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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Five festive foods to boost your mood this Christmas

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

Many of us have struggled to find good cheer and happiness over the last few months for obvious reasons.  However, Christmas is fast approaching which generally puts a smile on our faces. 

What you eat over this festive season can have a marked and positive effect on your mood.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite festive mood-enhancing foods.

Turkey

The good old Christmas Turkey can really help our mood and motivation. This is because it’s rich in tryptophan, an amino acid needed to produce serotonin, one of our key happy hormones. However, it requires some nutrient partners, also called co-factors, in order to get to where it’s needed to do its work.  This means eating plenty of foods containing vitamin C.

Roast Christmas turkey

Thankfully, most fruits and vegetables are full of vitamin C, so make sure you’re eating at least the recommended five portions a day or even more! Additionally, zinc (rich in seafood and whole grains) and vitamin B6 (bananas are a great source), also work closely with tryptophan.

Hopefully looking at the beautifully roasted turkey on your Christmas table will bring a smile to your face for many reasons and you can continue to enjoy the leftovers during the festive period.

Mackerel

Mackerel is a sometimes-forgotten white fish but one that’s incredibly flavoursome. One of its many claims to fame is that it’s packed with the essential omega-3 fats, so often lacking in the typical western diet.  We know from the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) that a large percentage of the population are lacking in omega-3s which might in part explain why low mood is so prevalent. Omega-3s are essential for improved brain neurotransmitter reception plus production of serotonin – our happy hormone.

Mackereal pate on a slice of bread

Mackerel is delicious simply baked as a pre-Christmas meal.  However, why not enjoy some mackerel pate as a starter for the main event?  It can be prepared the day before and it’s super easy to make. Enjoy!

Oysters

At their seasonal best right now, oysters are often served up over Christmas.  They’ll certainly bring some cheer to the table partly down to the fact they’re packed with the mineral zinc.  Zinc is essential for the production of serotonin, a lack of which is often implicated in cases of depression.

A plate of oysters

Additionally, oysters are high in vitamin B12 which plays a key role in keeping the nervous system on the straight and narrow, and helping you feel generally more balanced.  Most people love oysters served with loads of lemon juice or for a spicey twist, with some chilli sauce.  They never disappoint however they’re eaten.

Dark chocolate

No Christmas would be complete for most people without some chocolate heaven!  However, the good news is that chocolate really can make us feel happier.  Chemicals in dark chocolate work on feel-good endorphins in the body.  This is turn helps raise levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that encourages our feel-good factor and positive mood.

Dark cocolate christmas trees

Dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa or more) also contains tryptophan.  Even better, if you’ve wondered why it’s called the ‘food of love’ it contains a compound called theobromine, thought to be a mild aphrodisiac. Do we need any more convincing of why chocolate has to be on the Christmas menu?

Parsnips

It’s all about roots right now to keep you happy and grounded! And it’s no coincidence that root vegetables are in season during the winter months; the body needs warming, starchy and delicious foods (especially root vegetables) to put a smile on our faces.

A bwol of roast parsnips

Thankfully, parsnips are high on the shopping list when it comes to planning the Christmas Day menu.  However, parsnips are also the main event in a tasty Spicy Parsnip Soup that is great for Boxing Day or the day after. Pull together some onions, cumin, ginger, garam masala and red chilli plus some double cream (also high in tryptophan) alongside the parsnips, and you’ve cooked up a wonderful soup that makes a great starter or lunchtime favourite.

So, bring some extra happiness to your table this Christmas and enjoy the nutritional and mood benefits.

Stay well.

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Five ways to improve your fitness through nutrition

Woman in work out gear pausing to drink a bottle of water

We’re all in a slightly strange world right now and everyone has been affected in some way or another.  However, by keeping physically fit, you’re more likely to be able to cope better with what life throws your way.

It’s amazing how much we can influence fitness levels just by making a few dietary tweaks along the way.

This National Fitness Day clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for improving your fitness through nutrition.

Protein

Many people associate carbohydrate foods with fitness and endurance.  Whilst carbohydrates are clearly very important (they are one of our key macro nutrients), protein is key.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Protein is essential for repair and for building bones and muscles, as well as hormone and immune function.  All these factors are key when improving fitness levels and overall wellness.  Eating too little protein can cause the body to ‘break down’ rather than build stronger, leaner muscle mass.  Indeed, the more muscle you have, the more metabolically active the body is, and the more calories are burned at rest.  That doesn’t mean by eating lots of protein, you’re going to look like pop-eye!  You’ll simply be building a strong base.

A range of high protein foods

So how much protein do we need?  Clearly it depends on exertion levels and those undertaking serious body building sports will need much more.  However, for overall great health, ensure you’re eating some protein at every meal.  Eggs are great for breakfast; chicken, turkey, fish, soya produce, beans, meat, dairy and nuts are all good sources of protein for lunch and dinner. A bowl of white pasta with a tomato-based sauce is not going to cut it from a protein perspective, so try to plan your meals around protein.

