The month of January can make us feel pretty glum. This is mainly because the weather is generally gloomy, bank balances are depleted after Christmas, colds and flu take hold and all of this can make us often feel low.
The good news is that there are plenty of nutrients and herbs that can help lift your mood.
Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips this Blue Monday.
What effects our mood?
Mood and motivation are largely determined by serotonin, also known as the ‘happy hormone’. Serotonin acts as both a hormone and a brain neurotransmitter and it’s pretty important when it comes to thinking about emotional wellbeing.
Interestingly most serotonin is produced in the gut, therefore what goes on in the digestive system is inextricably linked to how we feel. Certain nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and the B vitamins are all needed to help in its production. It also uses the amino acid tryptophan (a protein) to get it working. All this means there are plenty of things we can do to help make sure serotonin production is as good as it can be.
Get the basics right
Our internal systems need to be in good working order for us to feel happy and motivated, not just because of serotonin production but also to prevent any toxins building up, which can make us feel sluggish. A good balance of friendly bacteria and plenty of fibre are key.
Live natural yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, Jerusalem artichokes (in season right now), green tea and whole grain foods such as oats are great for feeding the good bacteria. They also help keep everything moving through the digestive tract smoothly.
Eat protein at every meal
Amino acids, which make up proteins, are found in foods containing protein such as meat, eggs, poultry, fish, soy, dairy, nut and beans. The amino acid tryptophan is found in many of these foods and the levels of each of the amino acids varies in different foods.
In order not to over-complicate matters, the best advice is to ensure you’re eating protein at every meal. This way you’ll be eating tryptophan, plus you’ll be keeping blood sugar levels in good balance, which is essential for maintaining concentration, energy and a brighter mood throughout the day.
Try some herbal helpers
When it comes to health, herbs are very powerful: we can often forget just what a difference these naturally occurring plants can make to health.
Top of the list for helping lift low mood is the herb St John’s wort. It has been widely researched over the years and is now found on supermarket and health food shop shelves as a licensed herbal medicine, denoted by the Traditional Herbal Remedy (THR) mark, meaning its safety and efficacy is assured.
As with all herbs, their exact mode of action is still a bit of a mystery, but research has shown that it helps raise serotonin levels. It can take about three weeks to work but it’s well worth sticking with it because it’s very effective if you’re feeling down.
Ramp up your nutrients
To ensure optimal production, serotonin also needs a helping hand from our diet. Vitamin C is key in this respect and the good news is that it’s found in all fruits and vegetables in varying amounts. Top of the list, however, are red peppers, kiwis, papaya, green leafy veg and all citrus fruits, so add some colour to your plate at every meal or snack.
The mineral zinc is another hard-working nutrient, also needed for healthy immunity, but essential for good brain function and mood. Meat, shellfish (especially oysters), eggs, nut, seeds and dairy produce are all high in zinc so include them regularly in your meal planning.
Vitamin B6 also works in harmony with zinc and vitamin C, keeping your mood in check and helping produce serotonin. Bananas make a great snack, keep energy levels on track and are high in vitamin B6 so try to eat about four a week. Additionally, dark leafy greens, oranges, beans and fortified cereals are great choices for an extra boost of Vitamin B6.
So, with a little dietary and herbal help you can hopefully keep smiling your way through the month and beyond.
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