It is often said that ‘we are what we eat’.
It makes sense that the food we put into our body can influence how are body (including our brain!) works. Eating a variety of nutritious foods has a positive effect on both mental and physical health, making us more resistant to illness, feel more energetic and happier.
However, when we are feeling stressed or low it is often the case that this affects our eating patterns and food choices.
This may be due to:
- being too busy to prepare meals
- feeling too pressured to plan or think about food
- inconsistent meal times due to work or lifestyle
- or simply because we stop prioritising our health
Conversely, when we aren’t fueling our bodies with nutritious foods we can become more susceptible to stress related symptoms. And so the cycle continues – until we take some positive action that is.
Whilst we cannot advise you exactly what you should be eating, we can give you some guidance on foods and drinks to avoid and suggest alternatives that you might like to try instead.
Foods to avoid
- Simple carbohydrates/sugar – most chocolate, sweets, biscuits, cakes, pastries and high sugar drinks.
This is because all of these food play havoc with the body’s blood sugar levels which can exacerbate anxiety and depression.
- Caffeinated drinks – tea, coffee, fizzy drinks etc.
Caffeine acts as a stimulant which can also exacerbate anxiety and depression.
This is due to the hindering effect it has on REM sleep, even one glass of beer or wine can have an impact.
- Processed foods – ready meals etc.
Ironically, we often reach for many of the food listed above when we are feeling stressed, depressed or anxious. Whilst they may feel comforting and give us a short term boost, they contain very few vitamins and minerals and can actually increase our symptoms once the initial effect has worn off.
So, what foods could we be reaching for instead?
There are a whole host of foods that are high in vitamins and minerals and are exceptionally good for our health, and particularly our mental health. There are too many to list them all here, however, here’s a few that are well known for their role in increasing happy hormones to get you started.
Asparagus is one of the top plant-based sources of tryptophan (the amino acid found in turkey that makes us sleepy) and so it actively boosts serotonin levels in the body. It also contains high levels of folate (vitamin B12), a vitamin that research has shown many who have depression to be deficient in.
Avocados are packed with vitamin B3, a serotonin-boosting vitamin and they also contain omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to support brain health and mood regulation.
Tomatoes contain the phytonutrient lycopene in their skins and due to the increased amount of surface area on cherry tomatoes (as opposed to larger varieties), these provide a more concentrated amount of lycopene which prevents the build-up of pro-inflammatory compounds that researchers have linked to depression.
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants which means that it boosts mood naturally and the presence of N-acylethanolamine chemicals stimulates the brain to release endorphins.
Nuts and seeds
All nuts and seeds contain tryptophan, a precursor for serotonin and they also deliver antioxidants, which has been shown to lower the risk of depression.
Pineapple, bananas, kiwi and plums all contain high amounts of serotonin, giving us a natural mood boost.
Salmon is rich in tryptophan and omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA as well as vitamin B12 and B6, so it helps the body produce serotonin, giving us a mood boost and reduce inflammation, protecting the nerves in our brain.
Spinach contains magnesium, which helps boost energy and phenylethylamine, which can reduce monoamine oxidase break down in the same way that old-fashioned pre-Prozac anti-depressants did.
And of course … Water
Water is important to keep our body and mind hydrated, aiding their functionality, so it is advisable to consume 2 litres of water per day, either directly or through the food we eat and drink.
All of the above could be great options for your lunch break (perhaps with the exception of salmon, you might not be very popular in the office that day!)
So, what small changes could you make to your diet this week to help you to boost those Happy Hormones?