11 Foods That Elevate Happiness and 9 Foods That Steal It

Foods That Elevate Happiness

Content updated from previous publish date.

One of the secrets to happiness is to enjoy real happy foods (and beverages) that will make you feel better, not just in the moment but in the long run. Scientific evidence shows that many foods elevate moods, boost energy, and calm anxiousness and stress—the necessary ingredients for happiness. A wealth of research also points to a host of sad foods to avoid—the ones that dampen your mood, zap your energy, and ramp up tension.

Scientific evidence shows that many foods elevate moods, boost energy, and calm anxiousness and stress—the necessary ingredients for happiness. A wealth of research also points to a host of sad foods to avoid. Click To Tweet


The first and most critical rule of happy eating centers on consuming foods that make you feel good not only at the moment but also enhance your mood, energy, and physical well-being in the long run. This one simple eating strategy is the most important with respect to happiness. Think of common comfort foods like pizza, ice cream, or chips—they may give you a quick boost now but rob you of feelings of contentment later. In general, they are low-quality foods that have been scientifically engineered to taste so good that they trigger your brain’s “bliss point” and the release of some of the neurochemicals of happiness—such as dopamine—causing you to become addicted to them.

The Standard American Diet (aptly referred to as “SAD”) is filled with foods that are loaded with unhealthy ingredients and artificial chemicals that are detrimental to mental, emotional, and physical well-being. A growing body of research shows that the SAD diet is associated with:

  • Depression: A study in Plos One found that unhealthy eating habits increase the risk for depression.
  • Anxiety disorders: An animal study in Nutritional Neuroscience shows a link between a high-carbohydrate diet and anxious
  • ADD/ADHD: A typical Western diet is associated with a greater chance of a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD.
  • Dementia: Findings in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia point to increased cognitive decline when following a Western diet.

Decades of research have irrefutably concluded that an unhealthy diet is also associated with a heightened risk for physical ailments, including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer. After working with tens of thousands of patients over more than 30 years at Amen Clinics, it is clear that having any of these issues steals your joie de vivre.


Some foods are weapons of mass destruction because they are destroying the health and happiness of America and the world, as they are being exported around the globe. These are foods that make you happy now but make you feel bad, tired, anxious or stressed later. Sad foods include those that are:

  1. Highly processed: A 2022 study in the journal Addiction shows that ultra-processed foods (those that are high in refined carbohydrates or added fats) are as addictive as tobacco.
  2. Sprayed with pesticides: When your body, brain, and organs are being assaulted by pesticides, they can’t function at optimal levels. These food saboteurs can kill your mood and lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and fatigue.
  3. High-glycemic: Scheming food manufacturers may try to convince you that the sweet stuff delivers happiness, but it’s actually a mood killer. All forms of sugar—even natural honey or maple—cause blood sugar levels to spike and then crash. This negatively impacts mood; increases anxiousness, irritability, and stress; makes you feel fatigued; and causes cravings. Diets that are too high in sugar also promote inflammation, which is associated with depression and other issues that make you unhappy.
  4. Low in fiber: Low-fiber foods contribute to blood sugar highs and lows that zap moods.
  5. Food-like substances: Fake foods are a real threat to health and happiness.
  6. Artificially colored and sweetened: Artificial dyes, preservatives, flavoring, and other additives have been associated with mood disorders as well as other issues. For example, monosodium glutamate (MSG)can trigger depressive and anxious symptoms among other disturbances, according to research. The evidence about Red Dye 40 is even more alarming. Do you think artificial sweeteners are giving you a quick boost of happiness without the downsides of sugar? Wrong! Studies have linked aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) to depression, anxiety, irritable moods, and insomnia, as well as a host of other neurophysiological issues. Artificial sweeteners—including aspartame, saccharine (Sweet’N Low), and sucralose (Splenda)—can also lead to high insulin levels, which is associated with a higher risk for depression in addition to Alzheimer’s disease and a variety of physical ailments.
  7. Laden with hormones: The meat and dairy industries have used hormones for years to increase milk production and accelerate growth, but these hormones can be detrimental to health and well-being.
  8. Tainted with antibiotics: The food industry uses antibiotics to prevent disease in livestock, but that means you are consuming these medications too.
  9. Stored in plastic containers: Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical found in plastic storage containers that can act as an endocrine disruptor.


Research shows that some foods contain nutrients that elevate moods. They make you happy now . . . and later. Happy foods include:

  1. Organic colorful fruits and vegetables, especially berries and leafy greens
  2. Sustainably raised fish and meat
  3. Nuts and seeds
  4. Healthy oils
  5. Eggs
  6. Clean protein powders (sugar-free, plant-based)
  7. Dark chocolate
  8. Unprocessed foods
  9. Organic foods
  10. Low-glycemic foods (they don’t spike blood sugar)
  11. High-fiber foods

If you want to increase your happiness, you must pay attention to what you put on the end of your fork!

