What you eat can affect your happiness!
By Dietitian Sharon Natoli

Feeling down, irritable and tired and can’t work out why?

Maybe it’s what you’re eating! Scientists are now discovering that food not only affects your physical health, it can also affect the mind – improving memory, thinking, concentration and mood.

Eating for Happiness

Making sure you’re getting enough B vitamins, iron and omega-3 fats are just a few of the key factors needed to enhance mood, memory and energy levels.

B Vitamins

All of the B group vitamins have a role to play in regulating mood, energy or memory. Recent research shows folate and vitamins B6 and B12 may have particularly important roles in regulating various aspects of mood.


Folate is not only essential for a healthy pregnancy, it may boost concentration and help combat depression, irritability, forgetfulness and hostility. Folate is needed to ensure adequate levels of S-adenosylmethionine, an antidepressant that raises serotonin levels. Serotonin is a hormone that stimulates feelings of relaxation and happiness.

You need 200micrograms (mcg) of folate daily and if planning a pregnancy, you need 400mcg. Many women don’t get enough folate from their diet and if this may be you, consider increasing your intake of the following top five food sources.

Top 5 Sources of Folate

  • Vegemite, 2 tsp    138mcg
  • Fortified breakfast cereal e.g. Weet-bix, 2 biscuits or Just Right, ½ cup     100mcg
  • Green leafy vegetables e.g. spinach, Bok choy or broccoli, cooked, ½ cup     70mcg
  • Beetroot, canned, 5 slices     53mcg
  • Orange, 1 medium     40mcg


Other good sources of folate include sunflower seeds, baked beans and strawberries.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is required for a healthy nervous system and is needed to make the neurotransmitters that regulate mood. It also helps boost levels of serotonin. If you are low on B6 then correcting this can help reduce irritability and depression.
How much do you need? The recommended dietary intake for vitamin B6 is 0.9-1.4mg per day for women aged 19-54 years.

Top 5 Sources of Vitamin B6

Salmon, grilled, 200g    1.62mg
Natural muesli, ½ cup    0.96mg
Bran cereal, ½ cup    0.81mg
Banana, 1 average     0.65mg
Walnuts, 15    0.34mg

Other good sources include chicken, beef, seafood, cashews and peanuts

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is needed for healthy brain functioning and for the nervous system. Studies show that low levels of vitamin B12 in the diet can lead to poor memory and irritability.
How much do you need?
You need 2 micrograms of vitamin B12 a day and it's only found in animal foods. So making sure you get enough lean meat, fish, dairy products, eggs or fortified vegetarian alternatives is essential.

Top 5 Sources of Vitamin B12

Mussels, 10 cooked     33.0mcg
Sardines, 100g canned     28.0mcg
Oysters, 6 fresh     18.0mcg
Tuna, 100g canned     5.0mcg
Lean beef, 100g cooked     2.0mcg
Pork, 100g cooked    2.0mcg


Along with adequate intake of the B vitamins, getting enough iron is essential for good health and happiness. Increasing iron intake in women with mild iron deficiency has been shown to improve mood. In a study conducted at the University of Newcastle, women with iron deficiency were allocated to one of two groups. The first received an iron supplement and the second received dietary advice to increase their intake of iron from food. The group who ate more iron rich foods showed a greater improvement in mental health scores after 9 months compared to the supplement group. Eating enough green leafy vegetables, lean red meat, breakfast cereals and wholegrain bread everyday may help improve mood if you don't usually get enough iron in your diet.


Populations with high intakes of oily fish, such as Japan and Taiwan, have lower rates of depression and eating fish regularly has also been shown to help ward off dementia. The reason for this may be due to an omega-3 fat called DHA (docohexanoic acid) that is required in high amounts as part of brain tissue. DHA is a component of synaptic membranes in the brain which are responsible for the transmission of messages and the release of neurotransmitters that are in turn related to mood. To get enough omega-3, make sure you eat at least 2 fish meals a week - the oilier the better!

Overall, for good health and happiness aim to:

  • Eat protein-rich foods like lean meat, seafood, chicken or eggs twice a day.
  • Eat at least 2-3 serves of wholegrain foods like breads, rice, pasta and breakfast cereals each day.
  • Eat fish at least twice a week (check http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/foodmatters/mercuryinfish.cfm for recommendations regarding mercury in fish)
  • Include plenty of green leafy vegetables daily.
  • Eat at least 2 pieces of fruit daily.

Your body and your mind will thank you for it!

Sharon Natoli is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and founding Director of her private company Food & Nutrition Australia. www.foodnut.com.au

If you are looking for more healthy eating advice you'll find plenty on the offical Dietitians Association of Australia website at www.daa.asn.au or if you're looking for an Accredited Practising Dietitian in your area go to www.daa.asn.au/dmsweb/frmfindapdsearch.aspx