The top ten foods to improve your mood (and they’re not chocolate or cake)

Half of us eat comfort food when stressed rather than mood-lifting foods such as wholegrains, says a new survey. Dr Sarah Schenker and Dr Christy Fergusson tell us their top ten happiness foods

A survey has revealed that seven out of ten women and 50 per cent men eat cakes, sweets and chocolates when they’re stressed or want to lift their mood and outlines the top ten foods that will boost your mood.

The survey of 2,000 British adults, carried out in January 2015, was led by clinical dietitian Dr Sarah Schenker and food psychologist Dr Christy Fergusson, from Channel 4’s Secret Eaters.

When stressed, the results also suggest almost one in three eat pizza (29 per cent), crisps (35 per cent) or fast food (28 per cent) they’re stressed or want to lift their mood.

The top ten foods for happiness

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Salmon
  • Wholegrain basmati rice
  • Quinoa
  • Chickpeas
  • Coconut
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach
  • Beans

Want to know the best foods to eat during the menopause? 

Be mindful when eating

Mindfulness and Well Being Coach Alex Blossom runs courses in mindfulness, stress and weightloss and explains that many junk foods can leave us feeling lethargic and worn out and this can have a real impact on our thoughts which often then become negative.

If we make poor food choices then we beat ourselves up because we know that we have not really done the best for our bodies.

If we can learn to be mindful about our food choices then we can avoid the feelings of guilt and regret that get in the way of our happiness.

Only one out of six (15 per cent) Brits choose fruits, vegetables or wholegrains – which are shown to combat stress and low moods – when stressed

Half of us say we eat comfort food to lift our mood. Only 28 per cent turn to friends or family to help us feel better. When we eat to comfort ourselves it rarely works, we often make bad choices and then find ourselves feeling worse because we then focus our negative thoughts on what we have eaten.

Food and mood

Experts thus warn that we’re eating our way to sadness.

Just 15 per cent of the 2,000 adults surveyed said they stocked up on foods that are shown to boost brain function and maintain a steady, happy mood. These include wholegrains, avocado, blueberries and salmon.

Women and under-25s are least likely to do so: only 11 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 12 per cent of women (with men at 18 per cent).

Fewer than one in ten of us (seven per cent of men and four per cent of women) eat mood-boosting foods such as oats, quinoa and wholegrains such as brown rice at times of stress.

We also buy sugary foods such as chocolate or biscuits to comfort friends or colleagues, which may ultimately make their problems worse (and women are twice as likely as men to do so).

Dr Schenker said: “It’s shocking to see wholesome eating habits go out of the window when we face a challenge in the day or a lull. This is when healthy eating is most important.

“We need to replace the short-lived highs we get from refined sugar and processed fat with healthier options and new long-term shopping and eating habits. This starts with recognising the types of food that can provide nutritional and psychological benefits; those which are scientifically proven to balance your mood.”

Alongside making good food choices we need to address our eating habits if we want to feel happy with ourselves.  Here are some top tips for mindful eating to get you on the track to nutritious and healthy happiness…

Portion control

1) Always pause to think about your food choice before you eat.  Consider carefully whether you are hungry.  If you are think through the impact of what you are about to eat. How will it leave you feeling physically?  Will you be happy with yourself?

2) Once you have made your choice then make sure you plate up your food so that you estimate your portion size. Make it an amount that you will feel happy to have eaten. Whatever we eat, if we eat too much, this can leave us feeling bloated and frustrated with ourselves.

A really good way to get portion size right is to imagine your stomach as being the size of an orange, often we have a tendency to think of it more as melon size but this can lead to us overeat.

3) Think about where your food has come from. Start right back with the person growing it and think through all the way to the person from whom your purchased it. This really will make you appreciate how lucky you are to have such an amazing variety of food available to you.

It will also slow you down a little in your quest for satisfaction.

4) Before you begin to eat sit down and look at your food. Make your plate colourful with lots of different fruit and vegetables and it will please you.

5) Smell your food before your start, often the anticipation of eating is the best bit.  When you start to eat then chew slowly and taste every mouthful.

The Tilda Eat Your Way to Happiness campaign has developed a Mood Food Manual and Seven-Day Meal Planner.