Being happy is one of the most important things in life. It may be unrealistic to feel fantastic every day and jump out of bed with a smile every morning, but by changing a few things you can become generally more content and happy with your life. And if you’re happy, others around you will also feel happier. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some advice on the best ‘mood foods’ to eat, together with some general lifestyle advice that should help you feel happier.
It may come as no surprise to learn that what you eat and drink on a daily basis has a massive effect on your mood; most people suffering with low mood can really help to improve how they feel with some diet and lifestyle changes. And even if you feel happy most of the time, here are some tips to keeping that spring in your step every day.
Balancing blood sugar levels is probably the best way to start your pathway to happiness and contentment. If your blood sugar levels are up and down, it will certainly affect your mood and ultimately, energy levels – and a lack of energy can really make you feel down-in-the-dumps!
The key is to start the day right; this means always eating breakfast that contains some protein or slow-releasing energy foods. Eggs cooked anyway you like (except fried), or porridge are the two best breakfast choices.
Secondly, drinking too many stimulants such as caffeinated tea and coffee throughout the day can lead to some real highs and lows in your mood, due to the way it affects blood sugar balance. Try to have no more than three cups of tea or coffee daily; instead make sure you’re drinking at least 1 ½ litres of water daily and substituting with herbal or fruit teas.
Additionally, you may not realise it when you’re dancing the night away after a few glasses of wine, but alcohol is actually a depressant! Many people will suffer real lows after a night-out and these effects will be multiplied the more alcohol you drink. Always have some alcohol-free days each week to help balance your mood and also give your liver time to recover.
And talking of the liver…
In naturopathic medicine, the liver is the organ of mood and anger. A distressed liver can therefore cause you to feel sad and, often, angry.
Clearly, alcohol is a watch out; however there are certain foods that the liver loves! Lemons are a fantastically cleansing fruit and starting the day with a glass of warm water with lemon juice will really kick-start the liver after it has been busy detoxifying your body all night.
Beetroots are not everyone’s favourite, but are certainly one of the liver’s most favoured foods. They are great in salads, juices and soups. Broccoli, and the ‘love it or hate it’ vegetable Brussels sprouts, are other great liver-loving foods. They both contain specific compounds that help to neutralise free radicals but also are high in fibre which removes toxins from the body, minimising the liver’s work!
Your ‘happy hormone’ serotonin is predominantly produced in your gut. Therefore, if your digestive system isn’t happy then you can’t expect your brain to be either! However, one of the keys to keeping your digestion in smooth working order is to make sure your friendly bacteria is in check.
High sugar diets, too much stress, prescription medicines and the contraceptive pill also disrupt your good bacteria, meaning that your gut won’t be able to do its job properly and manufacture sufficient serotonin.
If you have recently taken a course of antibiotics, then you should certainly consider taking a probiotic supplement for a couple of months. Equally, green tea, asparagus, artichokes specifically and all green leafy vegetables generally also help to feed the good bacteria; make sure you try to include at least one of these every day.
The omega 3 and omega 6 fats are termed ‘essential because they are just that! The body cannot make them so they have to be eaten in the diet. The omega 3’s are particularly important for good brain function; many people who have low mood or more serious depressive illnesses are frequently low in omega 3 fatty acids.
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, as well as nuts, seeds and, in particular, flaxseeds, are great sources of omega 3s. They are so important for your brain, and therefore your mood, that you should really be taking either a fish oil supplement or flax-based product if you’re not including these food types regularly in your diet. Vegetarians especially should think about a supplement.
Exercise, exercise, exercise! Your body naturally produces feel-good endorphins when you get the blood pumping. But you don’t have to suddenly turn into a gym bunny – even a brisk 20 minute walk each day will invigorate and lift your mood.
It’s also important to try to grab some fresh air every day; many people sit at their desk all day long and never even leave it to eat lunch, let alone go outside.
Some time away from stress and emails will help refresh your cognitive function but also aid your digestion too. When we’re stressed the body goes into ‘fight-or-flight’ response and closes down the digestive organs, hence many people have an uncomfortable afternoon after eating at their desk – something else that can also make you feel more unhappy.
So whether you’re increasing your leafy greens, taking time out of the office every day or cutting your alcohol intake, these are just a few quick and easy ways to boost your happiness. Give them a try and release your joyfulness!
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