Don’t get bogged down with the gloomy and sombre mood January brings. Cheer yourself up with a dose of these feel-good foods
If you find yourself regularly feeling down or pessimistic, it might be time to look at your diet and ensure you’re eating foods that feed your emotions. “There are three centres in the body that deal with mood – the brain, the hormones and the gut,” explains wellness expert and author of Body Cycles, Jacqueline Harvey (jacquelineharvey.co.uk). “If what you eat is beneficial to those areas, you will naturally feel happier.” Start with your brain, and feed it with essential fatty acids to boost your mood and promote tranquil feelings. Jacqueline suggests turkey as it contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps boost dopamine and serotonin in the brain. “Hormones have a massive influence on how you feel, too,” she adds. “Foods that help to stabilise your hormone levels include healthy fats, which are the building blocks of all hormones, as well as being key to stabilising the production of cortisol and adrenaline, the stress hormones. Healthy fats include extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, walnuts, avocados and oily fish.”
Then finally, keep your gut happy, too. “Numerous studies in the past two decades have demonstrated links between gut health and mood, mental health and endocrine disorders. Fermented foods contain high levels of probiotics, which top up the healthy bacteria that naturally live in your intestine. They’re a key contributor to the health of the gut-brain axis and have a calming effect on the body, specifically helping with aggression.” Find out how to keep all these three elements happy with our list of mood-boosting bites.
“Flaxseeds are a good source of many nutrients, including thiamine, otherwise known as vitamin B1,” says nutritionist and dietician Ro Huntriss. “Thiamine can play a big role in the management of mental health, more specifically with mood regulation. Studies have shown people with a high thiamine status have been more clearheaded, composed and energetic. To increase your thiamine intake, consider adding flaxseeds to your cereal, yoghurt or salads. Other good sources of thiamine include wholegrain bread, fortified breakfast cereals, eggs and peas.”
Broccoli is loaded with an abundance of nutrients, not to mention it’s also linked to a happier state of mind. “Including broccoli in your diet will increase your folate (a naturally-occurring form of folic acid) intake,” says Ro. “Insufficient levels of folic acid have been associated with poor mood and low energy levels, and folate deficiency is connected with higher levels of depression. Add a portion of steamed broccoli to your meal or salad, or include broccoli in a stir-fry or a curry as it could help to reduce the risk of depression and improve energy levels. Other sources of folic acid include asparagus, chickpeas and spinach.”
“Oysters are one of the richest dietary sources of zinc. Low levels of zinc have also been linked to increased levels of depression,” explains Ro. “Several studies have suggested that higher intakes of zinc could help in the management of depression, so including oysters or other zinc-rich food sources such as meat, dairy products and nuts could help to improve mood, reduce the risk of depression and keep you feeling happy.”
“Essential fatty acids such as omega 3, found in oily fish like sardines, salmon and mackerel, can help to improve your mood and increase levels of dopamine,” says Kajsa Ernestam, in-house dietitian at Lifesum (lifesum.com). “A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found a link between fish consumption and reduced risk of depression.” Kajsa recommends making mackerel on toast in the morning or taking a can of tuna into work to eat as a snack. Alternatively, take fish oil supplements such as cod liver oil every morning to boost your mood if you dislike the taste of fish.
It’s hardly surprising to learn that eating vegetables is not only great for your body, but also good for your mood, as Kajsa explains: “A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry shows that those eating a diet rich in vegetables are less likely to report feeling depressed. Folate, a B vitamin found in green vegetables such as spinach and kale, affects neurotransmitters that are responsible for your mood. The high potassium levels found in spinach increases the speed of signals between neurons, helping your brain to be more responsive.”
Research shows that the sunny yellow colouring of eggs releases significant levels of happy hormones, as we associate the bright colour with joy. In fact, an overwhelming 70 percent of Brits link yellow-coloured food to feelings of happiness, and omelettes top the list of the nation’s favourite yellow foods, with 61 percent insisting they make them cheerful. But if you’re still not convinced, their nutrients pack quite the mood-boosting punch, too. Eggs contain tryptophan which helps your brain make serotonin, a neurotransmitter (chemical signal). Neurological and mental disorders may occur when the balance of neurotransmitters is upset, making it important to get your dose. “Serotonin brings about the feelings of relaxation and lethargy,” says performance nutritionist Josh Dyson (HCA Healthcare UK (MIHP). “Ingestion of high carbohydrate containing foods will increase levels of tryptophan and serotonin, too,” he adds, so try scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast for a positive start to your morning.
The relevance of colour is again linked to good mood – this time, with berries. “Blue, purple and brightly coloured varieties contain anthocyanidins, a flavonoid subclass and pigment which colours dark red and blue fruit and vegetables like beetroot, eggplant, red onion and cherries,” explains specialist dietician Sarah Ballis from The Harley Street Clinic (hcahealthcare.co.uk). “Found in particularly high concentration in wild blueberries and blackberries, anthocyanidins have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity and may influence cognitive functions through reduced brain cell damage and increased brain blood flow.”
We all have a guilty pleasure, whether it’s chocolate or cake, or even the two combined. But maybe it’s time to ditch this guilt, as a little of what you fancy can be just what you need. “Of course there are times when you definitely feel like only a crumble with custard, or a sticky toffee pudding with ice cream, will do, so treat yourself, don’t feel any regret and enjoy every second of it,” says Chloe Cunningham from Health is Wealth Group (healthiswealthgroup.com). “The key is to make sure you provide your body with everything that it needs first. Thereby trying to balance out the bad with the good. Once your body has all of the resources that it needs, cravings will naturally disappear. The sugar in your choice of treat will undoubtedly hit all of the dopamine (pleasure) receptors in your body, too. Dopamine creates feelings of pleasure and reward, which motivates you to repeat a specific behaviour – in this case, eating the cake.” Chloe emphasises to be mindful, however, as sugar is addictive and an exogenous source of pleasure. Remember that, if you can provide the body with a wide variety of nutrients, you are in a much better position for a naturally improved mood.
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