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Happier foods

    Comment by barbarah — January 26, 2022 @ 3:17 AM

  2. Caffeine and alcohol can cause anxiety and depression as well.

    Comment by Marilyn K Clark — January 26, 2022 @ 4:11 AM

  3. Why not store cereal, cookies, etc in plastic containers. If I have left overs from a meal I also use those containers and maybe some glass. Thank You.

    Comment by Roberta Hedges — January 26, 2022 @ 5:50 AM

  4. Greetings,
    Now that we got this down, and with all the devices we have to make life more relaxed, all we need now is a 4 hour work day!
    Best regards

    Comment by Phillip Bielamowicz — January 26, 2022 @ 6:45 AM

  5. I’d like to think it’s so easy as that yet at 72 years old, I have tried so many variations of what diet works best but always there is a catch to it. I agree with it overall but moderation is the key . Even the best foods can be too much at any given time. Like nuts and eggs are bad when you have a virus . Who can actually keep up?

    Comment by Janet — January 26, 2022 @ 12:41 PM

  6. Thank you for the gifts. I can’t wait until the book arrives!!!

    Comment by Mary Jo Rodrigues — January 26, 2022 @ 1:55 PM

  7. Wow! Proof that changing my diet is a big reason why I don’t take Klonopin, Prozac, Wellbutrin and all the others anymore! These HAPPY foods and Tai Chi have completely transformed me. Unfortunately, when I try to spread the word – nobody wants to listen.

    Comment by Jan Clark — January 27, 2022 @ 6:31 AM

  8. I don’t know what to do about food storage. Should I still collect glass containers? How do I haul beverages to work?

    Comment by Jeannie Ann Bossert — January 28, 2022 @ 12:03 PM

  9. Almost all dried foods, even the healthiest ones come in plastic containers. The greatest danger of all is heating foods in plastic containers, such as heating TV dinners in a microwave. A couple of my colleagues would bring leftovers in a plastic container for lunch and heat them in the microwave. I mentioned the danger to them, but people need inner motivation to change.

    Comment by Michael Janko — March 9, 2022 @ 5:43 AM

  10. I preordered this book through the link (took me to Amazon) and have no communication about the Free Gifts. Will they arrive with the shipment of the book when it releases?

    Comment by Tamara Miller — March 9, 2022 @ 5:50 AM

  11. I agree with Janet, this can get overwhelming – I am constantly reading/ learning about healthy living. It is somewhat just a matter of common sense and moderation. Not many people are willing to give up foods they love, we just need to try our best and slowly develop healthier habits. Thank you Dr. amen for your dedication to healthy living !

    Comment by Janlynn — March 9, 2022 @ 9:26 AM

  12. I agree with the comment by Phillip. Our 24/7 economy has us working longer hours than ever. Working 9 hours outside tending a farm is so much more rewarding than 12 hours in a cubicle, traffic, meetings, online, etc. and it leads us to that terrible diet just to save a few minutes and dollars. Until we change our lifestyle and economy, we will get sicker and sicker.

    Comment by MJ — March 9, 2022 @ 12:08 PM

  13. A friend asked me if your recommendations have been medically “peer-reviewed.” Would you tell us-one way or the other? Thank you.

    Comment by James W "Jim" Lohr — March 9, 2022 @ 6:32 PM

  14. Hello Tamara, thank you for reaching out. You can claim your gifts at this link – https://danielamenmd.com/you-happier/ – about halfway down the page you’ll enter your pre-order information and then you’ll be taken to your Bonus Gifts.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 14, 2022 @ 6:08 PM

  15. Hello James, thank you for reaching out. Here are some helpful areas of our website for you:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 14, 2022 @ 6:13 PM

  16. Am so glad I saw Dr. Amen on PBS ! I'm taking a few supplements and am thrilled with the positive energy I have, and better thinking.

    Comment by Sue — December 23, 2022 @ 3:56 AM

  17. How about stevia? It contains dextrose and stevia leaf extract. Does that spike your insulin levels as well?

    Thank you!!

    Comment by Cheri — December 23, 2022 @ 4:07 AM

  18. Pharmacies are pelted with recalls due to packaging or micro plastics leaching into product. Why does it stop there? If only the food industry could be held to such standards.

    Comment by Brett — October 31, 2023 @ 10:00 AM

  19. excellent idea!

    Comment by Doug Morris — October 31, 2023 @ 2:27 PM

  20. wonderful information!

    Comment by Doug Morris — November 14, 2023 @ 4:14 PM

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