23 Foods Happy People Eat

By David Zinczenko

When I was a kid, I had a little too much free time to get into trouble. But by “trouble,” I mean junk food. I didn’t pull fire alarm bells; I pulled Taco Bells. I didn’t run with the juvies; I ran with the Friendly’s. Burger King was my gang leader, and Pizza Hut was my territory. But hanging with this dangerous crowd not only turned me into a fat kid, but it also turned me into a depressed kid, too.

As science would have it, this childhood fast-food diet, with all those processed chemicals and hardly any nutrients, was throwing off my body’s feel-good chemistry. In fact, eating the wrong foods can add stress and anxiety while also making us lethargic and grouchy. A diet that deprives our brains of much-needed “happy” nutrients doesn’t just strip away our smiles—it also makes us fat, fueling a never-ending unhappiness cycle of eating because you feel bad and feeling bad because you’re eating badly.

There’s a drug-free way to boost your spirits and shrink your belly, regardless of your age: brain food. Yep, feeding your brain with the right nutrients—found in these foods—is all you need to do to improve your mood, boost your energy, and keep your hands out of the chip bags. It’s what happy people eat—and I think that’s one crowd that makes us all feel pretty good. To keep the good vibes going from your plate to your body, be sure to find out these 5 Best-Ever Foods for Abs—Guaranteed!

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1. Black Beans

black beans
black beans

Beans are a magnesium–rich food that helps boost the happiness hormone, serotonin, and diminish that I-feel-so-bloated-and-fat feeling, too. As if that’s not enough, these small but mighty guys are antioxidant-rich and loaded with other good-for-you nutrients like iron, fiber, copper, zinc and potassium.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Double your happiness with a healthy bean brownie recipe! Blend 15 ounces of black beans and 1 cup of water together in a blender. Combine with a package of organic brownie mix and combine until smooth. Bake in a greased baking dish for 25 minutes at 350 degrees F.

2. Halibut

halibut
halibut

One of the best choices of fish for feeling content and boosting weight loss, a steamed piece of halibut has an impressive amount of protein and influences your serotonin levels. It’s also ranked as one of the most filling foods, according to The Satiety Index of Common Foods, an Australian study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The moral of the story? Bust out of a hangry mood with a little halibut.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Not all white fish are created equal. Halibut is not just like tilapia, which you should avoid.

3. Whole Grain Bread

whole grain bread
whole grain bread

When your hormones are all over the place (PMS, stress at work, whatever), you wind up craving carb-rich foods because they help comfort your hormonal rollercoaster. But cookies won’t make you nearly as happy (or thin) as a complex carb like whole grain bread.

Eat This, Not That! tip

We like Ezekiel 4:9 Cinnamon Raisin Sprouted Whole Grain Bread because the raisins provide a natural sweetness to nip your sugar craving in the bud while the vitamin B6 and manganese-rich whole grains help boost your mood. Toast up a slice as a mid-morning mood-boosting snack.

4. Beets

beets
beets

It’s hard to beat the amazing beet. Beets contains betaine (sounds about right…), which supports serotonin production in the brain. Beets also have a potent dose of folic acid in them, which stabilizes emotional and mental health.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Beets are on our list of 40 Best-Ever Weight Loss Superfoods because of the powerful nitrates in them.

5. Seaweed

seaweed
seaweed

Seaweed—yes, like in your sushi or on the side as a salad—is packed with depression-fighting iodine, which can be harder to find in foods. Iodine is critical for your thyroid to function properly, which influences your energy, weight, and even your brain functions.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Dried seaweed snacks are perfect for munching on the run, and their high-flavor, low-calorie profile fits into any weight loss plan.

6. Chamomile Tea

chamomile tea
chamomile tea

Now that it’s winter, your circadian rhythm may be thrown off by the decrease of (natural) light, making it harder to sleep at night and to stay on top of your game during the day. Research shows that chamomile tea not only brings on better sleep but improves your cognitive functioning during the day, too.

Eat This, Not That! tip

We love tea so much, we made it part of our best-selling weight-loss plan, The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse!

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7. Blueberry Juice

blueberry juice
blueberry juice

Darkly colored berries lead to weight loss, decreasing the formation of fat cells by up to 73%—that alone will improve your mood. But berries also carry heavy doses of vitamin C. Too little C—a possibility when you’re hunkering down on comfort foods and no longer enjoying a summer bounty of tomatoes, peppers, and fruit salads—can lead to fatigue, depression, low motivation, and the general feeling that you’re sloshing around in wet snow boots 24/7.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Avoid the imposter “juices”—V8 Splash is a pathetic 10 percent juice—and power up with R.W. Knudsen Just Blueberry. Add a glass in the AM.

