We all need a lift now and again. Life is stressful, we can feel tired, fed up and emotional. Often our first thought is to treat ourselves with a sugary snack, or an alcoholic drink - thinking that it will make us feel better. A quick injection of sugar can answer emotional needs and create an instant rush of feel good hormone, but sadly it will not make us feel better in the long run (particularly if we have a difficult relationship with food), either psychologically or physically. This is because the rush of 'feel good' is short lived and often our come down is worse than how we felt before we started the eating or drinking. Working through our emotions is key, hand in hand with eating foods which will help our bodies manage those emotions better and build our resilience.
In this article, I talk about some ways to create a better mood, by making sound nutritional choices. Here are a few points for starters.
- The first thing to realise is that there is increasing research that gut health is very closely linked to mental health (it even has its own nervous system talking to our brain constantly). Gut health is improved by eating a wide range of fibre rich foods (fruits, vegetables and pulses) and fermented foods which already contain live bacteria (kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha etc.)
- A regular eating pattern will help your mood because it taps into your natural circadian rhythms. It also avoids peaks and troughs in our blood sugar levels.
- Eating foods with high amounts of tryptophan can really help too. Tryptophan is an amino acid (protein), and what we need in our bodies to create serotonin (the feel good hormone). There's a list of foods with easy to access tryptophan at the bottom of this blog article.
- It’s also important not to worry about what you’re eating. That stress can impede digestion. Just make healthy decisions and you’ll have nothing to worry about - better to think positive about how you're treating your body – give yourself the incentive to feel as well as you can. You don’t know how much better you can feel until you try!
Some more specific ideas:
Reduce alcohol to a minimum – there are proven links to depression and low mood with a moderate to high consumption of alcohol. If you want to lift your spirits (no pun intended) - try eliminating it all together. There’s little point eating better but drinking more!
Omega-3 has a massive effect on our memory and mental well-being. Very present in oily fish (sardines, mackerel & salmon), nuts and seeds. Try for two portions of oily fish a week. Sardines on toast are a great breakfast, smoked mackerel with a salad, baked or pan fried salmon with some grains and greens - all perfect! If you want any other suggestions, just get in touch
Berries - the darker the better - contain huge amounts of anti-oxidants, as do many colourful fruits and vegetables and these have been shown to have a significant effect on mental health and well-being.
You can add berries to muesli, porridge, in smoothies and even on salads. They are also low in sugar which makes them an even better choice
A daily serving of greens can help preserve the health of brain cells and stabilise mental health. Kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage are all full of health benefits and should form part of your daily diet as a priority. Young leave spinach is readily available in bags for a daily salad too. Vegetables like pak choi are easily put into stir fries and the addition of steamed chard will bring a delightful aniseed flavour.
Lastly, I promised some foods high in Tryptophan - here's my top list:
Pumpkin seeds: full of tryptophan to help you make serotonin and magnesium (deficiency clearly linked to depression). Other seeds are also good, second is chia, then sesame and sunflower.
Dark chocolate: Hoorah! BUT choose chocolate of at least 70% cocoa solids. Cocoa contains flavonoids linked to better brain function and a feeling of well-being. (I eat two squares every day!)
Wholegrains: these have good levels of trytophan too. Explore new kinds by buying the easy to use pouches which are readily available (Jamie Oliver, Merchant Gourmet etc.)
Herbal tea: St John’s Wort tea affects our feel-good hormones. Chamomile is also an alternative to medication for anxiety.
Spinach: Rich in tryptophan!
Beans and lentils: Ditto but also rich in protein
Oats: in addition to wheat bran and wheat germ, they have a high tryptophan content
Mature cheese: (see it’s not all ‘health food’!) like Parmesan, mozzarella, Gruyere, Edam and Cheddar
Fish and shellfish: prawns, crabs, lobster and fish like halibut are good, salmon is also reasonably high in tryptopan
Eggs: loads of tryptophan (mostly in the white)
Mustard: an easy kick of tryptophan!
Mushrooms: any normal, large mushrooms will give you a feel-food factor
If you think you might be deficient in any essential nutrients or you'd simply like a check on how your diet is working for you, I can offer a nutritional analysis. This service costs £145 which includes a full report and a consultation to talk through my findings. It'll inform you how you can eat differently to have a healthier nutritional profile and support your body's processes in the best way possible.