Happy Calories : Food For Emotions

By Darine Ammache, Clinical Psychologist


The term “happy calories” is not a scientifically accepted term, but the idea that certain foods can affect mood and mental well-being is commonly held by some. There is research that suggests that certain nutrients found in food, such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and nuts, may be beneficial for mental health conditions such as depression. Additionally, some studies have shown that vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D and magnesium, can have positive effects on mood. However, it’s important to note that overall diet and lifestyle have a greater impact on mental well-being than any specific food or nutrient.

There’s a so-called happy calorie won’t make us gain weight. That’s because intake from preferred food is digested faster than others. Food preferences may play a role in digestion, it is not a well-understood link, and the rate of digestion is primarily determined by the physical and chemical properties of the food, along with the activity of digestive enzymes and hormones, and the overall health of the individual’s gut.

Although there are certain foods that are known as the taboo of food because they cause weight gain, they can have a positive effect to our mood and elevate our mental health. Below you will find some of the food taboos that can in reality work as a mood enhancer.


There is some evidence to suggest that consuming chocolate may have a positive impact on mental health. Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, is rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, which have been linked to improved mood and cognitive function. Additionally, chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine and theobromine, which can help to improve mood and increase energy.

French fries:

French fries provide pleasure because they contain high levels of fat and salt, which can stimulate the release of pleasure-inducing chemicals in the brain such as dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure and reward. When we eat something that tastes good, our brain releases dopamine, which creates a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction. Additionally, the taste, texture, and smell of French fries can also be pleasurable to many people.

This pleasure is often described as a “comfort food” effect, as people often turn to foods high in fat and sugar during times of stress or emotional turmoil. However, this pleasure is often short-lived and can be followed by feelings of guilt, shame or discomfort

Ice cream:

Ice cream is a food that is high in sugar, which can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, which in turn can trigger the release of dopamine, leading to a temporary feeling of pleasure or satisfaction. Elevated blood sugar levels, caused by consuming high amounts of sugar, can trigger the release of pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain. This release of dopamine creates a temporary feeling of pleasure or satisfaction, known as the “reward response.” This is because, in the past, our ancestors brains associated sweet taste with high-calorie foods, which were a rare and valuable source of energy for survival.


Caffeine is a psychoactive substance found in coffee, tea, and many energy drinks. It works by binding to adenosine receptors in the brain, which are responsible for the feeling of tiredness and decreased alertness. By doing so, caffeine blocks the action of adenosine, and instead, it increases the firing of neurons in the brain, leading to increased alertness, attention, and mood. Moreover, caffeine also stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in pleasure, motivation, and reward, thus providing a temporary feeling of pleasure or satisfaction.

Pasta and white bread:

Carbohydrates, particularly refined carbohydrates like those found in pasta and white bread, are rapidly broken down into glucose (a type of sugar) in the body. This causes a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, which can lead to a temporary boost in energy and mood. This is because, when blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin, which helps the body’s cells absorb glucose and use it for energy. The release of insulin can also lead to an increase in the production of serotonin, a chemical messenger in the brain that is associated with mood regulation.

It’s important to keep in mind that while these foods may temporarily provide pleasure, they should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Eating a diet high in processed foods can increase the risk of chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which can have a negative impact on our overall well-being.

It’s also important to note that a healthy diet is not a substitute for professional help if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or other mental health conditions. Consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice

On another notice, and taking this article to a healthier direction, I have listed some of the healthy food that can work on our mental health and have longer effect on our health, lifestyle and mental health.

  1. Dairy products: Dairy products such as cheese and yogurt contain high levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that is converted into serotonin, a chemical messenger in the brain that regulates mood and sleep.
  2. Eggs: Eggs are a good source of vitamin D, which has been linked to improved mood and reduced risk of depression. They also contain choline, a nutrient that is important for brain development and function.
  3. Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to a lower risk of depression and improved mood. They also contain magnesium, a mineral that is important for nerve and muscle function.
  4. Berries: Berries are high in antioxidants, which help to protect the brain from damage caused by inflammation. They also contain high levels of vitamin C, which is important for the production of neurotransmitters that regulate mood.

And what we should take into consideration that The Mediterranean diet, which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil, has been associated with a lower risk of depression. Studies have found that individuals who follow this diet have a 20-40% reduction in depression risk compared to those who don’t. Adding regular physical activity and socializing to the Mediterranean diet can further reduce the depression risk by 50%. These findings however are observational and more research is needed to establish a causal relationship. It’s always important to consult with a healthcare professional before making any major changes to your diet or lifestyle.

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