Registered Dietitian Crystal MacGregor explains why food makes you feel happy – including why sick people crave chicken noodle soup, why emotional eaters are hooked on certain foods, and why people love comfort food.

“Different types of food makes men and women feel happy in different ways,” says MacGregor. “Women preferred snack-related foods such as chocolate and candy, while men preferred meal-related foods such as pizza, pasta and steak.”

For more info on how and why food makes you happy, read The Food-Mood Solution: All-Natural Ways to Banish Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Stress, Overeating, and Drug and Alcohol Problems – and Feel Good Again by Jack Challem and Melvyn Werbach.

And, read on for MacGregor’s tips on foods that make you feel happy…

Why Food Makes You Feel Happy

Ever wonder why you crave chicken noodle soup when you’re sick, Shepherd’s pie just like mom makes, or the cookies grandma made when you were sad? It’s because those comfort foods reminds you of happier days by evoking positive memories.

A 2006 study led by Dr. Brian Wansink of Cornell University showed that the happy feelings evoked by comfort foods drive people to eat certain foods. He also found that potato chips, ice cream and cookies ranked in the top three “comfort food” choices. These foods are nurturing – but not necessarily nutritious.

How Nutritional Deficiencies Affect Your Mood

Even marginal deficiencies in some vitamins and minerals have been associated with irritability, depression and mood changes. Neurotransmitters have a role in regulating our behavior and can be affected by what we eat. We can choose foods to boost the levels of neurotransmitters in our brains.

To boost your mood and feel happy, make sure you’re getting adequate B vitamins in your diet. Folate assists with the brain’s ability to produce neurotransmitters, and Vitamin B6 forms important enzymes needed in the brain, which change tryptophan into serotonin and provides the “happy feeling.”

To increase Vitamin B6, add a banana to your morning cereal, or a baked potato and chicken for dinner. For folate, eat foods such as spinach in a salad, orange juice at breakfast, whole grain sandwich at lunch, or beans in chili for dinner.

If you’re struggling with depression, read Natural Treatments for Depression.

How Food With Omega-3’s Make You Feel Happy

Another food that makes you feel happy is anything with omega-3’s and fatty acids. One study showed that of 3000 Finnish adults, those with fewest amounts of fish in their diet were more likely to be depressed. Eat fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna, at least twice weekly. Try fish tacos, grilled fish on a garden fresh salad, or canned light tuna sandwich for lunch. If you don’t like fish, try adding ground flax meal to your morning cereal, omega-3 rich eggs in an omelet, walnuts on a salad or tofu in a stir-fry.

For more info, read Getting the Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Fish Oils. (Note from Laurie: ever since I wrote an article on improving your brain health for Health magazine, I’ve been taking an omega-3 fish oil supplement every day! Click on the image for more info).

Eat Regularly to Stay Happy

Eating irregularly or changing your eating patterns drastically can alter your mood and make you feel less happy. Try to keep an even keel by eating food regularly throughout the day – at least every 4 hours. Enjoy whole grains – the healthy carbs – along with fresh fruits and vegetables for healthy pick-me-uppers, and enjoy fatty fish for omega-3’s weekly.

If you want to lose a few points, read What is More Important When You Want to Lose Weight – Exercise or Diet?

What have we missed? If you have any thoughts or questions on these foods that make you happy, please comment below!

Crystal MacGregor is the Manager of Research & Development at Epicure Selections on Vancouver Island, BC, and the co-author of A Healthier You: feel better in just 28 days!


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2 thoughts on “Why Food Makes You Feel Happy”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Potato chips, ice cream, and cookies are definitely the starchy carbs that people reach for when they need comfort foods! I hadn’t thought about the downward cycle part of it — but of course, I’m familiar with how fast comfort foods put on weight. blech

    Mmmm….chocolate! Yes, there are health benefits of dark chocolate, but it has to be eaten in moderation or the negatives will outweigh the benefits. My favorite is dark chocolate covered cherries, because cherries are also healthy.

    Thanks for speaking up as a chocoholic, Gini! “My name is Gini, and I am addicted to chocolate.” :-)

  2. Ahh, comfort food sure is good when you’re feeling down, but I heard recently that when people are stressed they tend to crave the starchy carbs, which doesn’t fuel them properly so they end up more stressed and the cycle continues (and so does the weight).

    I need to put a plug in for chocolate here (being that I am a chocoholic). Many people say chocolate isn’t good for you, but in fact, dark chocolate has many benefits. It increase serotin (which reduces depression), reduces bad cholesteral (similar to red wine, triggers chemicals that give you that ‘in love’ feeling, and acts as a digestive aid. If you eat a lot though the caffeine will keep you up at night.