8. Canola Oil

canola oil
canola oil

Canola oil is one of the cheapest sources of omega-3 fats and one of the easiest to incorporate into your diet. When consumed, these fats concentrate in your brain and help elevate your mood.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Make a canola oil vinaigrette or use a little to sauté vegetables.

9. Eggs

eggs
eggs

Eggs are loaded with mood-promoting omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, B vitamins, and iodide, and because they’re packed with protein, they’ll also keep you full and energized long after you eat them. Need another reason to crack some shells in the morning? A 2008 study in the International Journal of Obesity found that people who ate two eggs for breakfast lost significantly more weight than those who ate a bagel breakfast.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Don’t buy into unregulated supermarket-egg claims like “omega-3 enriched” or “free-range.” If you’re looking for the most natural eggs, hit up a local farmer. And for more ways to make sure you don’t get taken by evil food marketers, read these 24 Nutrition Myths—Busted!

10. Red Peppers

red peppers
red peppers

Why red? Aren’t all peppers the same? In fact, red bell peppers—which have been allowed to ripen on the vine and not picked when still green—have considerably higher nutrient scores than their underdeveloped brethren—more than double the vitamin C and up to 8 times as much vitamin A. In a recent survey of nutrient density, researchers at William Paterson University ranked red peppers as second only to leafy greens as the most potent of vegetables. The higher concentration of vitamins helps to improve your mood directly, as well as boost your immune system and lessen cold symptoms.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Stir-fry or roast them if you’re not down with nibbling them raw to get the most of their vitamins and nutrients. And click here to see why peppers are one of the Top 50 Foods For His Sex Drive!

11. Coconut

coconut
coconut

Coconut is chock-full of medium-chain triglycerides, fats that keep your brain healthy and fuel better moods. And although coconut is commonly found in high-calorie desserts, you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) stuff your face with macaroons to get your fix.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Try throwing some unsweetened coconut shavings in your oatmeal or yogurt, or toss some in your next healthy smoothie for a flavor boost that will keep you smiling and skinny.

12. Dark Chocolate

dark chocolate
dark chocolate

Turns out chocolate’s delicious taste isn’t the only reason it makes you feel so warm and fuzzy. The cocoa treat also gives you an instant boost in mood and concentration, and improves blood flow to your brain, helping you feel more vibrant and energized. But sorry, Snickers bars don’t count. Cocoa is the chocolate ingredient that does your body good, so pure dark chocolate is your best bet if you want the mood-boosting benefits minus the extra belly flab.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Don’t overdo it: A recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that a few ounces of dark chocolate a day is all you need to reap the benefits. Choose these 20 Best Chocolates for Weight Loss—Ranked!

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13. Pumpkin Seeds

pumpkin seeds
pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are like crunchy little nuggets of Prozac Helper. They’re one of the best food sources of an amino acid known as tryptophan, which helps the production of serotonin in your brain. Antidepressants help the brain to circulate serotonin, so if you’re taking them now, these little pumpkin pick-me-ups may make them even more effective.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Spice them up and swap them in now for snacks like Chex Mix, which is made from wheat, corn, and vegetable oil, all of which are high in omega-6 fatty acids. A study found that those with the highest intake of omega-6 fatty acids have twice the risk of becoming depressed.

14. Mussels

mussels
mussels

Mussels are loaded with some of the highest naturally occurring levels of vitamin B12 on the planet—a nutrient that most of us are lacking. So what’s B12’s mood-saving trick? It helps insulate your brain cells, keeping your brain sharp as you age. Mussels also contain the trace nutrients zinc, iodine, and selenium, which keep your mood-regulating thyroid on track. Another benefit? Mussels are high in protein and low in fat and calories, making them one of the healthiest, most nutrient-dense seafood options you’ll find.

Eat This, Not That! tip

For mussels that are good for your body and the environment, look for farmed—not wild—options raised in the good ol’ USA.

15. Swiss Chard

swiss chard
swiss chard

This leafy green is packed with magnesium—a nutrient essential for the biochemical reactions in the brain that increase your energy levels. A 2009 study in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry also found that higher magnesium intake was associated with lower depression scores. And Swiss chard isn’t the only way to get your magnesium hit.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Soybeans also contain healthy doses of the energy-enhancing nutrient, as do these insanely delicious The 20 Best Superfoods You’ve Never Heard Of!

