Food For Mood
This time of year you may well feel in a low mood. It’s easy to feel energetic and cheerful when the sun is shining but when the days are short and the weather cold it can be hard to get up any enthusiasm at the start of each day. Eating well always makes you feel better, food for mood is a good attack plan.
Getting out into the daylight, especially in the morning and ideally combined with some exercise can reset your melatonin levels and improve your sleep. Exercise leads the way to the release of endorphins in the brain, improving your mood and self-esteem whilst reducing symptoms of depression. Speak to your personal trainer who will tailor a program of exercise to suit your needs and lift your mood.
But this is not all that helps, your diet plays an important part to combating low mood. You need to eat regularly to keep your sugar level steady, and choose foods that release energy slowly, if your blood sugar drops you might feel tired, irritable and depressed. Slow-release energy foods such as oats and brown rice release their energy slowly helping to stabilise blood sugar levels and possibly mood. By eating breakfast you get the day off to a good start, and try eating a smaller lunch and dinner and eating smaller portions spaced out more regularly during the day.
Nuts and seeds contain amino acids which are thought to play a part in mood regulation. Often a handful can satisfy a hunger without interfering with your appetite for your meal. But try to avoid foods which make your blood sugar rise and fall rapidly, such as sugary snacks, sugary drinks, and alcohol.
Pulses such as lentils kidney beans, edamame beans, chickpeas and other peas and beans contain plant chemicals known as phytoestrogens that may help to balance out certain hormones associated with anger and aggression. Also being a good source of fibre they keep blood levels in check.
Vegetables and fruit contain a lot of the minerals, vitamins and fibre we need to keep us physically and mentally healthy. By eating a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables every day means you’ll get a good range of nutrients. A diet rich in plant based foods may be linked to lower risk of depression. Tomatoes, mushrooms and bananas all contain high levels of potassium which is essential for your whole nervous system, including your brain.
Certain deficiencies in B vitamins have been linked to depression, as serotonin production can actually be hindered by low B vitamin levels. Important B vitamins are B3, B6 and B12, and eating leafy green vegetables, such as spinach or broccoli will help keep your levels up.
If you don’t drink enough water, you may find it difficult to concentrate or think clearly. Water is extremely important for our bodies to function properly. Some water is in the food you eat but you should be trying to drink at least two pints of water daily to stay hydrated.
Your brain needs fatty oils (such as omega-3 and -6) to keep it functioning healthily. So rather than avoiding all fats, it’s important to eat the right ones. Oily fish such as mackerel, herring, sardines, salmon and fresh tuna, poultry, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), olive and sunflower oils, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin), avocados, milk, yoghurt, cheese and eggs.
Try to avoid anything which lists ‘trans fats’ or ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ in the list of ingredients (such as some shop-bought cakes and biscuits). They can be tempting when you’re feeling low, but this kind of fat is bad for your mood and your physical health in the long run.
Are you having enough protein? Chicken and turkey, a good source of protein, provide a range of nutrients including vitamin B6 needed for a healthy nervous system, poultry also contains tyrosine, the amino acid which studies have suggested may help prevent and reduce low mood. Also fish, eggs, cheese, legumes (peas, beans and lentils), soya products, nuts and seeds are sources of protein.
Your state of mind is closely connected to your gut, not just because of your physical comfort, but also because your gut uses many of the same chemicals as your brain, and communicates with it. Healthy gut foods include fibre (in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains), and live yoghurt which contains probiotics.
Caffeine is a stimulant and too much caffeine can make you feel anxious and depressed, disturb your sleep (especially if you have it last thing at night), or give you withdrawal symptoms if you stop suddenly. Caffeine is found in tea, coffee, chocolate, cola and other manufactured energy drinks. You might feel noticeably better quite quickly if you drink less caffeine or avoid it altogether.
And finally a small square of dark chocolate causes the brain to release endorphins and boost serotonin levels. In a recent study, 30 people were given 40g of dark chocolate, over 14 days. The results showed that chocolate eaters produced less stress hormones and their anxiety levels decreased. So what better reason to have some chocolate! But make sure it’s only a couple of small squares of high cocoa content chocolate and not the whole bar.