By Charlotte Foster BSc (Hons), MSc, RD.
With Christmas behind us, short days, long nights and no prospect of a bank holiday for another few months, it’s not uncommon to hear people suffering with the “January blues”.
However, this phrase often trivialises the issue of feeling low in mood or suffering with depression.
The reality is, those feeling chronically low in mood or suffering with depression it can be highly debilitating and has a massive impact on quality of life.
But is there anything we can do in our diets to help boost our moods with food? Check out a few of our top tips!
Regular eating -keep your blood sugars steady!
By eating regularly we can regulate our blood sugar levels better and provide our body with a steady supply of nutrition and calories to sustain us through the day. Focus on having low glycaemic (low GI), slow releasing carbohydrates to help avoid sharp rises and falls in blood sugar levels.
The effects of low GI & high GI foods on blood glucose levels (1).
Don’t exclude food groups – all are important! Carbohydrates have had a lot of bad press in recent years, with many people advocating cutting out this food group altogether. The reality is, carbohydrates get broken down into glucose which is the brain’s primary energy source. Therefore, by not having enough carbohydrate in the diet, we can end up feeling fatigued and unable to concentrate.
So remember, to fuel your brain and nourish your body we need a combination of all food groups to obtain the nutrition we need. Try to have carbohydrates, fat and protein at every meal.
The Eatwell Guide (2).
Get on board with good fats
Omega-3 and omega-6 are both polyunsaturated fatty acids which are both important for healthy brain function. Research has shown that low levels of omega-3 have been linked with a higher incidence of depression (3-5).
Omega-3 is essential for the production of neurotrophic factors which regulate the growth of brain cells. It is also believed that omega-3 can affect gene expression.
There are two forms of omega-3 :
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) – found in mainly plant sources (mainly nuts and seeds) , it cannot be made in the body and so must be obtained in our diet.
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – found primarily in fish, seafood and dairy sources, although both can be synthesised from ALA can when necessary.
Good sources of where these essential fats can be found include:
- Oily fish
- Nuts (especially walnuts and almonds)
- Olive and sunflower oils
- Seeds (such as sunflower, pumpkin and chia)
- Dairy foods – milk, yoghurt, cheese etc
For more information on omega-3, click here.
Pack in protein!
Protein is made up of amino acids, which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings.
Good sources include:
- Lean meat
- Legumes (peas, beans and lentils)
- Soya products
- Nuts and seeds
Fruit & Vegetables – Get your 5 a day!
- High in vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- Fresh, frozen, tinned, dried all count.
- Eat a range of colours to get a good range of nutrients – several portions of the same type of food won’t be so good for you.
- Tomatoes, mushrooms and bananas all contain high levels of potassium which is essential for your whole nervous system, including your brain.
- Think about cooking methods to preserve the nutrients – boiling/ cooking for too long can destroy some vitamins and minerals .
For more information on fruits and vegetables, click here.
The Sunshine Vitamin – Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a vital role in preventing rickets in children and osteomalacia, promoting calcium absorption, bone growth and bone remodelling. It is involved in cell growth, genetic coding and functioning, neuromuscular functioning, immune functioning and reducing inflammation.
Some evidence which suggests an association between low vitamin D levels and osteoporosis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, preeclampsia and cancer.
In July 2016, Public Health England released updated guidelines on the recommendations for vitamin D:
- Adults should aim for a daily dietary intake 10µg of vitamin D
- During autumn and winter months a daily supplement containing 10µg of vitamin D should be considered.
Make sure you get your micronutrients!
Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) all play an important role in the body. However, the following listed below are key to help ensure we have plenty of energy and maintain healthy brain function which together can help regulate our mood.
- Selenium – found in brazil nuts, seeds, meat, fish and wholemeal bread.
- B vitamins- found in wholegrain foods, meat, fish, eggs and dairy products.
- Iron – found in red meat and offal, eggs and dark leafy greens.
- Folate – found in green vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, liver and fortified foods e.g. Marmite or fortified cereals.
For more information, click here.
Fill your glass with hydrating fluids!
Most of us don’t drink enough, which can massively impact our mood and ability to concentrate. Try to aim for ~ 1.5-2 L fluid everyday.
A lack of fluid can lead to :
- Alteration in appetite
- Cause constipation
- Impact concentration and exacerbate fatigue
Try to limit caffeinated drinks and alcohol as these can enhance feelings of anxiety and depression and impact appetite.
1: Glycaemic Index Foundation (2016). What is Glycaemic Index? Available at http://www.gisymbol.com/about/glycemic-index/
[last accessed 22/11/16].
2: The Eatwell Guide (2016) Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-eatwell-guide [last accessed 11/1/17].
3: Su, K. et al. (2014) “Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Prevention of Interferon-Alpha-Induced Depression: Results from a Randomized, Controlled Trial” Biological Psychiatry , 76 (7); 559–566.
4: Freeman MP, Hibbeln JR, Wisner KL, et al. (2006) Omega-3 fatty acids: evidence basis for treatment and future research in psychiatry. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 67 (12); 1954-1967.
5: Sarris J, Mischoulon D, Schweitzer I. (2003) Omega-3 for bipolar disorder: meta-analyses of use in mania and bipolar depression. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Epub ahead of print.