Ditch the junk

Refined foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and ready meals are all sources of carbohydrates, but they don’t provide any nutritional benefits, just empty calories.  In fact, these foods upset blood sugar balance and deplete rather than enhance energy levels.

A woman kicking away donuts to represent cutting out junk food

Alcohol, fizzy drinks and too many caffeinated drinks also have the same effect.  There is research to suggest that exercising after having a strong coffee does help improve fat burning which is great.  However, if you’re a caffeine junkie, consuming lots of coffee throughout the day, then you’ll get that ‘tired but wired’ feeling, and anxiety levels will increase; certainly not what’s needed especially at the moment.  Be mindful of how much you’re consuming overall.  The odd treat is fine but not every day.

Nutrients for sleep

Rest and peaceful sleep are essential for improving fitness levels and for wellness generally.  The body repairs, detoxifies and absorbs nutrients whilst we’re asleep so it’s important to ensure yours is as good as it can be.

Close up of woman sleeping

A good bedtime routine is essential.  Turning off all electronic devices around two hours before bedtime is also important as blue light affects the brain and will keep you awake.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, foods containing the amino acid tryptophan helps produce melatonin, our sleep hormone; great foods to eat are oats, bananas, soya produce, eggs, chicken, turkey, nuts and dairy.  The ‘old-wives tale’ recommends a warm, milk drink before bedtime and this rings true.  Half a cup of either milk or soya milk with a few almonds about an hour before bedtime is one of the most effective and easiest ways of getting a good night’s sleep.

Hydration

All athletes know that being properly hydrated can make all the difference when it comes to performance.  Whilst we’re not all about to run a marathon, it’s important to keep well hydrated throughout the day.  Your body will retain water making you look puffier if you’re not drinking enough.

CLose up of a woman holdnig a glass of water

 

Herbal and fruit teas can count towards the target of 1 ½ – 2 litres daily but there is no substitute for plain water for keeping everything running smoothly and energy levels in good shape.

Energy-dense foods

Whilst protein is essential for fitness, eating energy-rich foods are also needed for keeping everything in good balance.  For healthy carbohydrates think whole grains in the form of oats, quinoa, wholegrain rice, wholemeal bread, beans, as well as green leafy veg and energy-dense vegetables such as sweet potatoes.

A bowl of sweet potato wedges

It is, however, important to be mindful of portion sizes; we all know when our plate is overly filled.  As with everything, it’s all about balance!

So, follow the above 5 steps in order to improve your fitness levels through good nutrition and overall wellbeing.

Stay well.

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Eat well: five ways to overhaul your diet

Close of up happy woman eating breakfast bowl of porridge and banana

We can all get ‘stuck in a rut’ with our diet at times.  Maybe you have run out of ideas as to what to eat or get confused as to what’s good and what’s not. Or perhaps you are struggling to get your normal food items during the current situation.

This may be the time to try some new foods or mix it up and try some different meal ideas and recipes.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for overhauling your diet for maximum health benefits.

Add some mood-boosting foods

During these rather glum times with everyone feeling low in mood, give yourself a turbo-charge with these foods to help put a smile on your face.  First-up is salmon; oily fish is loaded with mood-boosting omega-3 fats.  Plus, it’s so easy to cook. The simplest way is baked in the oven with some lemon juice and chopped chives or tarragon.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Bananas are high in vitamin B6, needed to produce brain neurotransmitters.  Why not added some chopped bananas to your morning cereal or porridge or eat as a mid-morning snack?

Squares of dark chocolate

Treat yourself to some dark chocolate. It contains tryptophan – an amino acid which produces our happy hormone, serotonin. There’s much research to suggest that people who eat dark chocolate suffer fewer depressive symptoms.  You can officially now eat dark chocolate guilt-free!

Look after your liver

Liver health is key to feeling happy or sad; if your liver is sluggish, then you can feel ‘down in the dumps’. Vitamin C-rich foods such as grapefruit, lemons, limes and oranges are all liver-friendly.

Citrus fruits including lemon, orange and grapefruit

Additionally, berry fruits and green foods such as leafy vegetables as well as green algae, including chlorella, really aid good liver detoxification.  Why not whizz up a morning smoothie and throw in as much as you can, plus include some powdered chlorella and hemp protein to power-up your morning?

Eat enough protein

People often think about carbohydrates for energy, but protein is equally as important.  Crucially, protein is needed for good immune-system function, especially key right now.  Make sure you’re eating some protein at each meal, whether from animal or vegetable sources.

A range of food high in protein

Fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, meat, offal, soya, beans, legumes ……. there’s so much choice.  Plus, grains contain some protein; quinoa is especially protein rich.  However, whilst pasta does contain some protein, if you’re making a dish with just a tomato-based source and nothing else, then it’s best to add some other protein source. Protein also keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so you’ll not be looking for snacks during the day.

Keep your immune system in good shape

We know protein is essential for a good immune system.  However, there are other nutrients equally as important.  Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and the mineral zinc are top of the list.

