Is there such a thing as The Happiness Diet? Apparently so! Doctor reveals A-Z of foods that trim your waistline AND make you feel good

No one looks forward to the scrimping and agitation that comes with a diet.

For many of us, cutting down on snacks and portion sizes simply crushes our mood.

But according to Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director at Healthspan and author of Eat Well Stay Well, there is a right way to do it that trims your waistline and triggers the release of happy hormones.

The key, she says, is knowing the chemical properties of everything in your fridge, and understanding how they play with your emotions.

Thankfully, for those who don’t feel like sitting down to study the chemical properties of every fruit, vegetable and starch, Dr Brewer has compiled a comprehensive A-Z list.

Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director at Healthspan and author of Eat Well Stay Well, has compiled an A-Z list of foods that trim your waistline and make you feel happy

‘Diet undoubtedly has a major effect on mood,’ Dr Brewer agrees.

‘Scientists know, for example, that omega-3 fish oils can reduce the risk of depression, and that switching from a high fat to a low fat diet can increase feelings of tension, anger and hostility.

‘Your mood can also affect the types of food you eat, with people who feeling distressed showing a preference for sweet, sugary carbohydrates.’

The foods you eat can influence your mood by increasing your production of brain ‘happy’ chemicals such as serotonin.

Researchers have found that people with low levels of the B vitamin, thiamin (B1) feel less composed, less confident and more depressed than those with higher levels, and that increasing intakes can lead to a marked improvement in mood and self confidence.

Similarly, correcting low levels of riboflavin (B2), pyridoxine (B6) and selenium can have a beneficial effect on self-confidence, mood and well-being.

Incorporating those details and more, here is Dr Brewer’s ultimate guide to staying happy and healthy…


Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but abstinence from alcohol is one of the best ways to both lose weight and lift your mood. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram – almost as much as fat (9 calories per gram) and almost twice as much as protein and carbohydrate. Alcohol is also a sedative, with a depressant action on your brain. Although it may make you feel happy initially, this is because it depresses your usual inhibitions, not because of any stimulating effect. Abstain for a few weeks – or limit yourself to one or two glasses at the weekend only.


Bananas contain an alkaloid that acts on the brain to increase mood and self-confidence. It’s found in greatest quantity just beneath the skin. Wrap whole bananas in foil and throw them on the grill for 10 minutes, then carefully scrape the flesh away from the skin and savor slowly. Makes a great diet dessert with a dollop of plain yogurt of fromage frais (don’t over-indulge as even plain baked bananas have a high GI).

Grill some bananas to get a dose of a crucial mood-boosting alkaloid


Crab meat is a good source of riboflavin and makes a tasty salad if freshly picked and drizzled with lime juice. Add some fresh chili to boost your endorphin levels and lift your mood further.


Dark chocolate is a affordable cheat on any diet, but only if it’s at least 70 percent cocoa solids. Eating dark chocolate increases brain levels of several chemicals, including PEA (phenylethylamine) for a mild, confidence-instilling buzz. Chocolate also contains tryptophan – a chemical converted to serotonin in the body, and theobromine, which peps you up – just three reasons why chocolate is so addictive.


Exercise increases levels of brain endorphins as much as five-fold within 30 minutes, to give you a runner’s ‘high’. Exercise also speeds your metabolism as much as ten fold, to increases the rate at which your muscles burn fat as a fuel. Exercise briskly for at least 30 minutes, on most days. And the thirty minutes don’t have to occur all in one go. Similar fat-burning benefits are obtained from three ten minute sessions per day, or two fifteen minute sessions, though you won’t get the endorphin high with shorter bursts of activity.


Fish – especially turbot and salmon – are among the richest sources of vitamin B6. People who eat fish infrequently are more likely to become depressed than those who eat fish regularly. No wonder it’s often referred to as brain food. Treat yourself to smoked salmon – only 170 calories for a whole 100 grams.


Garlic improves feelings of well being and, in one study, taking garlic tablets for 4 months significantly improved positive mood characteristics such as increased activity, happiness, ability to concentrate and sensitivity. At the same time, negative mood characteristics such as anxiety and irritation were reduced. Garlic can also improve the flavor of bland diet foods.


Hummus contains garlic plus chickpeas and sesame seeds, which are both naturally rich in B1, B6 and tryptophan to boost serotonin production and promote relaxation. Spread thinly on oatcakes or eat with fresh crudités – celery, peppers, carrot sticks – for an ultra-healthy snack.

Hummus contains garlic plus chickpeas and sesame seeds, which are both naturally rich in B1, B6 and tryptophan to boost serotonin production and promote relaxation


Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones, and deficiency has been linked with reduced thyroid function, low mood and impaired fat burning. Boost your intake of iodine-rich foods such as seafood and, on those rare occasions when you add salt to your diet, select iodized salt or mineral sea salt.


