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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Boost your happiness with these five top mood foods

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

We could probably all do with a little mood boosting right now.  On a positive note, we know that what we eat can have a massive bearing on how happy, sad or anxious we feel. 

There is an inextricable link between gut and brain, mainly due to brain neurotransmitters, many of which are produced in the gut.  Furthermore, the microbiome, which includes those friendly guys that live in your gut, also plays a role.

 

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods to help keep you feeling happy.

Spinach

Spinach is high in magnesium, nature’s natural tranquiliser, which is great for keeping our mood calm and balanced. Plus, spinach is rich in vitamin B6, needed to produce serotonin, our ‘happy hormone’.

Spinach leaves made into a heart shape

Spinach is so versatile and can be used in dishes hot and cold.  Whilst some of the vitamin content is lost through cooking, lightly steaming is the way forward.  Spinach leaves are great added to a salad with some stronger flavours such as goats’ cheese, beetroot and walnuts.  Alternatively, spinach, lightly steamed with garlic, makes a great vegetable side.

Chicken

Chicken is high in the amino acid, tryptophan, which is needed to produce serotonin.  Tryptophan is actually found in quite a number of protein-based foods but is especially high in chicken.  Try to choose organic chicken, where possible.

A roast chicken

Why not rustle up a delicious Mediterranean chicken salad?  Use cooked chicken breasts or thighs with spinach leaves, shredded red cabbage and cherry tomatoes.  The delicious flavour comes from the dressing which you can make with Dijon mustard, basil leaves, virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  An easy, tasty and mood-enhancing lunch.

Eggs

Eggs can help raise dopamine levels, another brain neurotransmitter needed for good mood and motivation. Interestingly, dopamine levels are also increased when bright light hits the back of the eye, which is one of the reasons why so many people suffer from SAD during the darker, winter months.

POached egg on wilted spinach on rye bread

Eggs make a brilliant start to the day not just because they raise dopamine levels, but they’re also high in protein. Protein is needed to keep blood sugar in good balance, which has a direct impact on mood and energy. Poached eggs on wholemeal toast with a few wilted spinach leaves is certainly a top breakfast!

Brown rice

Brown rice is a slow-releasing carbohydrate so it will not only help give you energy and balanced mood, it stimulates production of serotonin.  We all tend to crave more starchy foods during the winter months.  Maybe this is partly because the body is ‘asking’ for serotonin?

Salmon, brown rice and asparagus dish

Brown rice is a staple food that can be added to many meals.  It’s great with baked salmon (another mood-boosting food), with stir-fry veggies or cold as a lunch-time salad base. Whole grain foods are also high in fibre and B-vitamins helping your bowels to be more regular, which will also have a positive impact on your energy and mood.

Natural yoghurt

Natural yogurt is high in tryptophan but also helps balance the friendly flora (or goood bacteria) in your digestive tract.  Both factors are key to good mood so eating natural yoghurt regularly is an easy win.

Pot of natural yoghurt

Adding natural yoghurt to your cereal (homemade muesli with plenty of nuts and seeds is a good start), is an easy breakfast. It is also transportable if you like to eat breakfast on the go or when you get to work. Plus, it’s a great source of protein so blood sugar levels will start the day evenly rather than out of balance.  Furthermore, it feeds all the good guys in the gut; the better shape your gut bacteria, the more serotonin you’ll be able to produce, as that’s where most of it comes from!

Enjoy trying these five easy nutrition tips to help boost your mood and put a smile on your face!

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

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Top tips for banishing the winter bugs this season

As winter gets into full swing, so too can winter bugs. Many of us have already suffered from colds this season and the trend will inevitably continue over the coming months.  However, catching a cold doesn’t have to be a given every winter: there are many ways of reducing your chances of catching a cold.

The good news is that Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tell us just how we can do this with her five top tips!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

HAVE MORE VITAMIN C

Vitamin C is probably best-known as a cold remedy.  However, it can also prevent a cold happening in the first place. Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling, wrote a revolutionary book called Vitamin C and the common cold which looked at using large doses of vitamin C.  Whilst the clinical evidence is still fairly mixed, we do know that vitamin C increases white blood cell production, which strengthens immunity, and therefore many people have found that taking good levels of vitamin C throughout the winter has kept them sniffle-free.

Vitamin C is very easily destroyed by cooking, storage and food preparation.  So, whilst it’s essential to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables containing vitamin C, such as strawberries, peppers, broccoli, mango, guavas, kiwi and oranges (all fruits and vegetables will contain some vitamin C), it’s just as important to take a daily supplement. Taking an additional 1000 mg of vitamin C daily can really help.

EAT SHITAKE MUSHROOMS

There’s a wealth of mushrooms now available in the supermarkets.  However, shitake mushrooms stand out as having some really beneficial effects on the immune system. They seem to improve gut immunity which is obviously beneficial to the whole body, but they also contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals, most notably vitamins D and B6, which both help to boost the immune system.

Not sure how to eat shitake mushrooms?  Prepare them by simply washing and slicing and then use them in a Singapore Noodle recipe. They work really well with chillies, turmeric, ginger, soy sauce, fish sauce and garlic with some chicken and noodles. Delicious!

TAKE SOME ECHINACEA

Perhaps the most widely used Western herb for enhancement of the immune system, and therefore a great defence against colds, is Echinacea.  It even strengthens the immune system in healthy people so it’s certainly worth using as a preventative measure.  Indeed, there have been many scientific investigations on the immune-enhancing effects of Echinacea.

Look for registered Traditional Herbal Remedies (THR’s) containing Echinacea purpurea root for best effects.

LIMIT SUGAR

Of all dietary changes that could be most beneficial in keeping you cold-free this winter, it’s ditching the sugar. Sugar in all its forms (glucose, sucrose, fructose, to name a few) can significantly reduce the ability of white blood cells to destroy viral invaders to the body. In fact the negative effects of having a sugar overload can start within 30 minutes and typically last for over five hours.  This can mean a 50% reduction in the ability of our white blood cells to deal with foreign invaders.

After a sugar-hit such as sweets, pastries, alcohol and fizzy drinks, blood sugar levels will rise.  This will cause elevated insulin levels, and vitamin C and insulin appear to have opposing effects on white blood cell production.  Even fruit juice can be a problem because it has a direct effect on blood sugar levels.

Try to make a conscious effort to really look at your sugar intake and reduce it as much as possible over the coming months.

BE HAPPY!

The mind has a profound effect on health and disease; our mood and attitude have a tremendous bearing on immunity.  When we’re happy and optimistic, our immune system functions much better.  Conversely, when we’re depressed, our immune system tends to be depressed.  If you want to have a healthy immune system, you need to laugh often, view life with a positive outlook and relax on a regular basis.

Easier said than done?

Positive thinking actually takes practice, particularly if you’re prone to being a ‘glass half-empty’ type of person.  However, take each day as it comes and actively try to banish negative thoughts.  It’s also a great idea to think of at least one thing every morning that you’re grateful for.  It could be something as simple as drinking a wonderful cup of coffee.  After a while, your mind set will switch to being more positive.  And the more positive you are, the stronger your immune system will become.

So with these top tips hopefully you can stay happy and healthy all winter long!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition and health advice direct to your inbox.

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 Herbfacts