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Foods That Increase Happiness

According to a study by the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, there are many proven, natural methods to increase serotonin, the chemical in the brain that controls mood and increases happiness. Researchers studied the similarities and differences between serotonin stimulators and human civilization changes that could be factors as to why so many people seek help from medicines to increase serotonin levels. They found that increased natural sunlight was a huge factor in increasing serotonin, as well as exercise, fresh air, social interaction, and food. 

Why Some Foods Increase Happiness

Many people are happy when they see their favorite foods in front of them. Comfort foods or foods that carry nostalgia are wonderful. Holiday foods, especially, will often fit this purpose. As it turns out, there are scientific reasons why some foods increase happiness. 

Though meal-time in itself can be a happy time, the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience reports that foods that are high in tryptophan increase serotonin in humans and animals. Tryptophan is an amino acid that humans cannot produce themselves and do not necessarily need to survive but can be found in most naturally-grown foods. 

Milk and Dairy

Milk is a happy beverage, with proteins and amino acids that help increase serotonin in humans. It is rich in protein and healthy fats that can be helpful in brain and body development. Milk also contains potassium and calcium to promote healthy, strong bodies. 

Chickpeas, Nuts, and Seeds

Researchers found that the foods that most increase serotonin levels (especially in early humans) are foods like chickpeas, nuts, and seeds. These foods are rich in amino acids and protein, as well as good fats. Many early humans ground them up and used them as a base for flatbreads or ate them raw. 


Corn is another food high in tryptophan. Early humans in North America relied on corn for many things, and today, many enjoy corn on the cob in the late summer into autumn months. Though raw corn provides the best results for happiness, there is evidence that fresh corn prepared in different recipes increases serotonin as well. Processed or canned corn generally does not have the effect that raw or fresh corn will have for stimulating happiness.

Turkey and Chicken

Lean poultry, like turkey and chicken, are great healthy meat options containing amino acids, and they bring happiness! Turkey and chicken are both high in protein, meaning they will help a person stay fuller longer. 


Oats and oatmeal are great foods that promote happiness and digestion, and they are easy to come by. Oats are also a great source of antioxidants and can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar. Those who incorporate oat bran in their diets can reap the benefits of fiber to regulate bowel movement as well. 


Eggs are packed with protein and amino acids, including tryptophan. They also come with good fats and can help keep cholesterol under control. Eggs fill you up and can be great for weight control as well. For those who prepare their own eggs, it is easy to eat them fresh every time. 

The Power of Fruits and Vegetables

For many, fruits and especially vegetables are eaten last, though they do score high on the “happiest foods” scale. Fruits and vegetables carry the best effects when eaten raw. Fresh fruits and vegetables, in particular, are proven as food that correlates with increased mental health when introduced to one’s diet. 

According to Frontiers of Psychology, fresh produce that is heated or cooked changes the bioavailability of the food, meaning that the nutrients can be slightly stifled or cooked out. This is not a reason to avoid fruits and vegetables or discount their high nutritional value; by all means, cook your food. However, fresh is always better than processed or canned. The happiest fruits and vegetables include: 

  • Spinach
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Cucumber
  • Red onion
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Tomato
  • Kiwi
  • Oranges
  • Apples 
  • Bananas
  • Grapefruit
  • Pears
  • Berries

A Trend in Happy Scoring Foods

Per the list above, the happiest foods are foods that are natural, unprocessed, and carry a lot of benefits for overall health and wellness. For those looking to change up their diet, start with healthy changes from the foods above. You may begin to notice changes in your mood, energy levels, physicality, and more. 

Those who are in treatment or recovery and are having a hard time can try changing their diet by introducing freshly-cooked meals based on the foods above. If comfort foods are a must sometimes, that is okay too. It is always good to try a variety of foods and find what fits your health post-addiction. For more information, read Scientific Reports’ research on healthy foods that are happy foods. 

Foods that increase happiness do so by providing rich nutrients and serotonin-inducing amino acids that the body can’t produce itself. For people who struggle with mental health or addiction, changing your diet is not a fix-all. Changing your diet is a healthy step to take, but you’ll need more support to recover, and that’s okay. Support from your family, friends, sponsor, doctor, and therapist will be necessary for your recovery, and you can get that all at RECO Intensive. At RECO Intensive, we understand that mental health and happiness are important, especially as you’re finding happiness in treatment. Our professional staff and experienced alumni can help create a treatment plan that is specifically catered to you. If this means helping you make eating choices that can induce happiness, that’s great. We can help you establish your recovery routine here at RECO Intensive. Call us today at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter future. 

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