Juices make a good substitute for all the alcohol you’re now avoiding – and are even better if you retain the pulp to make a smoothie. How about starting your day with a carrot, orange and ginger smoothie?


Kinugoshi is a silken, Japanese tofu made from soy protein and a seaweed extract called nigari. It is an excellent source of mood-enhancing B vitamins and selenium (see below). Try substituting tofu for meat at least once a week. As a bonus, soy-based diets have been shown to improve kidney function in both young adults with type 1 diabetes, and older people with type 2 diabetes.


Lobster is a good source of selenium, which may play a role in mood regulation.Several studies suggest that low selenium levels increase the incidence of depression, anxiety, tiredness, confusion and hostility. Treat yourself to lobster at only 103 calories per 100 grams meat. Use low fat fromage frais and lemon juice instead of butter or mayonnaise.


Milk is an excellent source of riboflavin (B2), providing around a quarter of your daily needs. Low-fat milk contains just as much riboflavin (and calcium) as full fat milk, but is a healthier option for those wanting to lose weight. Low fat yogurt and fromage frais are also useful sources of B1 and B6.


Nuts are high in protein and fiber, helping to damp down appetite by filling you up. Macadamias are especially high in beneficial monounsaturated fats. As well as improving cholesterol levels and glucose control, eating a handful of Macadamias per day has been shown to promote slight reductions in weight – despite an increase in total fat consumed.


Oats are a good source of building blocks needed to make melatonin – nature’s sleep hormone. As well as improving sleep, oats also increase daytime stamina. Research involving Australian athletes who followed an oat-based diet for three weeks showed a 4 percent increase in stamina. Just what you need to boost your exercise levels and burn more fat.


Pesto contains basil, whose essential oil is said to warm the emotions and stimulate zest for life. Its pine nuts are a good source of thiamin (B1), while the parmesan cheese provides riboflavin (B2). For a light lunch, mix cooked brown rice with some fresh, shredded basil, a little grated parmesan, chopped walnuts and drizzle with olive (or macadamia nut) oil. Serve with mixed salad leaves.

Pesto contains basil, whose essential oil is said to warm the emotions and stimulate zest for life


Quinoa, the seed of a plant related to spinach, has 50% more protein than most grains and is also a good source of B group vitamins. As a bonus it has a low GI value of 51 and can sate your hunger without significant impact on your blood glucose levels. Enjoy its slightly smoky, nutty flavour and chewy texture as an alternative to rice.


Red rice has a distinctive, nutty flavor and a satisfying, chewy texture due to the thin, red bran – containing B vitamins – that remains after light milling. It has the same nutritional value as brown rice but cooks twice as quickly. Sprinkling with rice wine vinegar will lower its GI value further, making it perfect (in small quantities) for slimmers.


Soy products such as vegeburgers and tofu are not just for vegetarians. Soy is an excellent sources of B group vitamins and selenium – Quorn soy protein tops the list as the richest source of thiamin (B1) for example.

Soy is an excellent sources of B group vitamins and selenium


Turkey is a rich source of thiamin (B1) and a good source of vitamin B6 and deserves its reputation as a dieter’s best friend. Roast, white turkey meat is so lean it only contains 1 percent saturated fat and just 107 calories per 100 grams.


Use a smaller plate to fool your brain into thinking you’ve eaten more. This surprisingly simple tip really does help you feel satisfied with smaller-sized portions.


Variety is the spice of life – and of dieting. Reduce boredom by substituting your usual chicken with duck, venison, buffalo or ostrich meat. Wild game meats are an excellent source of riboflavin (B2) and vitamin B6, are low in fat and those they do contain are rich in healthy omega-3s (assuming animals are free-range and grass-fed).


Wholegrain cereals are over-flowing with B vitamins, especially B1, B2 and B6. Select brown versions of rice, bread and pasta – but keep to small portions and eat slowly so your brain has time to receive full-up messages before you’ve cleared your plate.

Wholegrain cereals are over-flowing with B vitamins, especially B1, B2 and B6


Refuse to weigh yourself – you’ll just feel more depressed when you retain water and the pounds don’t want to shift. Instead, rely on how your clothes fit. Is that waistband loser? Then you’re silhouette is sleeker – no matter what the scales say. Bin them.


Yeast extracts are an excellent source of B group vitamins and selenium. Use to make a mug of thin consommé as part of a slimming lunch.


Don’t under-estimate the importance of sleep in boosting your mood and improving your will power. If you’re fully rested, it’s easier to exercise, and to shun junk foods laden with carbs and fat.

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