A range of colourful fruit and vegetables

Red, yellow and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene which the body turns into vitamin A as needed, so carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers are your best friends right now.  The most useful source of vitamin D is from sunlight, which is sadly lacking at the moment, so ensure you’re supplementing daily to keep your immune system in good shape.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables so check your plate at every mealtime to ensure you’re eating part of a rainbow.  Plus, zinc is found in seafood, whole grains, eggs and red meat so keep a check on how much you’ve got in your diet.  Its advisable to be supplementing with a good multivitamin and mineral as it’s especially important to plug any nutrient gaps.

Keep it simple

Overhauling your diet doesn’t need to be over-complicated.  Sometimes just taking simple steps can make a whole difference.  For example, one of the best investments you can ever make is to buy a slow cooker.  You can literally throw everything in at the start of your day and you’ll have a delicious meal by dinner time, with very little effort.  All the nutrients are retained because it’s cooked in the same pot.

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

Stir-fries, one pot meals, and simple pasta meals take very little time.  Try to have some frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer – their nutrient content is great – so you’ll never be without your rainbow!

So, with a few simple dietary changes, you can really boost your energy, immunity and overall health during the coming weeks and months.

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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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Are you getting enough sleep?

Woman awake in bed looking fed up as she cannot get to sleep

According to the Sleep Council one third of us in the UK sleep for just five to six hours per night. It’s generally accepted, and has been well-researched over many years, that the body needs more sleep than this, ideally around seven or eight hours each night. 

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

So, what’s going wrong and why are we generally so sleep deprived?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a closer look at why our shut-eye is so important and shares some tips on how to get more.

 

Why is sleep so essential?

It’s no secret that the body repairs and re-generates during sleep. It’s also a time of growth as specific growth hormones are released during the night. However, when sleep is problematic, the body and brain are fatigued and it becomes increasingly difficult to function effectively.

The body’s sleep hormone, melatonin, is naturally released during the hours of darkness. This is likely to be why night shift workers, who have to sleep during the day, will generally need to get their much-needed rest in a fully darkened room.

What to eat

What you eat and drink during the day and before bedtime can have a significant baring on how you sleep. For example, caffeine in coffee and theophylline in tea blocks our sleep-inducing chemical, adenosine. It’s best, therefore not to drink either of these after 3 pm.

Bowl of warming porridge with spoon of dry oats next to it

The amino acid tryptophan is needed to make melatonin, therefore eating tryptophan-rich foods is really going to help you get some shut eye. These foods include turkey, eggs, soya, cheese, nuts and oats. However, tryptophan also needs carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, grains and beans) to work most effectively. Therefore, having a carbohydrate and tryptophan-rich snack before bed-time can really help. Great choices would be oatcakes with cottage cheese, natural yoghurt (soya or dairy), a small bowl of oats or some sliced apple with nuts.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is also needed for the production of melatonin and one of its best sources is bananas. In fact, bananas hit the spot as a pre-bedtime snack because they’re also high in carbohydrates. The best advice is to change your snack each night and see what works best for you. Even more important, is not to go to bed hungry – you’ll certainly be counting sheep into the wee small hours if that’s the case.

Adopt a bed-time routine

It may sound strange, but going back to babyhood with a fixed bedtime routine can really promote good sleep. Most importantly, phones and other electronic equipment emit blue light which stops you from sleeping. Therefore, all these devices should be turned off two hours before bedtime. Ideally your phone should never be by the side of your bed as some studies suggest that the radio waves emitted may prevent sleep.

Have your main meal at least three hours before bed. Whilst going to bed hungry is not good, equally, being over-full may cause digestive upsets and acid reflux. About an hour before bed time try a warm, relaxing bath with some Epsom salts. It may be an old wives tale but they contain plenty of the mineral magnesium which is a natural muscle relaxant.

A woman relaxing in a bath reading a book

Have that bed time snack about half an hour before turning in, spray some lavender onto your pillow and enjoy some bed time reading. And as much as you can try and go to bed at the same time each evening and get up at the same time too. Once you’ve adopted a strong routine, your body will really start to enjoy and expect its nightly ritual.

Enjoy some evening yoga

Yoga is an ancient practise but is wonderful for encouraging controlled breathing, strength, flexibility and relaxation. Hatha yoga is particularly good and really helps the mind and body to de-stress and switch off. Many people have found that attending a yoga class or doing some at home in the evenings has really helped them to sleep better afterwards.

A woman practising yoga in her living room

Practicing yogic breathing techniques is also beneficial, even without the moves. Additionally, if you’re struggling to get to sleep or you’ve awoken in the night, then adopting the 5-7-11 routine can really help; breathe in deeply for five seconds, hold for seven seconds and breathe deeply out for 11 seconds. You should be able to feel your body relaxing after a few rounds of this and hopefully you’ll quickly fall back to sleep.

For more information visit the sleep council website.

Sleep is so important for our overall health, so make getting enough a priority and you will feel the health benefits longer term.

 

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