Running late this morning, I skipped breakfast… forgot my laptop, felt rubbish, shouted at the bus driver, drowned my sorrows in a frothy milkshake to wash down a doughnut, and now I just want to curl up and go to sleep. Never again! Here’s why…
Ever heard of the ‘food-mood’ connection? There’s growing evidence to show that how and what we eat affects how we feel. And how we feel affects what we choose to eat or drink.
Not surprisingly, a diet that boosts our physical health also benefits our mental health: good eating habits and the right food choices can actually make us feel happier, more energised and help us to think more clearly. (Aha! That’s where I went wrong!)
So, here are our top tips to manage your mood with food…
Missing even one meal causes your blood sugar levels to drop. Your brain needs blood sugar (glucose) to function well, and if it’s not getting the right amount, your whole body will be affected - you feel tired, irritable, and unable to think straight.
Don’t miss breakfast (even if you’re in a rush, or not very hungry). Get the day off to a good start with a protein-rich breakfast - eggs, plain yoghurt, fresh fruit, nuts - to boost your mood, energy and cognitive performance early on.
Try our nice (but not naughty) recipe for Banana pancakes with Warm Blueberry Drizzle
Rather than skipping meals, or scoffing a large lunch/dinner (which can leave you full and sluggish), try to eat smaller amounts spread out regularly through the day. That means your body receives a continuous source of fuel, which will help keep your blood sugar levels steady, and avoid mood swings or cravings.
Include slow-release carbohydrates, which will provide a slow but steady supply of energy for hours after you’ve eaten, e.g. wholegrain bread and cereals, oats, quinoa, brown rice, nuts and seeds.
Add vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumber, asparagus, sweet potatoes, onions.
Ensure you enjoy sugary foods only in moderation and in small quantities (e.g. sweets, biscuits, fizzy drinks and junk food). High-sugar foods and simple (refined) carbohydrates (e.g. white bread, white rice, pasta) are digested quickly, causing your blood sugar to spike and fall rapidly. You’ll know that feeling – a quick burst of energy followed by a crash, leaving you tired and cranky. These foods might tickle your taste buds but they won’t help your mood.
Protein, fat and carbohydrates are macronutrients, which means our bodies require large amounts in order to function optimally and maintain long-term good health. All our cells and tissues contain protein; it is essential for virtually every bodily function, growth, repair and general health. Protein also helps to stimulate the brain, keeping us alert and energised.
Protein-rich foods will keep you feeling fuller for longer. Try to include some at every meal (and for snacks):
Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurt), legumes (peas, beans, lentils), oats, quinoa, soy products (e.g. tofu), nuts and seeds.
Don’t avoid fats, just eat the right ones. Fatty acids (particularly Omega-3) are essential to keep the brain functioning well, and they also have mood-enhancing benefits.
Good fats are found in oily fish, avocados, eggs, dairy (yoghurt, milk, cheese), olive oil, seeds and nuts.
Avoid trans fats. On lists of ingredients, they’re often called ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ (e.g. in cakes and biscuits). Trans fats have been associated with high cholesterol and various diseases, as well as poor mental health.
Limit saturated fats, found in butter, cheese and red meat.
We all know that hydration is essential to health, but research shows it’s also critical to brain function. If you don’t drink enough fluid, you may find it hard to concentrate or think clearly. You’ll struggle with low energy levels and might also feel constipated (which is enough to put anyone in a bad mood!)
Drink plenty of water, 6-8 glasses a day.
Manage caffeine. It’s in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola and lots of energy drinks. Caffeine is a well-known stimulant, which can give you a quick burst of energy and help keep you alert. But one cup too many and you could get the jitters and heightened anxiety. Avoid caffeine too late in the day, or it may stop you getting a good night’s sleep.
Drink alcohol in moderation. Be aware that alcohol is a depressant and can disturb your sleep.
Fruit and vegetables provide plenty of vitamins, minerals and fibre that we need to stay physically and mentally healthy.
Fruit and veg tips
One portion = a handful, small bowl or glass.
Eat a rainbow of colours, to ensure you get a good range of nutrients.
Fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juiced all count towards your recommended daily amount.
Try our Winter Warmer Ribolitta Soup recipe – a great way to use up any leftover veg,
The gut is our digestive system, but it plays a huge role in the health of our entire body and mind - contributing to our immune system, heart and brain health, and affecting our moods and sleep. The gut and brain are strongly connected: your gut can reflect your emotional state, e.g. butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous, or feeling queasy if you’re stressed. Similarly, the state of your gut affects your mood and cognitive performance. In fact, poor gut health has been linked to anxiety and depression. So we need to look after our gut, for the sake of our overall health and mental wellbeing, and nutrition plays a key part.
Healthy gut foods include:
Omega-3 fats (found in oily fish)
High-fibre foods: whole grains, fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds
Fermented foods: sauerkraut, kimchi, live yoghurt and other probiotics
Other tips to boost gut health:
Reduce stress levels, exercise regularly, stay hydrated, get enough sleep (7-8 hours), and eat slowly
Try our simple recipe for Kale and Tahini Noodle Superfood Bowl
Eat well, feel good! Healthy food choices and eating patterns can really lift your mood, and improve overall wellbeing. It can take time for your body to adjust to new eating habits or diet, so it’s best to introduce changes slowly, and understand that it might be a while before you feel the benefits.
Note: This is for general guidance only. If you have any concerns about food intolerances or allergies, consult your doctor or a professional nutritionist or dietician. If you have a medical condition or are taking medication, you may need to avoid certain foods or drinks, so check with your doctor or pharmacy.
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