Healthy Happiness: 7 Foods to Favour for a Happier Life

October 22, 2015

A common complaint about eating healthy food that I hear is this:

“But I just don’t like eating healthy food….”

Ok, fair enough – each of us has different preferences. But before we drop that discussion, answer a question for me:

Would you say your body dislikes it when you eat a healthy meal?

Clearly no, of course not – healthy food is precisely what your body craves. If it’s true, then, that your body likes healthy food, but “you” dislike it, another question comes to mind:

To what degree do you understand your body as a separate thing from your self?

One of the most impactful life skills I have learned over the years – one that has made me a much happier person – has been the development of a mindset that involves understanding my mind, my body, and my self as a whole. When I approach myself as a whole, healthy choices become easier; certain lines of reasoning that might be self-damaging – such as “I don’t like healthy food” – become less true because a part of me does like healthy food: my body.

Food and happiness are intrinsically linked. I’m not just talking about the momentary pleasure you might experience when taking a bite of something delicious, I’m talking about the happiness that exists in your whole self, when all of your body’s systems, from the top of your head to the tip of your toes, experience happiness.

A HUGE part of the effort I put toward living a happier life is wrapped up in what I eat. Here are 7 healthy foods that I favour to make every part of me a little bit happier than it was before. Note that I have chosen the word “favour” intentionally: my goal in doing so is to communicate that it’s unrealistic and perhaps impossible to follow – exactly – a diet regime, and while I wish I could eat only these 7 types of healthy food, the reality is I won’t always be able to for a multitude of reasons. And so, I favour them over less healthy options.

7 Healthy Foods to Favour for Happiness

1. Favour whole foods as your primary source of food.

There are 50 million different diet regimes out there, but there’s one thing that ties them all together: they focus on eating whole foods.

What is a whole food, anyway? A whole food is one that has not been – as much as possible – altered, modified or broken down from its original state. There are lots of usual suspects when it comes to non-whole foods – bread being the top offender – but there are many others we might not realize aren’t whole because we’ve been conditioned to see these foods as healthy:

  • Fruit juice: Not a whole food because it only contains a part of the original food it comes from (i.e., the juice). Whole food alternative: A piece of seasonal, organic fruit.
  • Oatmeal: Not a whole food because it has been altered from its original state (it’s been rolled and processed to be more palatable). Whole food alternate: Al dente cooked steel cut oats.
  • Skim milk: Not a whole food because it’s been stripped of the fat it would otherwise naturally contain, plus it likely comes from cows that have been fed genetically modified corn rather than grass and injected with heaven knows what. Whole food alternative: Whole fat organic milk.
  • Smooth peanut butter: Not a whole food because the fat has been altered to bind together for palatability. Whole food alternative: Organic peanut butter.
  • Fruit bottom yogurt: Not a whole food because it has sugar added (sugar is only a part of the original food it comes from) plus comes from cows fed genetically modified corn. Whole food alternative: Plain, full-fat yogurt from grass-fed cows with blueberries added and a dollop of honey.
  • Roasted almonds: Not a whole food because they have been altered from their original state by roasting, and likely have genetically modified soy (or other) oil added to them. Whole food alternative: Raw almonds.

Seeing a trend? While the difference between whole and non-whole food isn’t always clear-cut, my goal is to try my hardest to eat food as close to its whole form as possible.

2. Favour fermented foods and fermentable fiber.

It might seem that fermented foods are just the latest fad in designer foods, when in fact fermentation is a process that’s been with us for pretty much ever and ever. If your body had an internal god, it would be the “good” bacteria collective in your gut, and fermented foods and fermentable fiber help to replenish that god.

Some common fermented foods and fermentable fibres that I dig are:

Fermented: kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, yogurt, kefir, kombucha

Fermentable: sweet potato, dandelion greens, onion, garlic, leeks, bananas (in moderation)

3. Favour full-fat foods.

We’re still recovering from the pseudo-science of the mid-20th century that vilified fat as the macronutrient that was making us sick. But now we’re sicker than ever before, and it’s not because we just can’t stop eating fat. On the contrary, as soon as fat was vilified, food companies began replacing naturally occurring fats with hydrogenated vegetable oils, sugar, and garbage ingredients, like modified corn starch.

Remember margarine? What the hell was that about?!

Avoid foods labelled as low-fat, fat-free, cholesterol-free, light, or lite: either the food has had the fat removed and replaced with something artificial; or, the food never had any fat in the first place, in which case the labelling is deliberately misleading.

4. Favour colourful food – especially green.

And no, I don’t mean eat Skittles for breakfast. J

You can pretty much guarantee that a colourful plate of food is healthier than a beige one. Meals that are primarily beige-coloured are most certainly full of non-whole food ingredients like flour, corn (in all its evil variations), cheap cheese and dairy, white potatoes, and bleached rice (cauliflower is excluded from the list as it is a cruciferous vegetable).

It’s hard to avoid beige ingredients when they’re coming at you at every turn – but you don’t have to completely avoid them! The goal here should be making these ingredients a smaller part of your meal – not the main component. Common Western beige meal staples are pasta, breakfast cereal, pizza, sandwiches, bagels, muffins, curry, nachos, hamburgers, French fries, dumplings, pies and patties, tacos – all of these things are effectively just beige food ingredients with the healthy foods our body wants us to eat added as garnishes.

Make plates of food that have more than one colour, and especially green. Every part of your body is happy when you eat more greens. Ok, maybe your tongue doesn’t dig the taste, but just keep at it. Try adding greens to smoothies (add heaps and heaps). A little trick I’ve learned is adding a scoop of peanut or nut butter to your green smoothie completely masks the taste of greens.

5. Favour calorie-free liquids.

Lean towards liquids that don’t have calories in them: water, sparkling water (Grapefruit Perrier is the best), tea and coffee (sans sugar and sweetener, and limited dairy).

And drink lots of water – it makes every single cell in your body happier! My trick for keeping myself hydrated is to choose to accept that drinking water isn’t about enjoying it. Just get that stuff into you, and drink it at room temperature (you can drink way more that way).

6. Favour organic food.

I can’t really afford to only eat organic – many of us can’t. But one thing you can do is reserve certain food purchases from the organic section – at least that way you’re getting a bit of organic into you.

One thing I only buy organic is butter, which is produced from grass-fed cows rather than ones fed genetically modified corn. It’s twice the price, true, but it’s so worth it and so much more healthy than that beige, waxy stuff I used to eat as a kid. Here’s a great guide for which butters to buy.

7. Favour non-corporate food.

The thing with corporate food is that – wherever possible – healthy, whole food ingredients are replaced with ingredients that cost less. This is simply how capitalism works. Corporations often employ food “scientists” (scare quotes intentional) whose job it is to find the perfect combination of flavour and texture to make their food as addictive as possible.

Corporate food is ultimately empty. You might register a seemingly pleasant flavour on your tongue, but every other part of your body – from the top of your head down to the end of your toes – knows that what you’re eating is empty.

And that’s just plain depressing.

Bonus tip: Don’t calorie count.

Just don’t do that to your self, it’s cruel and unusual.

That said, keep in mind that at no other point throughout evolution has food been as readily available to us as it is now. We are literally surrounded by food and eating opportunities at all times of day – plus there are all these food corporations who want us to eat and eat and eat, even if it means we eat ourselves to death in the process.

Eat until you’re full, then stop.

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