The link between physical health and what you eat is well understood, but did you know that what you eat has a huge impact on your mood and how you feel? Managing anxiety, stress, depression and other mood disorders is complex, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But we know that the right diet and lifestyle plan combined with motivational coaching to help you every step of the way can be an enormous help.
Good nutrition makes all the difference
The very edited highlight of the research into what you should eat to balance your energy and improve your mood is to follow a Mediterranean- style diet featuring plenty of whole, natural foods. That also means learning to balance your blood sugar levels. Loss of blood sugar balance has a clear link to stress, anxiety and depression. 50% of low mood is down to blood sugar imbalances. Learning how to become a master of your blood sugar balance is the secret to having more energy, a better mood and controlling your weight – and losing it if you need to. Feeling more confident about the way you look is in itself an excellent way to boost feelings of self-worth. In the same way that eating well can positively influence mood, making poor food choices can have the opposite effect. Research by a team at Binghamton, New York, showed that young adults under 30 who ate fast food more than three times a week scored higher when it came to levels of mental distress. The same researchers found that those who ate meat fewer than three times a week had more mental health problems (potentially as the amino acid tryptophan found in meat is the pre-cursor to the feel-good chemical serotonin).
Eat 3 meals a day with a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon snack.
Eating low-GL (glycaemic load) carbohydrates that keep your blood sugar level even and minimises mood-altering blood sugar dips.
Sufficient protein, giving you an optimum supply of essential amino acids. Have some form of protein with every meal and snack.
Eat whole, unadulterated foods, high in soluble fibre (beans, lentils, oats).
High mood-boosting Vitamin B foods like nuts, seeds, beans and green leafy vegetables (which also include essential zinc and magnesium) are good for mental stability.
Foods containing high amounts of essential omega-3 fats as well as vitamin D. Include a serving of each of the following foods in your diet every day: fish (especially oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, kippers, sardines, tuna), free-range eggs or free-range chicken, or turkey; nuts, seeds and beans, especially flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and all beans; all berries, cherries, plums, apples and pears, green vegetables: broccoli, asparagus, peas, artichoke, kale, cabbage, watercress, rocket.
Avoid sugar in its many disguises and limit foods containing carbohydrates that break down into sugar fast – bread, rice, pasta, pastries, cakes and cookies.
Avoid foods high in saturated, hydrogenated, processed fats or damaged fats, such as sausages, fried foods and junk food.
Reduce wheat and milk, common contributors to food intolerances and altered moods. Limit or avoid caffeinated drinks (1 coffee or 2 weak teas a day).
Limit or avoid alcohol (no more than 3 small glasses of wine, half-pints of beer or measures of spirit a week – and not all on the same night).
Exercise plays a key part in beating the blues
A number of studies, in which people exercised for 30 to 60 minutes, 3 to 5 times a week, found a drop of around 5 points in their Hamilton Rating Scale – more than double what you’d expect from anti-depressants alone. If you are feeling down and demotivated, it’s not easy to get started on exercise, but the benefits are worth it. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and raises levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. Higher serotonin levels make us feel good. Dopamine helps create a sense of motivation. Natural light also stimulates serotonin. Exercise helps you to sleep, because it can “burn off ” excess adrenalin. It helps to balance blood sugar and lose weight, and that, in turn, improves your mood and motivation. When you get started, aim for 20 minutes of exercise, five days a week, preferably outdoors. If you are significantly overweight, this could be brisk walking – 30 minutes a day would be better. Find something you like doing, preferably in a pleasant setting and with other people. It’s great to have an exercise buddy. Exercise then becomes another means of focusing attention away from yourself and your preoccupations, and of spending enjoyable time with others. An exercise buddy also adds accountability: you are more likely to show up. Following the low-GL mood-boosting diet, and maybe taking the right supplements, will improve energy levels enough to give it a go.
Mood and sleep have a lot in common
Lack of sleep has a big effect on how you feel, and finding out how to sleep through the night and wake up refreshed could be the missing piece in getting you to feel a whole lot better. The amino acid tryptophan is not only the raw material for serotonin, but also for melatonin, a brain chemical that helps you sleep by controlling the sleep/wake cycle. It’s the brain’s neurotransmitter, which keeps you in sync with the earth’s day/night cycle. Jet lag, for example, happens when the brain’s chemistry takes time to catch up with a sudden time-zone shift. As you start to wind down in the evening, serotonin levels rise and cortisol levels fall. As it gets darker melatonin kicks in. What can you do to improve your quantity and quality of sleep? Provide more of the building blocks that make serotonin – tryptophan, an amino acid present in most protein-rich foods like chicken, cheese, tuna, tofu, eggs, nuts, seeds and milk. The conversion from tryptophan to serotonin requires folic acid, B6, vitamin C and zinc. These can be found in beef, broccoli, cashews, chicken, chickpeas, cauliflower, peppers, kale, kiwi, lamb, oranges, parsley, pumpkin seeds, pineapple, salmon, spinach, turkey and tuna.