Five foods to boost your mood this January

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

January is often a month where people struggle with low mood, partly because of the dark days and cold and miserable weather.  And that’s notwithstanding the current situation. “Blue Monday”, this year on 18th January, is also supposed to be the lowest day of the year.

However, the good news is that you can put a smile back onto your face by adding some ‘feel-good’ foods to your diet.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top happy foods.

Oats

The perfect start to the day is porridge with your choice of milk or soaked overnight in some apple juice. Oats are loaded with mood-enhancing nutrients.  Importantly, eating oats for breakfast avoids wheat-based cereals or bread, which can be troubling for many people’s digestion.  That’s certainly going to disrupt mood too.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Oats are high in B-vitamins which, as well as helping with energy production, are needed to produce brain neurotransmitters responsible for mood and motivation.  They are also high in the calming mineral magnesium (great for stress-reduction) and keeping your blood sugar levels in balance, thereby keeping you smiling!

Bananas

One of the easiest and tastiest snacks, bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to produce our happy hormone, serotonin.  They are also high in vitamin B6, essential for the body to produce tryptophan which in turn helps to make serotonin, so it’s a win-win situation.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Whilst they’re a great snack and can also star in delicious banana bread, bananas are high in starch so are best eaten in moderation as a treat, rather than every day.  Plus, their sugar release is better balanced when eaten with protein, so they partner well with mood-boosting walnuts which are high in omega-3 fats.

Salmon

On the topic of omega-3s, salmon is one of the best food choices for getting some of these super-healthy fats into your diet.  Omega-3s are essential for brain function, particularly getting neurotransmitters to fire correctly, so will help support your mood.  Plus, they’re needed for great skin, smooth-moving joints, a healthy heart and eye health, so they provide plenty to smile about.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Salmon is really easy to include in the diet: it’s great grilled with some lemon juice and a little butter, cooked in the oven in a foil parcel with garlic, ginger and soy sauce, or added to pasta dishes.  If you want a quick and healthy lunch, then look for tinned wild salmon. Wild salmon is best because they’re reared in a healthier way and contain more of the powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin (it’s what makes them pink), so you’ll also be supporting your immune system and the ageing process as well.

Pineapple

For tastes and memories of summer, why not bag some delicious pineapple?  If you can’t find fresh, then frozen is fine because it’s usually quickly frozen after harvest locking in all the nutrients. As well as encouraging happy thoughts of holidays (which will happen later this year!), pineapples contain some tryptophan, so they’ll also help to increase serotonin levels.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Pineapples also contain a special protein called bromelain which helps with digestion but has a strong anti-inflammatory action so is great for any joint pain or muscle soreness you might be experiencing.  Pineapple is delicious added to a vegetable juice for sweetness but, when eaten between meals as a snack (perhaps with some almonds), its health benefits tend to be more effective, plus it’s easier to digest.

Pumpkin seeds

Many people are not great lovers of fish which means they may not be getting their essential omega-3s.  Pumpkin seeds are a great source of omega-3s, but also immune-boosting zinc and calming magnesium.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

If you can’t face them plain, then why not very lightly roast them with some soy sauce?  That way you’ll be much more likely to eat and enjoy them and sprinkle them liberally on vegetables, salads or smashed avocado on toast (a fantastic start to the day!)

So, brighten up your January – and your mood – with some great mood-boosting foods!

Stay well.

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All images: Shutterstock

 

Nutritional self-help for hay fever

CLose up of woman blwoing her nose surrounded by flowers to represent hay fever

Anyone suffering from hay fever will know only too well that pollen levels are high right now and it’s causing misery for some.  Tell-tale red, itchy eyes, sneezing, tiredness and irritability are all too common symptoms. 

Whilst there are officially three hay fever seasons, it’s now that the grass pollen is so problematic.  However, don’t give up hope if this applies to you.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top ways of getting some relief from hay fever.

Go natural

Any allergic reaction involves a response from the body’s immune system. An allergy triggers the release of histamine, which in turn causes the array of unpleasant symptoms.

Close up of woman's tummy with her hands making a heart shape in front

Strange as it may seem, most of the immune system actually resides within the digestive tract (commonly referred to as the gut).  And much of this is controlled by the gut bacteria that naturally hang out there.  These friendly bacteria happily living inside you can help manage allergies because of the role they play within the immune response.

Natural yoghurt

This is where natural yoghurt can take a key role in helping manage symptoms.  Natural yoghurt contains a number of strains of these friendly bacteria that have been shown to benefit hay fever sufferers enormously.  The yoghurt needs to contain live cultures and it must be natural yoghurt as opposed to the fruit variety.  Also ensure you choose the full fat versions which don’t contain any sweeteners or additives; these could have the reverse effect.  Eat natural yoghurt at least four times a week for the best outcomes.

Clean up your diet

Significantly reducing sugary, refined foods is key to getting on top of hay fever symptoms.  Sugar and processed foods cause inflammation within the body which will only make symptoms worse.  This includes alcohol and excessive amounts of caffeine.

A range of green vegetables

Instead, include plenty of green leafy vegetables, berry fruits and apples.  Bananas are especially helpful because they are non-allergenic and contain plenty of fibre.  It’s also important to keep the bowels running smoothly to ensure no toxic waste build up internally, which will fire up the immune system in the wrong way.

A selection of foods containing Vitamin A

Vitamin A is key in helping to reduce inflammation in the mucous membranes which get irritated and exacerbate symptoms.  Plus, it’s also a key immune-boosting vitamin. Eating plenty of eggs, liver and fish, all high in vitamin A, is a good plan.  However, the body also converts beta carotene found in fruits and vegetables into vitamin A as it needs it; another good reason for including plenty of colourful fruits and veggies.

