1. Don’t base your diet around ‘comfort food’ – it won’t be comforting for long
When it’s cold many people tend to forget about diet quality/ balance and opt for the stodgy food items that will comfort and warm them. Whilst these foods make us feel good at the time and go perfectly with a cold, dreary day, they will not make us feel good in the long run!
- Firstly, frequently making these choices will likely lead to some weight gain over winter – very common and disheartening for most individuals. This isn’t ideal for our health either.
- Secondly, you will likely not be getting a good balance of foods from the 5 food groups and this can really affect your mood! You might be missing out on many vitamins and minerals that promote good mental health. Vegetables can often be neglected in winter.
- Thirdly, stodgy foods can encourage a more sluggish digestive system which can again impact mood. The gut-brain connection is strong! Anxiety or depression can affect the gastrointestinal tract and vice versa . Having sluggish digestion can cause discomfort, irritability and lethargy which also contribute to a low mood. This is another reason why balance is important.
You don’t have to stick to sandwiches and salads, however. There are healthier comfort meals than hot chips, meat pies, oily pasta dishes, fried rice and other takeaways. Try making stews, casseroles, wholemeal pasta dishes and soups and taking them to work with you. These are guaranteed to warm you up and leave you feeling satisfied. Pack them full of vegetables and lentils! Remember to still be cautious of the portion size though, particularly if you are accompanying with bread.
2. Get your omega 3 fatty acids
DHA which is part of the omega 3 family reduces levels of norepinephrine – this hormone can trigger anxiety. This lowering affect is experienced in individuals who have anxiety and even those who don’t . Omega 3’s also help brains cells to communicate. As you can see, this is an important nutrient!
Omega 3 fatty acids have therefore been linked to improved mental health by decreasing levels of depression and anxiety. One review of three studies looked at omega 3 fatty acids in the treatment of depression. Compared with the placebo drug, significant improvements in the participant’s depression were seen with the supplementation of omega 3. These benefits were seen in both children and adults . Another review of the available evidence also shows an association between depressive disorders and deficits of omega 3 fatty acids . The treatment studies showed positive affects with omega 3 supplementation .
With a lot of scientific research backing the mood positive effects of omega 3’s, it makes sense that we ensure we are getting enough through our diet in order to boost our mood where possible!
So where do you get omega 3 fatty acids?
- Oily fish e.g. salmon, mackerel, sardines
- Walnuts – these contain ALA (converted to DHA) which is the omega 3 found in plants. It has 17 times the quantity found in almonds .
- Flax seeds/ linseeds, chia seeds
- Canola and soybean oil
- Dark green vegetables
3. Get your B vitamins
B vitamins also help to improve mental wellbeing. Those with low levels of folate and B vitamins have been shown to be at a higher risk of depression and mood disorders .
Sources of B vitamins include:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Meat and poultry
4. Work some tryptophan in
Tryptophan is an amino acid used to make serotonin – a natural chemical mood booster. Tryptophan can help stabilise mood and assist with sleeping.
Good sources of tryptophan include:
- Cheese, milk
- Chicken, eggs
- Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
- Soy, tofu
5. Go low GI
Avoid high GI foods and foods high in added sugar as these fuel stress and lower mood. Eating high GI foods results in a spike in insulin . This spike triggers the release of serotonin and tryptophan. Unfortunately, the levels of serotonin and tryptophan drop as quickly as they rose which can lead to a poorer mood and irritability . High GI foods do not fill you up for as long either so your cravings will only return sooner.
6. Avoid emotional eating
The foods we turn to for emotional comfort actually make stress and mood worse. These items include caffeine, alcohol and products highly processed and high in sugar/ saturated fat. Not only do we tend to feel more guilt after over-indulging on these foods but they also have negative effects on the way our body runs.
7. Keep active
This may not be food related but it also plays a vital role in keeping your mind and body healthy. Exercise releases endorphins which make us feel great! It also encourages people to eat more healthily than if they’re not exercising. It’s about encompassing that whole lifestyle change which is what we’re looking for.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist. If you have questions about healthy eating, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.