As a child, when your parents were demanding that you “finish your vegetables,” you probably didn’t have a lot of happy thoughts. And there is no denying the foods that make you happy are usually unhealthy. . .but that joy is merely temporary.

Jelly donuts may be delicious, but they are stuffed with hundreds of calories and loads of fat grams, carbohydrates, sodium, and sugar, with nearly zero vitamins and minerals.

So they may taste great, but consider the price your body pays for the donuts. High sugar content can cause inflammation. Sodium contributes to increased blood pressure. Foods containing large amounts of fat content drive up “bad” cholesterol and put you at risk for heart disease. The processed carbs lack fiber, which will not help your digestive tract. And the refined carbs and sugar can result in a spike in blood sugar, which prompts your body to produce a surge of insulin to quickly bring it down, leaving you feeling tired and cranky.

Is one jelly donut unforgivable? No. But there are other foods you should consider making a regular part of your diet. And we use the word “diet” as representative of a workable, lifetime plan that creates a healthy relationship with the foods you eat.

Healthline provides some signs of a bad relationship with food:

  • You feel guilty about eating.
  • You avoid or restrict foods that are “bad” for you.
  • You have developed a long list of rules surrounding the foods you can and cannot eat.
  • You rely on calorie counters or apps to tell you when you’re done eating for the day.
  • You ignore your body’s natural hunger cues.
  • You have a history of yo-yo dieting or following the latest diet fads.
  • You feel immense stress and anxiety when eating in social settings, due to fear of what others may think of your food choices.
  • You find yourself restricting and/or binging food.

Your plan should be realistic and take into consideration your age, activity level, body type, any chronic conditions you have, and your health goals.

Healthy Eating and Happiness

The good news is that a lot of research has revealed foods that make you happy can be nutritious and delicious.

If you define happiness as overall satisfaction with life, a study of 149,880 people in 27 different countries revealed that people who eat healthy tend to be happier than people who do not.

Foods That Make You Happy

What might explain some of these results? Let’s take a look at how some healthy foods affect your body.

Berries. Blueberries are rich in flavonoids, which positively affects the brain’s cognitive process. When your brain isn’t working at its peak, you may experience depression and a tendency to dwell on negative thoughts.

Foods such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries also have a chemical similar to that in prescription mood-stabilizing drugs.

Dark chocolate. The cocoa flavanols in dark chocolate (chocolate 80-100% cocoa, or pure cocoa powder) increase chemical messengers in the brain that are linked to mood and reward. These chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin decrease depression.

Green tea. The chemicals in green tea improve relaxation, relieve tension and produce increased calmness. Consuming it also improves attention, as well as the ability to switch between tasks.

Broccoli. Your parents were right. Vegetables, and broccoli specifically, can help prevent premature aging, have anti-inflammatory power, is tied to a reduced risk of chronic disease, and can help counter skin damage caused by UV radiation. It also contains tryptophan which, among its many benefits, can assist in providing you with a good night’s sleep and regulate mood.

Bananas. Bananas contain potassium, and low levels of this mineral are associated with greater risk for mood disturbances and depression.

Spinach. Spinach contains folic acid, which alleviates depression and reduces fatigue.

Beans. Low magnesium levels are linked to lower energy. Beans are magnesium-rich foods.

Oysters. Oysters are rich in zinc which can assist in anxiety relief.

Fish. Studies have shown that consuming a helping of baked or broiled fish, particularly cold-water fish like salmon, cod, haddock, canned light tuna, white fish or flounder at least once a week slows mental decline, and helps against depression.

Apples. Eating fruits and vegetables like apples can produce a calming effect, create more energy and increase overall happiness.

Gut-Brain Connection

The effect of food on mood is more complex than you might imagine.

The brain has a direct effect on your digestive system, and your digestive system also sends signals to your brain.

If the foods you eat cause intestinal distress, the message sent to the brain can result in anxiety, stress, or depression.

Getting Started

There are many other foods that are good for your body, brain and emotional wellbeing, and many diet plans from which to choose.  The Mediterranean Diet is highly recommended by the American Heart Association in terms of being a healthy, workable and well-rounded plan and it incorporates many of the foods listed above.

Your physician and/or a registered dietitian can advise you on the best diet for your unique needs, and help you find foods that make you happy.

Good luck!

For more healthy eating tips, visit Bethesda’s Health & Wellness blog.