how to eat your way to happiness - Dietitian approved

How To Eat Your Way to Happiness – Dietitian Approved!

Can you eat your way to happiness?

The short answer is Yes! Surprisingly, you can eat your way to happiness. Important to realize, deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, and omega 3 fatty acids can cause depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. With this in mind, focus on eating more healthy balanced meals. Given these points, let a Registered Dietitian help you plan your meals.

For the most part, nutrition deficiencies can be a result of one or more of the following:

  • poor appetite
  • poor food choices
  • skipping meals
  • high intake of sweets
  • chronic alcohol use

That being said, let’s look at the nutrients that are important to mental health and how you can eat your way to happiness. 


Carbohydrates are sugars, starches and fiber found in food.

If you have diabetes, you are in a constant battle of controlling your blood sugar levels with a consistent carbohydrate intake. If you are wanting to lose weight you may focus on restricting your intake of high carbohydrate food sources. But what about mental health? Do you know how carbohydrates affect your mental health?

Carbohydrate rich foods trigger the release of insulin in the body. This, in turn, triggers the entry of the amino acid tryptophan into the brain. And then, tryptophan is made into serotonin, the chemical that makes you feel good.

Therefore, when planning your daily menu include whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables at most meals. They have a lasting positive effect on your mood. In contrast, sweets provide immediate relief, but the effects are temporary.


Proteins are amino acids, the building blocks of life. Neurotransmitters in the brain are made from amino acids. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter is made from tyrosine. And serotonin is made from tryptophan, as has been noted. A lack of either of these leads to depression. Therefore, for a positive mood include food sources of tyrosine and tryptophan.

High food sources of tryptophan and tyrosine include:

  • Poultry
  • Lean red meat
  • Pork
  • Tofu
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Beans, nuts, and seeds

Essential Fatty Acids

A deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids may increase depression. Consequently, a high omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is important to the treatment of depression.

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) reduce the symptoms of depression. Specifically, these are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

The main source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish oil. Other sources include spinach, flax seeds, mangos, and kidney beans.

B Vitamins

B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), and B6 (pyridoxine) improve mood. Vitamin B12 delays the onset of signs of dementia in the elderly. In addition, B12 deficiency in adolescents produces negative cognitive changes.

Depression is the most common symptom of a B9 (folate) deficiency. It is also known that folacin improves the effectiveness of anti-depression medication.

To improve your mood, focus on foods high in B vitamins which includes whole grains, eggs, legumes, citrus fruit, grapes, avocado, meat, poultry, and fish.


A study of people with mood disorders were given chromium supplementation. Interestingly, chromium enhanced insulin utilization and thereby increased tryptophan availability. This provides the brain with more of the feel-good chemical serotonin.

Therefore, include good sources of chromium:

  • Meats: pork, beef, and turkey
  • Bread and other grain products
  • Vegetables, such as lettuce and green beans
  • Fruit, for example apples and bananas
  • Juices: grape, orange, and tomato juices
  • nuts


Low iodine levels may contribute to the development of anxiety and depression. Therefore, include good food sources of iodine such as seafood, seaweed, dairy products, and iodized salt. 


Iron is important for the synthesis of neurotransmitters. These chemicals play a key role in depression by improving the brain’s ability to regulate mood. Important neurotransmitters include:

  • Serotonin
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine
  • GABA
  • Glutamate

Interesting to note is children with ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, have iron deficiency. And infants with iron deficient anemia have a disruption in cognitive dysfunction. Further, women of childbearing age with iron deficiency have depression.

Our physical body absorbs iron more efficiently from animal sources which include:

  • Lean beef
  • Oysters
  • Chicken
  • Turkey

The following plant-based foods need a source of vitamin C to increase availability.

  • Beans and lentils
  • Tofu
  • Baked potatoes
  • Cashews
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Whole-grain and enriched breads

Consume with a vitamin C food. Vitamin C sources include citrus, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts.


Studies have indicated low magnesium levels exist in people diagnosed with depression. Therefore, it is important to include good food sources of magnesium.

Good sources of magnesium include:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Avocado


An increased intake of selenium has been found to elevate mood and reduce anxiety. A serving of Brazil nuts (6 – 8 nuts) exceeds the needed daily value of selenium. Yellowfin tuna is also a reliable source. You can see a complete list of food sources here.


Another key point, people with clinical depression and anxiety have lower levels of zinc. Zinc supplementation improves the effectiveness of anti-depressant medication as well as improving mood for those that do not take medication. Therefore, I will talk more about this in a future post.

Free radicals are unstable atoms that damage cells. There is a correlation between free radicals and mood disorders. On the positive side, zinc protects brain cells from the damage of free radicals.

Get more zinc from seafood, beef, poultry, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

Antioxidants = Happiness

Vitamins A, C and E have also been shown to combat free radicals that damage brain cells as I have noted above.

Therefore, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables would be beneficial to include in your meal plan because they are a good source of Vitamin E.

Also of importance is food rich in Vitamin A which includes sweet potato, carrots, spinach, and broccoli.

Additionally, Vitamin C foods include citrus, strawberries, blueberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts.

In Summary: Can You Eat Your Way to Happiness?

Yes, in light of all the information provided, eating your way to happiness is quite possible. 

Therefore, eating balanced meals of carbohydrate, protein and fat appears to be useful as a complementary treatment of mental health. In particular, focus on whole foods.

To improve your mood, focus on a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, fish, unprocessed meat, and whole grains. Additionally, limit your intake of processed foods, refined grains, fried foods, and sweets to decrease the likelihood of developing mental health symptoms.

Eat Your Way to Happiness Using a Daily Checklist

For the purpose of improving your eating habits, I have created a meal planning checklist. Click on the image to download your free printable.

Lastly, if you need guidance or have questions, please feel free to contact me. I am happy to discuss ways to lessen your depression and anxiety issues. Effective meal planning is vital to our mental and physical health.

All the best,

Diana Young, RD

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