure your body has a constant supply

“Choose slow-releasing or wholegrain carbohydrates like oat porridge, legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas), fruit, and low-fat yoghurt,” D’Angelo advises. “These can help give your brain the steady supply of glucose it needs to function at its best.”

“Of course, try and avoid unhealthy, sugary treats like lollies! You’ll experience a quick rise in blood sugar, followed by a quick drop, which can make you feel a bit flat. Not to mention the fact that lollies don’t offer much benefit in the way of nutrition. If you really feel like something sweet, opt for a piece of fresh fruit or a few dates,” D’Angelo says.

2. Eat oily fish two to three times per week

Omega-3 fats, also known as essential fatty acids, are found in fish oil. Studies have indicated that people who have depression tend to have lower levels of omega-3 fats in their diet. Researchers have also suggested there may be a relationship between dietary fish intake and mood.

“Omega-3 fatty acids are involved in a number of biological processes in the body and brain that may account for this,” D’Angelo points out.

Oily fish have the highest levels of omega-3 oils, so choose Atlantic and Australian salmon, blue-eye trevalla, blue mackerel, canned sardines and canned tuna. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 include canola oil, linseed oil, soy and linseed bread, walnuts and soybean oil.

Studies have indicated that people with depression tend to have lower levels of omega-3 fats in their diet.

3. Consume foods containing trytophan

Proteins in your body are made up of little building blocks called amino acids, and tryptophan is one type of amino acid. The body converts tryptophan into serotonin, a brain chemical that can improve mood and promote feelings of relaxation.

“If tryptophan levels in the body are low or depleted, the levels of serotonin in the brain drop, which can lead to low mood,” D’Angelo says.

Tryptophan is found in poultry, red meat, milk, eggs, nuts, lentils, wholegrain breads, cereals and pasta, as well as soy products and chocolate.

Cooking and eating fish

4. Enjoy a little dark chocolate

While some research has suggested that eating dark chocolate can reduce stress, studies are limited and there isn't a lot of evidence that 'a chocolate a day' definitely has an effect on mood and stress. 

It’s important to note that, in the long term, too much chocolate could actually negatively affect your mood if it leads to weight gain, or if it’s eaten in place of other fresh nutritious foods, says D’Angelo.

“If you want some chocolate, eat one or two squares occasionally – and choose chocolate with a high cocoa content (greater than 70 per cent),” she advises.

5. Eat like you're on a Mediterranean holiday

A Mediterranean-style diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, fish and olive oil is thought to be linked to lower rates of depression compared to diets higher in processed foods.

“The foods in the Mediterranean diet are full of nature’s own pick-me-up, with many of the vitamins and minerals that your body and brain need to help them function at their best,” D’Angelo says.

How to incorporate mood-enhancing foods into your diet

  • Eat a small tub of low-fat yoghurt with a piece of fruit. 
  • Add a boiled egg to your salad. 
  • Try a tin of small tuna/salmon/sardines and sliced tomato on crunchy multigrain crackers. 
  • Drink one glass of low-fat milk warmed with a sprinkle of cinnamon. 
  • Munch on a small handful of unsalted walnuts with two fresh dates. 
  • Crunch on some raw vegetable sticks and hummus. 
  • Opt for a sushi roll with salmon, or tuna and avocado.
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