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Eating your way to happiness

17 May, 2017
Happy eating

Believe it or not, eating fistfuls of chocolate cake drowned with Grand Marnier is not the key to happy eating – at least, not in the long run.

In a glance

  • Eat more white meats, fruits and veges
  • Low GI carbs are more effective than sugar
  • Avoid hangry by having healthy snacks ready to go

Happy guts

Your gut, responsible for letting you know if you can actually handle another bite of pizza or whether or not that car salesmen is particularly trustworthy, is an intelligent unit- so much so that it’s considered the body’s ‘second brain’.

This second brain, or rather, the enteric nervous system, is a complex network of neural pathways, chemical and hormone regulations that’s in constant communication with your central nervous system and your…regular brain. Gut instinct, butterflies in your stomach, a sinking feeling in your belly, are all side-effects of this communication[1].

Over 90% of our serotonin, the happiness chemical, is produced in our digestive tracts, proving (in a very roundabout way) that the way to a person’s heart can be found in appealing to their stomach.

After all, chocolate is the wooing food of choice for good reasons. Chocolate, especially the type with high cocoa values, contains tryptophan (the resource the brain uses to make serotonin), phenylethylamine (the chemical linked to feelings of love), and theobromine (providing a weaker version of a caffeine hit).

While we’re cursed with the inability to replace all of our meals with chocolates, understanding how nutrients and vitamins can affect how we feel can help us work on our diets.

Food and mood

Find our sources for this section here and here.

How do carbohydrates affect my mood?

Eating carbs releases insulin, allowing blood sugar to be absorbed into cells for energy, and giving your brain a nice bid dose of tryptophan. 

Before you point to the contents on a packet of chips, delighting in the high percentage of carbohydrates, we’d recommend low GI foods for longer-lasting effects.


  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Pasta

How do proteins affect my mood?

Proteins are made up of amino acids, with the two main players being tryptophan (again for serotonin) and tyrosine, which is the little cracker producing dopamine, the ‘reward’ chemical.

If you’re not getting enough of these amino acids, you might be in for some foul moods and aggressive tendencies. Note: this isn’t to be confused with Hangry, something we’ll cover later.


  • Meats
  • Milk
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Grains

 How does fat affect my mood?

Your brain is fat, and that’s just grand.

Comprised of 50% fatty acids, 33% of which are omega-3 fatty acids, your grey matter is reliant on this nutritional intake.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also known as essential fats. Some studies have shown that a lack of omega-3 in a diet can lead to ‘disturbances in neural functions’, whereas the inclusion of them can ‘elicit antidepressant effects’.


  • Fish
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Walnuts
  • Spinach

 How do vitamins affect my mood?

B-complex vitamins – A study showed that subjects taking in ten times the recommended daily allowance of vitamins for a year had improved moods. The associated seemed strongest with B2 and B6 vitamins, which can be found in:

  • Beef liver
  • Lamb
  • Milk
  • Mushrooms
  • Bran
  • Pistachios
  • Turkey
  • Spinach

There’s also been a link between folate and depression. Patients with depression have shown to have folate levels 25% lower than their healthier counterparts, and that increasing folate intake complement antidepressant medication.


Whose eating habits produce the best results?

The Mediterranean and Japanese diet

It turns out your Nonna wasn’t trying to kill you through over-consumption. The Mediterranean diet, which has a structure whereby you:

  1. Abundant olive oil use
  2. Increased consumption of fish, vegetables, fruits and legumes
  3. Reduction in total meat consumption
  4. Prioritising white meat over red
  5. Preparing sauces at home with natural ingredients
  6. Use olive oil to prepare dishes
  7. Avoid cream, butter, fast food, sweets, pastries and sugar-sweetened beverages
  8. Moderate consumption of red wine

Is shown to have an effect on some people with depression and also helps prevent cardiovascular disease.

The Mediterranean diet is extremely similar to a traditional Japanese diet. Japan also has the lowest rates of major depressive disorders, with a direct correlation between their high levels of fish consumption.

The perils of the Western diet

You might have noticed a slight difference between your diet and the one listed above, and it does get a little bit worse. A longitudinal study into the effects of the average western diet is associated with a smaller hippocampus, the part of the brain that regulates emotions and memory.

In short: more fish, veges and fruit, less red meat and dairy!


Avoiding being hangry

Who knows the true toll of being hangry has had on relationships? Fortunately, now that we know more about the…condition…the greater your chances are of avoiding this state of mind are.

What is hangry?

Anger, normally irrational (from your victims point of view, at least) stemming from symptoms of hunger. Known to occur on long car trips and waiting for your SO to finally make up their damn mind as to what they want for dinner.

After eating, your body digests nutrients into simple sugars – glucose – which is released into the bloodstream to ‘power’ your body.

When your glucose levels start to drop, your brain, which hasn’t evolved to understand it lives in a utopia where food is readily available almost 24/7, goes into survival mode because it thinks it’s starving.

This results in short tempers, foul moods and lines of questioning like ‘why do you HAVE to BREATHE so LOUDLY!?’

Luckily, it’s fairly easy to avoid being hangry – you can either plan your meals ahead or ensure that you have a snack (like fruit or vegetables) ready at hand.

Check out this great article from The Conversation explaining the science of hangry.

 We understand that everyone has different dietary needs, restrictions and access – however, we hope we’ve provided you with a few ideas to eat your way into a happier frame of mind!

Find all of our sources here.


All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.

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