The Happy Connection: Food, Optimism, and the Power of Potatoes

The Happy Connection: Food, Optimism, and the Power of Potatoes

By Kathy Ashton, Registered Clinical/Medicinal Nutritionist

Kathy AshtonThe relationship between food and our mood is profound and goes beyond simple sustenance. 

 Our diet choices can significantly influence our emotional well-being, affecting our feelings of optimism and spreading positivity and overall happiness.

 Potatoes stand out as a symbol of comfort and joy among the many foods that can impact our mood. In this short exploration of food and optimism, let's delve into why potatoes are often considered the world's happiest food, what foods make us happy, how they affect the brain, and why a diet rich in vegetables can brighten our outlook on life.

Potatoes: The World's Happiest Food – Right????

You love them but are afraid to eat them? You have been told they are bad for you and will make you fat? Well, let's unpack this.

 Potatoes: The Unexpected Source of Happiness and Optimism

Two cultivars of potatoes grown in northern Illinois on display at farmers marketWhile potatoes may not share the same reputation for inducing bliss as dark chocolate – (see further into this article for more on dark chocolate), they harbour their own delightful secrets that can infuse your life with happiness and optimism. 

Let's peel back the skins to discover why these unassuming tubers uniquely brighten your mood and outlook on life.

Potatoes and Mood Regulation: The B6 Connection

The key to understanding the potato's impact on your happiness is its vitamin B6 content. This unheralded nutrient plays a pivotal role in the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. These chemical messengers are your brain's way of communicating joy, pleasure, and well-being.

When you savour a serving of potatoes, you enjoy their earthy flavour and comforting texture and indulge in a nutrient that can enhance your mood. Vitamin B6 helps ensure the smooth functioning of your brain's mood-regulating mechanisms, potentially lifting your spirits and helping you see the world through a more optimistic lens.

The Comfort of Potatoes: Nostalgia and Well-Being

Potatoes have a unique ability to evoke feelings of comfort and well-being. For many of us, they're tied to fond memories of home-cooked meals and family gatherings. This sense of nostalgia can trigger a release of endorphins, the body's natural mood lifters.

Additionally, potatoes' hearty and fulfilling nature can provide a sense of satiety and contentment, making you feel more satisfied and less prone to mood swings. A well-prepared potato dish is like a warm hug for your taste buds and soul.

The Potato as a Canvas for Culinary Creativity

Potatoes also serve as a versatile canvas for culinary creativity. Whether you prefer them mashed, roasted, or as part of a savoury gratin, potatoes invite experimentation and exploration in the kitchen. This culinary adventure can be a source of joy and optimism, offering a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as you create delightful dishes.

So, the next time you relish a plate of potatoes, savour their flavour and the potential for happiness and optimism they bring. These unpretentious tubers are more than mere sustenance; they are a reminder that life's simple pleasures, like a perfectly roasted potato, can infuse your days with a dose of cheerfulness and hope. 

However, having said all that, a few other points need to be made so you don't go eating too many or eating them in the wrong way, making them a source of unhappiness for your waistline. 

The Potato Paradox – the science

Potatoes have often found themselves at the centre of a culinary controversy. They're delicious, versatile, and a staple in diets worldwide for centuries. However, they've also been maligned as a culprit in weight gain and unhealthy eating habits. The truth, though, is more nuanced than it might seem.

 Potatoes themselves are remarkably low in calories. They contain just about one calorie per gram, making them one of the most calorie-friendly foods you can find. The problem arises not from the potatoes themselves but from what we tend to put on them. The company they keep on our plates can do the damage.

 Potatoes often become dietary villains when drenched in high-calorie, high-fat toppings like bacon, cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, or slathered in butter. It sounds delicious, but this is heart disease waiting to happen. The humble spud is not the issue; it remains innocent. These decadent additions transform a healthy, low-calorie dish into a calorie bomb or a disease bomb, not a happiness explosion.

 The science behind this is where the real culprit emerges: Dietary fat is much denser in calories than carbohydrates like those found in potatoes. While carbohydrates contain about four calories per gram, fat packs a whopping nine calories per gram. So, when we load up our potatoes with fat-laden toppings, we're significantly increasing the calorie content of our meal.

