Improving your mood through diet

Our diet not only supports our physical health, but there is increasing evidence that it can influence our mental health too. Eating a balanced diet and regular meals with healthy sources of CHO (wholegrains, F&V, legumes) can help maintain steady blood glucose. This helps us to concentrate and focus, as well as keeping our energy up, all of which can help us stay in a positive frame of mind. Also, try to avoid foods which make your blood sugar levels rise and fall very quickly like sugary drinks, snacks and alcohol.

Another reason to reduce your alcohol intake is that alcohol is a depressant. Although you might feel that it will help alleviate your low mood in the short term, it is likely to cause negative effects on your mood in the long term.

You may also have heard about serotonin, sometimes referred to as the “happy hormone”. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) in the brain which is thought to improve how we feel. Some lifestyle factors have been shown to increase serotonin production such as exercise and exposure to bright daylight, as well as a healthy balanced diet (1).

There are some nutrients which can have an effect on your mood (2);

Iron

Low intakes can cause low levels of oxygen to be carried by haemoglobin in the blood, making you feel weak and tired all the time.

Red meat, poultry and fish are good sources of iron. Legumes, fortified cereals and vegetables are also plant sources of iron.

B vitamins

Low intake can increase tiredness and depressive feelings.

Fortified wholegrain cereals and animal protein (fish, meat, dairy and eggs) are all great sources of B vitamins.

Folate

Not enough folate in the diet can increase chances of feeling depressed.

Liver, green veg, citrus fruits, beans and fortified breakfast cereals will provide folate.

Selenium

Low intakes have been shown to possibly increase negative moods.

Brazil nuts, meat, fish, seeds and wholemeal bread contain selenium.

Zinc

Sufficient intake of zinc has been shown to reduce depression symptoms (3).

Animal protein and fortified cereals are particularly good sources of zinc.

Omega-3 fatty acid

Omega-3 is one of the essential fatty acids which can’t be produced by our body. Some research has suggested that it can increase the production of neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) in the brain which can help protect against depression.

Oily fish, nuts and seeds are all good sources of omega-3.

 

In summary, eating a diet full of fruit and veg, wholegrain carbohydrates, protein and including oily fish at least once a week will help towards keeping your mood more buoyant. Having a regular meal pattern, as well as eating breakfast, will also help as this will keep your energy up throughout the day.

 

For more useful tips on food and mood take a look at these websites:

https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/foodmood.pdf

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/food-and-mood/#.WBYdYPmLTIU

 

 

Sources

  1. Young SN. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 Nov; 32(6): 394–399
  2. Sathyanarayana Rao TS, Asha MR, Ramesh, BN, Jagannatha Rao KS. Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian J Psychiatry. 2008 Apr-Jun(2): 77-82
  3. Sawada T, Yokoi K. Effect of zinc supplementation on mood states in young women: a pilot study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010 (64): 331-333

Remember to recharge

This week has been particularly tiring  with train strikes, a 2 hour commute most days and trying to juggle uni work with my part time job as a receptionist. I am a big advocate of looking after yourself in order to avoid burning out and, luckily, this weekend has given me the opportunity to recharge my batteries. This blog is first and foremost a nutrition blog but I think nutrition should go hand in hand with good general health and wellbeing.

When I’m feeling super tired and stressed it can sometimes feel like a huge effort to keep up my normal exercise routine and I feel as though I maybe don’t eat as well as I normally would just because I feel a bit frazzled. But sometimes all I need to do is focus on a few small things to help revive me.

So I thought I would share my own tips and what I’ve got up to this weekend to recharge;

  • Focus on eating your 5-a-day. Don’t stress out if you slip into bad habits occassionally when you’re feeling stressed and tired. Just try to eat your fruit and veggies still, and you are making a positive step each day to improving your health.
  • Step out into nature. I’m lucky enough to live near the Sussex Downs, a beautiful stretch of coastal countryside. So this weekend my boyfriend and I donned the boots and woolie jumper and went for a walk. Exercise has been proven to relieve stress and getting some fresh air does you the world of good! Maybe you have a park nearby or just a nice 30 minute walk around the block that you can do.
  • Prep your meals for the week ahead. (Or just for the next couple of days.) This will save you time later on in the week and take the pressure off worrying about creating healthy dinners from scratch each night. Maybe make up a batch of spaghetti bolognaise or a casserole and freeze or refrigerate it in portions. (I made shepherd’s pie this evening which I’ll turn into chilli tomorrow night.)
  • Light a candle. I’m a bit of a candle fiend, especially in the winter when it gets dark earlier! I love lighting a candle – the flickering light is so theraputic and I love subtle flavours like vanilla or winter spice.
  • Throw on a favourite tune. I always turn to Corinne Bailey Rae when I want a tune to completely chill out to. (This is a particular favourite of mine.) But, obviously, anything that you find relaxing will do the trick!

I hope these little tips will help you in frazzled times!

Have a great week. x

Photo credit: @lauraheck  

BREAKFAST

How often have you heard the saying, ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’? While there isn’t a huge amount of evidence to suggest that you absolutely must eat breakfast, it is a good source of nutrients and eating regular meals can help prevent hunger pangs later on in the day. Isn’t the biscuit tin at work so much more tempting when you forgot to eat breakfast? Regular eating also helps glycaemic control (keeping your blood sugar levels fairly constant).

