Sara Jackson Registered Nutritionist & Natropath has her own practice SJ Health as well as consulting with The Optimum Health Clinic in London who specialise in Chronic Fatigue/ ME and Fibromylagia. She also sits on various expert panel and supports several large corporates on employee wellbeing.
Here she shares how food can help boost your mood.
We are all quite aware of the benefits of a balanced diet on our physical health these days, but do you know how what we eat really benefits our mental health? There has been so much research on the impact of food on our overall mental wellness, as well as specific illnesses like depression and anxiety which are current sky rocketing around the current global health pandemic so now is the perfect time to support our mood via the food we eat.
Recent research has linked excessive inflammation in the body with low mood in many people. When there is inflammation in the gut, we know that it can directly affect our mood via the HPA axis which plays an important role in our stress response. We also know that changes to the gut bugs in our digestive systems directly correlates with increased risk of anxiety. Stress itself, and the main stress hormones the body produces in response to stress and trauma are another big contributing factor to anxiety and low mood.
Did you know that between 70%-90% of your body’s brain hormones and neurotransmitters like the 'feel-good' dopamine and 'happy hormone' serotonin are actually made in the gut? That means that the state of your gut can play a really significant role on how you feel and your mental health.
There’s lots of fabulous foods you can focus on increasing generally, such as anti-inflammatory omega 3’s like wild oily fish, and varying your carbs can be important. Try paying more attention to complex and naturally gluten free carbs such as brown rice, quinoa, nutrient dense beans and pulses which are also a great way to boost your fibre intake. It’s always a good rule of thumb to reduce your intake of sugars, alcohol, fatty cuts of meat, gluten and too many refined white carbs and processed foods, as we know that they can feed the bad gut bugs we don’t want too many of, and contribute to poor gut health overall.
My top 5 good mood nutrients to boost via food are:
An amino acid that creates serotonin in the body. Serotonin is known as your feel good hormone, that can help you achieve more stable moods.
You can boost this through diet - turkey, nuts & seeds, especially pumpkin seeds but chia, sesame, flaxseeds and sunflower seeds are very helpful too.
Fish - tuna, salmon, halibut are good sources, along with oats, buckwheat, eggs, beans & lentils. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, eating a small tryptophan rich snack before bed might help you nod off.
2. Foods high in B vitaminsFor brain function, healthy nerves and enough good functioning red blood cells. B6 in particular can assist with reducing anxiety as it may help boost natural levels of serotonin in the body.
Include plenty of chickpeas, spinach, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, wild caught fish, poultry and green leafy vegetables to get sufficient intake of B-vitamins which may help regulate your mood.
Essential for over 300 functions in the body, including energy production and muscle function. Some studies have shown that magnesium insufficiency can be linked to nervousness, irritability, increased anxiety and even depression.
It’s a mineral that gets depleted really quickly when our bodies are under stress. I notice such a big difference in clinic when my clients start to restore magnesium levels.
You can find magnesium in green leafy veggies, sunflower seeds, quinoa, brown rice, good quality dark chocolate (though don’t eat it too late in the day as caffeine in dark chocolate can heighten anxiety), and almonds are great natural food sources of magnesium.
You can also top up your magnesium levels topically as your skin can absorb it well. Try using relaxing epsom salt baths and magnesium lotions and sprays which help instantly, and can be a really useful way to deal with the onset of acute anxiety attacks and to help wind down at night, along with breathing exercises and other lifestyle practises.
4. Omega-3 fatty acids
Cold-water, wild-caught fish can reduce inflammation and help stabilise your mood. Omega-3's also contain DHA, which is vital for congnitve function - supporting memory and focus.
Aim for 2-3 portions a week of wild SMASH fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines or herring) but if you know you don’t eat anywhere near that amount, consider having your levels tested as you may benefit from a good quality omega-3 supplement. A good starting dose is 1,000 mg daily if you are deficient and want to look at quality supplementation.
Getting enough protein is essential for our brains to regulate thoughts and feelings. Protein is one of the cornerstones to balancing your blood sugar levels - we know that a slow and steady release of energy improves mood and moderates the amounts of stress hormones being released by the body.
Imbalanced blood glucose levels can have a negative impact on your hormones, energy levels, skin, mood, weight, quality of sleep but most importantly your mood.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and these are vital for our brains, as they help make neurotransmitters to boost our moods. I very rarely meet clients in my clinic who are eating adequate protein for their build and level of activity.
You should really aim to eat a good quality source of protein with each meal and snack throughout the day, such as nuts, seeds, eggs, a good quality protein powder to boost smoothies and home baking, fish, lean meat and poultry."