 It's not that potatoes make us gain weight; the excess calories from the fats they're paired with can contribute to weight gain if consumed in abundance. You're enjoying a nutrient-rich, low-calorie meal if you eat a plain baked potato with some steamed vegetables. We run into trouble when we turn this wholesome dish into a mound of cheesy, bacon-laden extravagance.  

 As "fat storage machines", humans are designed to store fat, and the carbohydrates in potatoes also provide a steady source of energy and help regulate blood sugar levels, preventing mood swings. Their comforting texture and flavour can evoke nostalgia and a sense of well-being, making them a beloved addition to many comfort food recipes.

 Potatoes should absolutely be part of a healthy, balanced diet.

 Potatoes provide essential nutrients like fibre, vitamins, and minerals, making them valuable to your plate. Moderation and mindful toppings are the keys to enjoying potatoes without the weighty consequences.


Other Foods That Make Us Happy: A Neurological Perspective

 Besides potatoes, other foods have the power to boost our mood by influencing our brain chemistry.

 Here are a few key players:


Dark Chocolate 

Attractive woman choosing between chocolate and a fresh apple.Ah, dark chocolate, the delectable treat that whispers sweet nothings to our taste buds and flirts shamelessly with our emotions. It's not just a dessert; it's an undercover agent of happiness. But what makes dark chocolate so irresistible, and how does it manage to put a grin on our faces?

 Dark chocolate contains a pair of charming compounds: phenylethylamine and anandamide. 

 Phenylethylamine, or the "love drug" as it's often playfully called, is the same compound our brains release when we fall in love. So, in essence, dark chocolate is like a tiny, edible Cupid, aiming its arrow straight at your heart and mood.

 On the other hand, anandamide is often called the "bliss molecule." This cheeky little compound dares to bind to the same receptors in your brain as THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. While it won't get you high, it might lift your spirits and make you feel euphoric.

 But there's more to the dark chocolate saga. It's also a source of tryptophan, the amino acid you've heard of that makes you drowsy after a big Christmas or Festive dinner. But here, it's not about the post-turkey nap; it's about tryptophan's role in boosting serotonin levels. Serotonin, the "feel-good" neurotransmitter, can elevate your mood and give you that warm, fuzzy feeling. Tryptophan is also a precursor to melatonin, so it makes you sleepy.  

 So, the next time you savour a square (or two) of dark chocolate, remember that you're not indulging in a guilty pleasure – you're simply allowing a few charming compounds to serenade your senses and sprinkle a dash of happiness into your day. Enjoy your chocolate, and let the cocoa beans be your culinary co-conspirators in the quest for cheerfulness!


 Berries are packed with antioxidants and vitamin C, which can help combat oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain. They also contain flavonoids, which may have mood-enhancing effects.


 Nuts like almonds and walnuts are high in healthy fats, which can support brain function. They also provide magnesium, a mineral linked to improved mood.

 And, one last point about food and how it makes you happy and builds optimism…

Eating More Vegetables - Changes Moods

Farmer carrying basket of veg on a sunny day A diet rich in vegetables, especially colourful ones, can have a transformative effect on our moods.

 Take a moment to imagine a platter full of brightly coloured fruits and veggies; it puts a smile on your face, right? Even the sight of them makes you happy.

 Vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support brain health and overall well-being. They help reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, and provide the nutrients necessary for optimal brain function.

 Additionally, the act of consuming a nutrient-dense diet can boost self-esteem and foster a sense of accomplishment, which can, in turn, enhance feelings of optimism and happiness.

 The food we eat plays a significant role in shaping our emotional states.

 While potatoes, with their versatility and mood-regulating nutrients, are often regarded as the world's happiest food, a balanced diet that includes a variety of mood-boosting foods can contribute to a more optimistic and joyful outlook on life. So, savour your favourite mood-enhancing foods and let your diet be a source of happiness and well-being.

Kathy Ashton is a Registered Clinical/Medicinal Nutritionist practising at 104Health.


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