For anyone who has experienced low mood or anxiety, it can feel overwhelming and debilitating. Making some small changes to your diet and lifestyle can have a significant impact on improving your mood and energy levels.
There are some key dietary strategies that can make a huge difference to how you feel:
I. Try including a complex carbohydrate with each meal: oats, wholegrain toast, sweet potato, wholemeal pitta, quinoa, amaranth, brown rice, wild rice, jacket potato, wholemeal pasta.
II. Adding lentils to soups and stews can be effective in balancing blood sugars.
Protein contains amino acids, which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate thoughts and feelings. Certain amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, are the precursors to neurotransmitters that help balance and improve our mood.
Protein can help us to feel satisfied after a meal, avoiding snacking and blood sugar spikes and crashes.
Adding protein to a meal can help reduce the mid-morning crashes, feeling exceptionally hungry by lunch time. Sometimes it can make a difference as to what you add in and not focusing always on taking away.
Some healthy sources of protein include; chicken, turkey, tofu, salmon, tuna, natural yoghurt, feta cheese, eggs, grass fed beef, grass fed lamb, quinoa, chia seeds, legumes (beans and peas),nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios) and nut butters.
I. Try whisking in an egg to your porridge before putting it on the heat, this can make it creamy and provide some extra protein.
II. Add in a couple of teaspoons of almond or cashew butter and a sprinkle of chia seeds to porridge.
III. Add in a handful of almonds/walnuts to a fruit snack, or hummus with vegetable sticks/rice cakes.
IV. Quinoa is a complete plant protein (containing all the essential amino acids). Batch cooking some at the start of the week and adding a couple of tablespoons to soups or salads can provide some extra vitamins, minerals and protein.
Omega-3 fats are important for health and come in different forms –
ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) cannot be made in the body and we rely on food as the source, ALA is found mainly in flaxseed oil, walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts and green leafy vegetables.
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)are both long chain fatty acids that can be made from ALA in our bodies. EPA and DHA have the most direct benefits to our health.
The best sources of EPA and DHA are oily fish, easy to remember with the acronym SMASH:
S - Salmon
M – Mackerel
A – Anchovies
S – Sardines
H - Herring
Healthy fats are essential to the nervous system. It is essential that we consume them to help support brain function and integrity, aid the production of neurotransmitters. They aid with the absorption of other important nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E & K and can be protective in maintaining good memory. Healthy fats are also known to be beneficial for musculoskeletal health.
I. Try to consume two portions of oily fish a week from the ‘SMASH’ list above.
II. Add in a portion of leafy greens to your evening meal (broccoli, bok choy and brussel sprouts).
B vitamins keep the nervous system healthy, are important co factors in energy production and help the body to form haemoglobin (a substance in our cells which carries oxygen around the body). Having low levels B vitamins can leave you feeling tired, depressed and irritable. B vitamins can be found in many foods - dark leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, yoghurt, chicken, turkey, bananas, eggs, beans and pulses.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in foods such as salmon, egg yolks, liver, mushrooms and in fortified milks and cereal products, but often not in sufficient quantities. Vitamin D is produced endogenously when the skin is exposed to UV rays from sunlight, which initiates vitamin D synthesis.
Vitamin D is important for many processes within the body. There have been many observational studies finding links between low vitamin D levels and depression.
Vitamin D deficiency is mostly known for being associated with rickets; however, it can present as less obvious symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, muscle pain, low energy, irritability and mood changes.
In the UK Public Health England advise that all adults and children over 1 are to take 10mcg of vitamin D daily between the months of October – March.
Being dehydrated can leave us feeling fatigued, irritable, experiencing symptoms such as headaches and digestive disturbances.
I. Aim for 6-8 glasses of water daily. Try to fill a large reusable bottle up at breakfast and repeat throughout the day, drinking to thirst. Often, we have good intentions to drink water, but we forget, make it accessible and make it a habit, like you would brush your teeth – fill up your bottle.
II. Try swapping some caffeinated drinks for herbal teas, chamomile, valerian, lemongrass, ginger, pukka night-time.
Lack of sleep can negatively impact mental health and wellbeing with a good night’s sleep aiding both mental and emotional resilience, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to negative thinking and emotional vulnerability. Tiredness can affect your ability to enjoy everyday life. There are some health conditions that an make you feel fatigued and it’s important to discuss any symptoms with your GP.
Sleep is essential for good health and wellbeing. The amount of sleep people need varies widely and usually reduces with age.
Melatonin is the brain's regulator of sleep. It is naturally produced in the brain in the hours of darkness to promote sleep. Artificial light from screens (e.g. TVs, iPads, computer screens) reduces the amount of melatonin the body releases and prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep. Cutting those out for a few hours before bedtime is important.
TIPS TO AID WITH A GOOD NIGHT SLEEP
1. Ensure environmental factors are all conducive to a good night’s sleep – dark curtains/blinds, the room temperature, noise.
2. Avoid caffeinated drinks for 6 hours before bed, including tea, green tea, coffee, chocolate
3. Avoid alcohol before bed, alcohol can interfere with REM sleep, a restorative type of sleep and can disrupt your circadian rhythm
4. Practice relaxation/mindfulness
5. Try to go to bed and wake at the same time each day
6. Try muscle relaxation to help distress and unwind, e.g. a warm bath
7. Keep your feet and hands warm. Wear warm socks and/or mittens or gloves to bed
8. For a busy mind, write a list to offload the lists potentially swirling around in your head
9. Listen to your body!
Mindfulness is allowing ourselves to see and experience the present moment with more clarity, this can help to enjoy experiences more and to see the world around us and ourselves more clearly. Mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and an effective treatment for depression. There are some great apps that can guide you through mindfulness, headspace and calm, until it becomes a daily practice. These easy to use programmes take as little as 10 minute a day and are great to help with anxiety, depression and stress.
Exercise can improve mood, but the thought of getting out there and starting can feel overwhelming, especially when you are already lacking in energy and motivation, it feels like a mountain to climb. Find a type of exercise that you enjoy, whether this be walking, cycling, running, swimming, football, rugby, tennis – we are all unique. Something that you have time to do and are able to do regularly. Aim to exercise around 3 times weekly for 30-45 minutes. Meeting a friend can help, this can alleviate the negative self-talk. The added benefits of being outside can lift the mood.
This is not an exhaustive list but making some changes can make a real difference. Making a couple of changes each week can really help to feel in control of your health.
Please speak to your GP or a qualified health professional for any personal advice. Look after yourselves.
With best wishes
Claire Jarvis Just
Nutritional Therapist mBANT CNHC
BSc Specialist Community Public Health Nursing
The Nutritional Therapy Rooms