Include quercetin

What’s that you may ask?  Quercetin is a bioflavonoid or plant compound that helps to support immunity.  More specifically it’s been found to help manage the body’s release of histamine, therefore it can prevent some of the unpleasant symptoms of hay fever.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Foods such as onions, citrus fruits, apples and green tea all contain quercetin.  Interestingly, bromelain, which is a protein-digesting enzyme found in pineapples, helps the absorption of it, so eating a fruit salad containing both apples and pineapple is certainly going to help.

Dampen the fire

With the mucous membranes literally ‘on fire’ at the back of the throat and through the bronchial tubes, it’s no wonder that coughing, sneezing and wheezing are commonplace with hay fever. A quick relief for itchy, watery eyes is to lie down in a darkened room for 20 minutes or so with sliced cucumber over them. Inhaling eucalyptus oil can also really help ease congestion.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Additionally, the spice, turmeric is a very powerful anti-inflammatory so include it in as many dishes as possible.  It’s especially tasty in curries, soups and stir fries. Also on the menu should be ginger which is easily added to these dishes but works well as a tea; just squeeze fresh ginger into a mug and pour over hot water. You could also try taking a turmeric food supplement every day.

Add some magnesium

As we know, the immune system and some key internal organs are all irritated in hay fever sufferers. The mineral, magnesium, is a wonderfully calming mineral and is found in good amounts in green leafy veggies (another great reason to eat them).  Additionally, foods such as soya beans, kidney beans, whole grains, especially brown rice, and peas are great choices.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Importantly bananas are rich in magnesium, so they should definitely be high on the weekly shopping list.  This should create some much-needed calm within the body.

So, try some of these top tips and there can be light and relief at the end of the hay fever tunnel.

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

All images: Shutterstock

 

The truth about fruit and sugar

A range of fruits

Sometimes celebrated, other times revered, there is widespread confusion within the general population about whether eating a lot of fruit is healthy or not.   

Fruit contains naturally-occurring sugars – glucose and fructose. So, is eating fruit going to exacerbate our ever-growing obesity crisis? And which are the best fruits for us to eat?

With Sugar Awareness Week around the corner, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer explodes some of the fruit myths and looks at what’s good and what’s not.

The good

To be clear, fruit contains some amazing health benefits.  All fruits contain lots of vitamin C, one of our hardest-working vitamins.  Vitamin C is essential for many body functions but is key in the health of the immune system, the skin and formation and repair of muscle.

Additionally, fruits contain a whole range of plant compounds with varying health benefits.  For starters, they’re very high in antioxidants – essential for helping prevent degenerative diseases and supporting the immune system.  Watermelons, for example, contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruits.

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

Fruits contain other plant compounds called anthocyanins which are also incredibly powerful antioxidants and supportive of all body systems.  It’s all about the colour and the darker the colours, the more anthocyanins the fruit provides.  Blueberries have championed the super-fruit title, partly because their dark colour makes them very rich in these plant compounds. Blackberries and blackcurrants have the same qualities.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Another wonderful benefit to eating fruit is it contains plenty of essential fibre.  In our heavily processed western diet, fibre is sadly lacking.  We all need around 30 grams of fibre daily (bananas have around 3 grams), in order to keep the bowel working efficiently.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Some fruits contain some more unusual health benefits.  For example, pineapples contain bromelain which is an effective protein digester so is often used as a digestive enzyme.  Plus, bromelain is a great anti-inflammatory so will help ease painful, inflamed joints.  Apples contain plenty of quercetin, a natural antihistamine, so help fight allergic reactions.

The not so good

There is of course a downside to eating too much fruit and that is its sugar content.  However, this isn’t all bad news.  Fruit contains high levels of a fruit sugar called fructose.  The chemical structure of fructose is more complex that that of simple glucose, and it must be broken down in the liver.  This means you don’t necessarily get a huge sugar ‘hit’ when you eat certain fruits. Cranberries, apricots, raspberries, strawberries and clementines, for example, are all low in sugar overall.

a punnet of strawberries

It all depends on the fruits you eat. They vary in how much fibre they contain (this slows down blood sugar rushes), their balance of fructose and glucose, plus their total fructose levels.

A bowl of prunes or dried plums

Figs, grapes, dates and prunes (dried plums) have some of the highest sugar content.  But this needs to be balanced against their other benefits: prunes, for example, contain some of the highest antioxidant levels per 100 grams of all fruits.

As with everything in life, it’s all about balance.

The not too bad at all!

The body needs a constant supply of energy and eating fruit provides a healthy way of achieving this, due to its high carbohydrate content.  When it comes to blood sugar, it’s a balancing act. Eating carbohydrate with protein will slow down the sugar rush, making energy distribution more sustained.  For example, eating some sliced apple with a few almonds is a perfect afternoon snack when you’re feeling energy levels starting to flag. Additionally, eating fruit with some fat and fibre slows down its absorption; nut butter with sliced banana on wholemeal toast is an incredibly easy and sustaining breakfast option.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Interestingly, nature also demonstrated this concept well with the avocado.  Categorised as a fruit, avocado is high in both the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and fibre.  Avocados are incredibly health-giving. It makes a brilliant breakfast on toast on its own or with egg or smoked salmon. They’ll certainly keep you feeling full all through the morning.

Fruit is certainly not the enemy.  Within a healthy, balanced diet, fruit will provide amazing health benefits without too much damage to the waistline (or teeth!)

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts