Winter is not the happiest period of the year for many. The shorter days, unpredictable and wet weather makes it difficult to go out and enjoy nature and life.
As we spend more time inside, we are more inclined to eat the wrong and comforting foods or to drink that spare glass of wine to keep our mood up. Not to mention the aversion towards any form of exercise.
What if I told that what you eat can actually make a difference on your mood?
Let’s explore the connection between food and mood and discover 5 types of foods that can impact both your body and mind.
Try it in the next couple of weeks and then tell me how you feel.
1. Tryptophan rich foods:
Tryptophan is an amino acid used to make serotonin, our happy hormone and neurotransmitter. It also helps to make melatonin which regulates our sleep.
What are amino acids you wonder? They are the building block of proteins. And some of them, 9 in particular, are known as essential amino acids, meaning that our body cannot make them, and we need to get them through diet. Tryptophan is one of the 9!
What can you eat to increase it? Bananas, lean poultry like chicken and turkey, dairy, fish, nuts and seeds, pulses, whole grains like oats and quinoa.
You can see how a refined and beige diet could be quite low in this essential amino acid.
So how about you trying overnight oats with nuts and seeds for your hurried breakfast or you top up your bean soup with some quinoa or mixed seeds?
Ultimately you don’t need to learn the list by heart, having proteins with every meal is a nice way to get it right.
2. Gut friendly foods:
So much focus on the gut these days, and this is great. But you might be wondering what is the link between the gut and the brain?
One of the answers is Vagus Nerve. This is one of our cranial nerves that links the brain with organs like the digestive tract, heart, and lungs. It is also the most direct route of communication between the gut and the brain, enabling bidirectional communication. So yes, the brain and the gut influence each other.
And if you think that our gut produces 90% of serotonin compared to the brain you can already see how a Happy Gut translates into a Happy Mind.
But then there is also our microbiome, the trillions of microorganisms residing in our gut. They can produce neurotransmitters and other signalling molecules that can impact the central nervous system.
So how can you influence your gut with food?
Fermented foods are a great addition to the diet. Things like sauerkraut, kimchi, mature cheeses like parmesan and cheddar, yogurt and kefir.
They provide your microbiome with amazing creatures including Lactobacillus, Bifidobacter, often the most known, also available in probiotic supplements.
But the point about probiotic and fermented foods is that they are a great addition yes. But as the only change the impact is limited.
The gut yes needs to be reinoculated, but those little creatures need to be fed with great prebiotic foods like garlic, onions, bananas, leek, asparagus, cocoa (YES!), chicory etc.
But if you don’t like those, don’t be shy to have as many nice colourful vegetables as fibre helps too.
3. Vitamin D rich foods:
Vitamin D is such a wonder nutrient, playing a crucial role towards overall wellbeing. And low levels have even been associated with mood disorders, especially during the darker months.
Why in darker months?
Because one of the primary sources of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight and we don’t have much sun in winter especially here in the UK.
One of my recommendations, especially if you are struggling with low mood, is to check your Vitamin D status. There are finger prick tests you can conveniently do at home that cost as little as £35. Based on that result you can then supplement accordingly.
But there are foods that are high like in them and those include oily fish like salmon, egg yolk, mushrooms (leave them on the windowsill to get a Vitamin D boost before you eat them).
And this leads me nicely to the next food.
4. Omega-3 rich foods:
Also known as the Brain’s Best Friend. Omega-3 essential fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, are essential (as their name says) and play a crucial role in supporting brain health.
The are linked to a reduced risk of depression and can help regulate mood by supporting the production of neurotransmitters.
But also, DHA, in particular, is a major structural component of the brain and important to maintain the fluidity and integrity of neuronal cell membranes. It is not surprise then that Omega 3 supplements directed to pregnant women are very high in DHA given it is crucial for normal brain development and function.
Omega 3 also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, helping to protect the brain from oxidative stress.
Best sources are again oily fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herrings. But also nuts like walnuts and seeds like flaxseeds and chia seeds are a good source.
5th on the list is an invite to eat less mood disruptive foods.
5. The list is long so are the reasons why they disrupt your mood. Keeping it concise:
Refined and processed foods: as they are often high in additives, preservatives, and artificial colours which can be inflammatory and have a negative impact on mood. But these foods are often also poor in the essential nutrients mentioned above, so empty calories.
Sugary foods: Talking about empty calories again, but they can also cause rapid spike in blood sugar levels followed by a crash. This can result in feelings of irritability, fatigue, and mood swings.
Lots to try out maybe? Keep me posted on how it goes. Eat well, stay well, feel happy.
And if you’d like some recipes to keep you going and stay on track with the above, here is a 3 days meal plan with some great suggestions.
While if you’d like to have a chat, my first call is free. Book it here.
And stay tunes, next week I will be covering mood boosting lifestyle measures.