16. Blue Potatoes

blue potatoes
blue potatoes

Blue potatoes aren’t a common supermarket find, but they’re worth looking out for on your next trip to the farmer’s market. Blue spuds get their color from anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that provide neuro-protective benefits like bolstering short-term memory and reducing mood-killing inflammation. Their skins are also loaded with iodine, an essential nutrient that helps regulate your thyroid.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Other awesome anthocyanin-rich foods: berries, eggplant, and black beans.

17. Grass-Fed Beef

grass fed beef
grass fed beef

Animals raised on grass pastures boast much higher levels of healthy conjugated linoleic acid (or CLA), a “happy” fat that combats stress hormones and blasts belly fat. Grass-fed beef also has a lower overall fat count and contains higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids compared to grain-feed beef. Another great grass-fed option: lamb. It’s packed with iron, a nutrient vital for a stable mood (the areas of the brain related to mood and memory contain the highest iron concentrations).

Eat This, Not That! tip

There are five Best Cuts of Meat to look for when buying your meat.

18. Greek Yogurt

greek yogurt
greek yogurt

This dairy pick is packed with more calcium than you’ll find in milk or regular yogurt, which is good news for your mood. Calcium gives your body the “Go!” command, alerting your brain to release feel-good neurotransmitters. As a result, inadequate calcium intake can lead to anxiety, depression, irritability, impaired memory, and slow thinking. Greek yogurt also contains more protein than regular yogurt, making it a terrific stay-slim snack.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Our Greek yogurt pick: Fage Total 2%, which packs an impressive 10 grams of protein per serving. And click here for the essential list The Best Yogurt Brands to Eat for Weight Loss!

For 100+ creamy, delicious weight-loss recipes, click here for Zero Belly Smoothies!

19. Asparagus

asparagus
asparagus

Your mom was on to something when she made you finish those green spears at the dinner table. This vegetable is one of the top plant-based sources of tryptophan, which serves as a basis for the creation of serotonin—one of the brain’s primary mood-regulating neurotransmitters. Asparagus also boasts high levels of folate, a nutrient that may fight depression (research shows that up to 50 percent of people with depression suffer from low folate levels).

Eat This, Not That! tip

Some other terrific sources of tryptophan: turkey, tuna, and eggs.

20. Honey

honey
honey

Honey, unlike table sugar, is packed with beneficial compounds like quercetin and kaempferol that reduce inflammation, keeping your brain healthy and warding off depression. Honey also has a less dramatic impact on your blood-sugar levels than regular sugar, so it won’t send your body into fat-storage mode the way the white stuff can.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Try adding some honey to your afternoon tea or morning bowl of oatmeal, but don’t go overboard; the sweet nectar has 17 g of sugar and 64 calories per tablespoon, so too much honey can make you heavy, rather than happy. Pair honey with these Fat-Burning Foods to Put in Your Oats!

21. Cherry Tomatoes

cherry tomatoes
cherry tomatoes

Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant that protects your brain and fights depression-causing inflammation. And because lycopene lives in tomato skins, you’ll get more of the stuff if you throw a handful of cherry tomatoes into your next salad instead of slicing up one full-size tomato. Or enjoy them on their own with a little olive oil, which has been shown to increase lycopene absorption.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Try to go organic whenever possible: Researchers at the University of California-Davis found that organic tomatoes have higher lycopene levels.

22. Olive Oil

olive oil
olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil may increase blood levels of feel-good hormone serotonin, which is also associated with satiety. Translation: Using this oil over other less-healthy fats like butter and lard means less flubber is apt to be stored on your frame. Find out what else to always keep stocked in your kitchen with these 40 Things Healthy Cooks Always Have on Hand.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Expensive extra-virgin, with its robust flavor, should be saved to dress salads, vegetables, and cooked dishes. For cooking purposes, regular or light olive oil is sufficient.

23. Spinach

spinach
spinach

Iron deficiency—a problem many women face—can sap your energy. “Iron deficiency is common and can result in feelings of exhaustion, weakness, and irritability,” says Cassie Bjork, RD, LD. Bjork says remedying the situation requires a two-part approach: “If you think your diet lacks iron, focus on eating more spinach, grass-fed red meat, and liver, all foods rich in the nutrient. Then, ensure sure your body can utilize the iron,” she says. “Consuming probiotic-rich yogurt, fatty fish and an L-glutamine supplement can improve gut health and help your body to absorb iron more efficiently,” explains Bjork.

Eat This, Not That! tip

Certain foods are more powerful together than alone. Did you know that eating atangerine with your spinach salad is a brilliant move because the tangerine helps your body absorb the iron from the spinach? Now you do.

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