Food has a profound influence on how we feel. On both an emotional level and a physiological one it affects our mood and temperament. When we are happier, it positively affects every area of our lives creating a positive spiral. Here are my recommendations for the most important ‘pick me up’ foods to eat regularly if you ever feel low.
Our brains need omega-3 and this is best found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and anchovies. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids; ones that our bodies cannot produce by themselves; which alter the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. These are those ‘feel good’ chemicals, which help you feel calm, relaxed and upbeat. If you don’t enjoy fish, take a daily fish oil supplement and see how you feel after a couple of weeks.
Diets that restrict carbohydrates have been proven to lead to increased anxiety, anger and depression. Carbohydrates flood the brain with tryptophan, which morphs into serotonin; one of our bodies feel good hormones. Ensure you are getting enough carbohydrates regularly throughout the day from wonderful wholefood sources, such as whole oats, rice, quinoa, wholemeal grainy breads or legumes. Just avoid the highly refined processed ones and opt for the natural and whole alternatives.
Bananas are a great source of a whole range of different vitamins and important minerals, such as potassium, phosphorous and iron and they also contain the amino acid tryptophan, which combats anxiety, depression and insomnia. Tryptophan is converted into the hormone serotonin, which lifts your mood and helps you sleep soundly. Try adding some slices of banana to your breakfast, have one as a snack, add one to a smoothie or make banana ice cream.
Lentils are rich in folate, which helps combat depression. Because lentils are a low GI complex carbohydrate they give you long lasting energy and also increase the important hormone serotonin. They also boost iron levels and therefore reduce tiredness. Dry lentils are very inexpensive and can easily be added to casseroles, soups or curries. Soaking them overnight makes them more digestible and even better for you. Canned lentils make great salads or can be added to any meal for an instant boost.
Brazil nuts are a rich source of the mineral selenium. People low in this mineral are more irritable, anxious and tired. Eating just 3 brazil nuts a day meets your recommended daily requirement for selenium, so have a few with your breakfast, in a salad or as a snack.
Fruit and Vegetables
Having a wide range of colourful fruit and vegetables is vital for the body to be supplied with a huge range of essential minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals as well as fibre and energy. A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, of close to 3,500 men and women showed that those who ate more wholefoods and less fried, refined and processed foods experienced lower depression; researchers stated that high levels of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables protect against depression. Add a few extra vegetables into your meals, snack on crisp fresh vegetable sticks and add soups or salads to your meals as entrees.
Eating dark chocolate can help lower stress hormones and instead cause the brain to release endorphins and boost serotonin levels. Make sure you go for a high quality dark chocolate, sit down comfortably and savour it slowly.
Leafy greens, such as spinach, silverbeet or broccoli are great sources of vitamin B. Low vitamin B levels can lead to depression and can hinder serotonin production. You can incorporate more leafy greens into your diet by:
- Adding an extra serving with meals
- Disguising them inside your family favourites
- Having a green smoothie as a pick me up snack
- Starting your meals with a salad entrée.
Obviously not a food group, but well worth mentioning; water is important for virtually every process in our body and thus our overall wellbeing. Without adequate hydration our brain isn’t able to function properly leading to poor concentration, listlessness and irritability. Add rituals and visual reminders into your day that ensure you drink water regularly, such as having a glass on your desk, filling and consuming a bottle of water twice a day or by linking drinking to routine tasks. In winter this can be via herbal teas or hot water with lemon.