Happy Foods

What are some foods that have a natural “happiness” boost?

The emotional experience of happiness is mediated by the balance of brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and GABA. Foods that promote the body’s ability to produce these neurotransmitters support the ability to feel happy.

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Dopamine is the brain chemical associated most closely with the experience of pleasure and reward. Dopamine is synthesized from an amino acid, tyrosine, so any source of complete protein will support it, as will those that are especially high in tyrosine, such as almonds, avocados, legumes, and pumpkin seeds.

Serotonin is involved in the regulation of sleep, overall mood and digestion. It is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan in processes that are dependent on vitamins B6 and B9 (folic acid). The production of dopamine and GABA is also B6 dependent. Soy beans and soy products such as tofu provide tryptophan, B6 and B9.

Oxytocin has been called the cuddle/love/bliss hormone because it is associated with pleasurable states of emotional bonding and has also been found to reduce stress and anxiety. It is a peptide hormone, which means its synthesis depends on the availability of several amino acids, supplied by dietary protein. The production of oxytocin also requires the presence of vitamin C. Foods high in vitamin C include papaya, cantaloupe and bell peppers.

GABA is the neurotransmitter that induces a state of relaxation. It is synthesized from the amino acid glutamic acid (glutamate) in a process that depends on vitamin B6 as a cofactor. Glutamic acid is found in many foods: proteins, legumes, grains, mushrooms, and nuts among them. L-theanine, found in green tea, increases GABA.

I’ve often thought chocolate should be its own food group, and it might be the ultimate “happy food”. Eating chocolate, especially dark chocolate, may be associated with increases in serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.[1] [2]

Footnotes

[1] Chocolate: indulgence or medicine?

[2] Why Does Chocolate Make People Happy? – Amano Chocolate

This article originally appeared on Quora.