Posted by Jo on Apr 23, 2012
I’ve just learnt that it’s Depression Awareness Week so I thought it would be timely to write a little post about the link between food and mood.
Feeling good in your body, mind and soul requires balance across all aspects of your life, including your diet. Symptoms that can result from a poor diet include mood swings, irritability, tiredness and poor concentration; all classic signs that your brain and body may not be receiving the nutrients they need.
Our moods and energy levels are influenced by neurotransmitters and it is suggested that the consumption of certain foods can affect the levels of neurotransmitters made in the brain. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that are made from protein. Examples include: serotonin, dopamine & acetyl choline. Serotonin is the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter needed for healthy moods, sleep and appetite control.
Tryptophan is a specific amino acid (type of protein) that makes serotonin. There is a suggestion that by consuming foods rich in tryptophan you can influence levels of serotonin made in the brain. Food sources high in tryptophan:
|Cottage Cheese||Turkey||Chicken||Eggs||Soybeans||Kidney Beans||Avocadoes||Figs|
10 TOP TIPS TO SUPPORT YOUR MOODS:
1. Choose fresh, unprocessed, nutrient rich foods
Highly processed and overcooked foods are robbed of their nutrients. Be careful not to overcook food, as heat destroys nutrients. Try to steam or stir fry rather than boiling. The closer a food is to its natural state, the more nutrients it will provide.
2. Keep blood sugar balanced
When we wake up, our blood sugar levels are low as we have had a long time without food. If you then choose to eat a high sugar breakfast (such as a croissant/sugary cereal), blood sugar levels rise rapidly. Such a sudden rise in blood sugar triggers the release of insulin – a hormone that monitors the level of sugar in the blood. A surge in sugar leads to a big release of insulin which rapidly brings blood sugar levels right down. The sudden ‘high’ and ‘low’ can leave us feeling irritable, lacking energy and craving sweet snacks.
Get off to a good start with slow release carbohydrates (brown wholegrains) which take longer to digest and release sugar into the blood, producing lasting energy. Combine carbohydrates with protein for an even slower release of sugar e.g. cereal with yoghurt, eggs on toast. This prevents your blood sugar – and your energy and mood – from plummeting mid morning.
3. Cut back on anti-nutrients
Fizzy drinks, sugar, coffee, tea, alcohol and cigarettes interfere with our body’s ability to absorb minerals. By reducing your consumption of these ‘anti-nutrients’ you can increase the intake of health and mood enhancing nutrients.
4. Choose healthy fats
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) play a vital role in brain function. Increasing your intake of these ‘good’ fats and eating less of the ‘bad’ fats can have a noticeable impact on your moods. Omega-3 are found in oily fish such as mackerel, herring, pilchards, sardines, salmon and fresh tuna as well as pumpkin seeds, walnuts and flax seed oil. Try to eat oily fish at least 3 times a week. Avoid processed oils and look out for ‘hydrogenated fat’ on ingredients lists.
5. Eat a rainbow! Aim for 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day
The colours in fresh fruits and vegetables largely come from the variety of antioxidants they contain. Antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins A, C, E, selenium and zinc help regulate important body processes. Use juices, smoothies, salads or soups to get a portion easily. A fresh fruit juice (not from concentrate) counts as one portion per day. Soup is a really easy and cheap to make at home or buy served with a sandwich/roll for a warming lunch.
6. Snack sensibly
If by mid morning you are reaching for the biscuits or a can of coke, think again! The blood sugar rollercoaster of highs and lows will continue during the day and into the evening sometimes affecting quality of sleep. It can play havoc with energy levels, concentration and mood during the day. Caffeine (in tea and coffee) and cigarettes have the same effect.
Swap mid morning biscuits for fruit, nuts or a healthier flapjack/nut bar. Try cutting back on coke and no more than 3 cups of tea (especially those taking sugar). A standard 330ml can of coke has 35g of sugar in it, a 500ml (bottle size) has a whopping 53g of sugar.
7. Eat whole grains
Whole grains (brown grains) are rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre and plant chemicals all of which are beneficial to our overall health. During processing, these ‘brown’ grains are turned ‘white’ e.g. white flour in cakes, biscuits, pastries etc. This process depletes the grains of vital nutrients, especially the B vitamins and fibre which we need for energy production, our hearts and a healthy digestive system. Swap ‘white’ for ‘brown’ or multigrain bread, brown rice, brown pasta and oatcakes. Try to choose a wholegrain breakfast cereal such as porridge, weetabix or branflakes.
8. Watch the caffeine, remain hydrated
Water is vital for all the body’s functions. Too little water leads to dehydration which can make you tired, lose concentration and deplete energy levels. Caffeine dehydrates you so watch the number of teas/coffees you drink each day and opt for decaff/herbal varieties if you think you are drinking too many. Aim to drink at least 1.5 litres of water throughout the day.
9. Mindful eating
Digestion starts when we think of, smell and see food. Our body then begins to secrete enzymes and digestive juices which aid the breakdown of food. Chewing food well is an essential part of digestion. The smaller the food particles the more easy it is to digest and access all the nutrients.
Chew well and take time to eat in a relaxed environment. Try to sit down and take time out of whatever you might be doing to enjoy your food. Eating infront of the computer/TV means your brain is not engaged on digestion and you may experience discomfort. You are also more likely to overeat.
Remember that buy combining protein and carbohydrate in a meal (or snack), sugar is released more slowly into the blood stream. Try:
- Soups: shop bought, containing vegetables and protein (such as lentils, beans)
- Sandwiches: why not make your own! Buy a loaf of bread with sandwich fillers such as cream cheese, ham, tuna, houmous with loads of salad
- Salads: aim for as many different colours of fruit and vegetables as possible. Beetroot, carrot, tomatoes, cucumber and leaves with chicken, tuna, prawns or feta cheese
- Snacks: oat or rice cakes with houmous, cottage cheese or a slice of turkey, a small pot of natural yoghurt with chopped figs/dats, piece of fruit with handful of pumpkin seeds
- Jacket potatoes can be a filling option for lunch. Good toppings are tuna, cottage cheese, baked beans and cheese. Try and accompany with a salad
- Keep takeaways to a minimum. The oils used are usually hydrogenated oils. They are dangerous and offer no health benefits.