My Three Favourite Happy Foods

seanuts LRHave you ever noticed how what you eat affects how you feel?  Research suggests that good food can really put you in a buoyant mood. According to a study in the UK, The Food and Mood Project, 80 percent of people who were surveyed reported a significant improvement in their mood and found that when they were drinking more water and eating more ‘supporter foods’ such as vegetables, fruits, oily fish, nuts and seeds, brown whole grains, fibre, protein and organic foods they experienced less depression and anxiety.  

The researchers also discovered that excess stressor foods such as refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol improved mood at first but then left people feeling stressed because they weren’t providing adequate nutrition and their bodies were left depleted.

The science behind foods effect on mood comes down to chemical and physiological changes in our brain structure which can lead to altered behavior. The survey indicated that supporter foods have been proven to alter your metabolism and brain chemistry, ultimately affecting your energy level and mood. 

During the survey, participants were asked for their personal recommendations to share with other people considering undertaking a similar self-help process. Several themes emerged, all concerned with the process of exploring food and mood. Three of the main themes were;

1. Getting motivated.  Food and Mood participants said:

‘Try it! It is such a simple and harmless way to explore and it beats taking drugs as a first choice from the doctor.'

‘There is a definite link with food and mood, but I do lapse and when I do I feel noticeably different.'

“Once you find out your triggers you can feel so much better.'

2. Practical approaches

‘Try something just for one week e.g. no sugar/no caffeine. It is such an eye-opener.’

‘Go slowly, change one thing at a time and monitor the effects. Tell yourself: ‘if this does work I’ll know quickly – if it doesn’t I’ll try something else.'

3. Helpful attitudes

 ‘Be honest with yourself- I always believed I was a healthy eater but the reality was different. My reality now matches and I follow it, the result is a new me.’

‘Don’t give up. Whatever you find out will help long term – things will not happen overnight and there is only you that can appreciate your condition.’

Some really great practical advice there that we can all follow.  So instead of reaching for chocolate or sugar filled treats to improve your mood why not try one of my three happy ingredients.

You may not think of sardines as a happy food but these little guys are my favourite go to meal because they’re sky high in mood boosting omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin B12 and loaded with minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. They’re also inexpensive and very easy to bring to the table.  Brain, hair, skin and nails benefit too, a 2012 study reveals that fish oil increases transmission of serotonin in the brain which controls emotion.  Because of their ability to increase serotonin levels this makes fish oils a very good mood food to include in your diet.

If you’re not a fish fan you can swap out your oil for flaxseed, chia, or extra virgin olive which are also high in Omega 3. Canned sardines in extra virgin olive oil are a convenient option, as they require minimum preparation or you can buy them fresh.  The good news about sardines is that they are not mercury heavy like tuna.  You can add them to salads, or combine with lemon juice, olive oil, Celtic sea salt and cracked pepper on a gluten free cracker for a tasty, nutrient dense snack.

Seanuts are one of the new recipes that I have recently concocted and feature in my upcoming book Eat Yourself Beautiful. They remind me of an Indonesian snack ikan bilis which I first encountered years ago when I was teaching English in Bali. They’re highly addictive too, so a good way to keep your happiness levels boosted.


Serves 4


  • 2 cups almonds (can be pre-soaked)
  • 2 x 45gm cans chopped sardines
  • 8 garlic cloves peeled and sliced
  • 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 TBS lime zest
  • 1 tsp. Celtic Sea Salt
  • 6 drops liquid stevia 


  • Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius
  • Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine
  • Spread on a baking sheet and sprinkle with lime zest
  • Place in the oven, for 25 minutes, stirring halfway through
  • Remove from oven and place in bowl and sprinkle with additional lime zest if needed

I turn to eggs when I want to get happy because they’re rich in B vitamins and having a steady level in the body can really help to keep your mood stable.  They’re also a fantastic all round ingredient that you can use anytime of the day and in so many different ways, boiled, scrambled, poached, and in stir fries and desserts and baking. The protein in eggs helps you feel satisfied longer, helping to stabilize blood sugar which in turn helps your mood.

For a mood boosting start to the day why not try this recipe for Chia Seed Scramble 

Chia Seed Scramble

Serves 2


  • 4 organic eggs
  • 2 tsp. almond milk
  • 2 TBS chia seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed
  • 1 brown onion chopped
  • 1 TBS organic butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped red and yellow capsicum
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • Freshly chopped coriander to garnish


  • In a bowl whisk the eggs and milk
  • Drop in the chia seeds and let it sit for about 15 minutes to thicken up
  • In a frying pan on medium heat sauté garlic and onion in butter until translucent
  • Add the capsicum and cook until tender
  • Now pour in egg mixture and stir with a fork until almost set
  • Add spinach and cook until the leaves are wilted
  • Top with fresh coriander

Another happy ingredient on my shopping list is banana. This delicious and super easy banana ice cream recipe only takes a few minutes to make and has a handful of ingredients.  Banana contains a high dose of potassium, an essential ingredient for you to keep your nervous system in good shape and balanced. Eating a banana can also boost your dopamine levels, dopamine is a natural feel good chemical in the brain that plays a role in the pleasure and reward pathways.

 Some other ingredients that can boost your dopamine levels are foods like almonds, avocados and pumpkin seeds.

 Get  stuck into this easy to make banana ice cream recipe and get happy!.  

 Banana Ice Cream

 Serves 2


  • 2 bananas frozen and cut into chunks
  • 1 TBS cacao powder
  • 6 drops liquid stevia or sweetener of your choice
  • 1 TBS almond butter


  • Pre-peel bananas cut them into chunks and place in a freezer bag in the freezer
  • Once frozen, place them into a food processor with the cacao, stevia and almond butter
  • Puree until creamy stopping to scrape the sides when needed

Happy cooking! You can find all of my recipe books here.

2 Responses to “My Three Favourite Happy Foods”

  1. Renee says:

    Is there any particular brand of sardines that are best?


    • lee says:

      Hi Renee, The Fish 4 Ever brand is good, I have also heard that ‘Wild Planet’ and ‘Crown Prince’ brands are good too. Lee

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