The BDA recommends that breakfast should contain 20-25% of your daily nutrient requirements. When planning a healthy breakfast try to include all the different food groups:

  • Starchy carbohydrates: cereals, bread, potatoes. They provide energy, fibre, iron and B vitamins.
  • Fruit and veg: An excellent source of vitamins and fibre and contribute to your 5-a-day.
  • Milk and dairy foods: provide protein, calcium and B vitamins. If you are avoiding cow’s milk for any reason, make sure you use fortified non-dairy options such as soya milk.
  • Meat, eggs, fish, beans and pulses: eggs, kippers, salmon, baked beans. Provide protein and iron.

Remember to include a drink at breakfast such as water, 150ml fruit juice, tea, coffee or milk. Staying hydrated will help you concentrate throughout the day.

Sometimes it can feel like a rush to get breakfast in the morning but with a little forward planning I’m sure you’ll get into the routine of it very quickly. Below are some suggestions for breakfast ideas – obviously adapt any of these ideas to fit your schedule/tastes etc. I have also split them into ideas for weekday mornings, some to prep the night before and some for those days when you have more time for a relaxed breakfast, maybe at the weekends or during the holidays.

 

Make in the morning

Cereals: Aim for low-sugar varieties as this will ensure that your energy levels don’t spike then drop very quickly mid-morning.

  • Bran flakes/Weetabix etc. with semi-skimmed milk, topped with fruit (banana or berries)
  • Muesli, yoghurt and fruit topped with nuts

 

Porridge: I’ve given this a separate section because there are so many toppings you could use and with some evidence showing that eating oats has a positive effect on your cholesterol levels.

  • Throw 50g porridge oats, 1 diced apple and 300mls milk into a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 mins until the oats have absorbed the liquid. Serve into a bowl and sprinkle with a tsp cinnamon.
  • Add frozen berries, mashed banana, 50g oats and milk to a microwavable bowl. Cover and microwave for about 2 minutes until the oats are cooked.
  • Top your normal porridge with sliced kiwi, pomegranate seeds and mixed seeds for a more tropical flavour

 

Smoothie: blitz a handful of your favourite fruit with a banana and about 100mls low-fat milk or yoghurt. This is a good option if you don’t tend to have much of an appetite first thing in the morning. Also try these additions to your smoothie:

  • Use frozen fruit to make your smoothie lovely and chilled (plus frozen fruit is often cheaper and you only use what you need). If you fancy making a smoothie bowl just make your smoothie a slightly thicker consistency – similar to sorbet thickness.
  • Throw in some spinach to inject your smoothie with veggies. If you still add some fruit as well it won’t be too bitter.
  • If you want to increase the energy density (calorie content) of your smoothie try adding a dollop of nut butter before you blitz it.
  • Try adding oats to your smoothie to increase the carbohydrate and fibre content. You may need to add a bit of water to make it the right consistency.
  • You could also add a teaspoon of plain cocoa powder if you fancy a little chocolatey hit!

 

Toast: aim for wholegrain bread as it provides more minerals and fibre, keeping you fuller for longer. Try the following toppings as an alternative to the usual strawberry jam.

  • Mashed avocado, a sprinkling of chilli flakes and hard-boiled/ scrambled eggs.
  • Reduced salt and sugar baked beans on toast (counts as a portion of your 5-a-day and are a good source of plant-based protein)
  • Scrambled eggs and smoked salmon (try adding chopped chives to the eggs whilst cooking)
  • Nut butter and sliced banana
  • Grilled reduced-fat cheese and tomatoes
  • Half a bagel and toast it. Top with low-fat cream cheese and smoked salmon.

 

 

Prep the night before

Overnight oats: the oats soak up the liquid to make a breakfast similar to Bircher muesli.

  • Cover 50g oats and a handful of sultanas/raisins with milk or apple juice and pop it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, top with fruit, nuts, seeds or yoghurt – whatever you fancy!

 

Granola: shop-bought granola usually has a lot of sugar in it but if you make your own you can control how much sugar you add. Strictly speaking you probably need a bit more time to make this, but it keeps in an airtight container for a couple of weeks.

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 6 and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
  • Mix 200g oats with the zest of 1 orange, a tsp cinnamon and a squeeze of honey (you only really want a very thin coating of honey so that the oats start forming clusters). Spread the oat mixture over the baking tray and bake for about 10-15 minutes until golden and crunchy, turning the oats every few minutes.
  • In the last 5 minutes add some seeds or nuts to the tray to roast.
  • Leave to cool and then keep in an airtight container in the cupboard.

 

 

Relaxed mornings

Poached eggs: poach the eggs in a simmering pan of water for 3 or 4 minutes until the white is cooked but the yolk is still a bit runny

  • Slice and toast an English muffin. Top with spinach leaves, a slice of lean ham and a slice of ‘light’ cheese. Place the poached egg on top and season with black pepper.

 

Berry omelette: this may sound odd but don’t knock it til you try it!

  • Whisk 2 eggs with a dash of milk then pour into a non-stick preheated frying pan. Whilst the omelette is forming add a selection of your favourite summer berries – blueberries are particularly good.

 

Baked eggs and avocado

  • Half an avocado, remove the stone and maybe some flesh to make a hole big enough for an egg. Don’t waste the avocado flesh though!
  • Crack an egg into each half then pop in a preheated oven for about 10 minutes or until the eggs are cooked.
  • Top with black pepper.

 

 

For even more breakfast ideas try these websites:

NHS Choices: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/Healthybreakfasts.aspx

BBC goodfood: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/healthy-breakfast

 

This BDA Food Fact sheet is also really helpful!

TACKLING FOOD WASTE

On Monday evening I was lucky enough to attend the Evening Standard Food for London forum which was being held at Kings College London. It brought together campaigners, charities, entrepreneurs, a supermarket boss and restauranteurs in a bid to address the conundrum of food waste and food poverty.

We currently throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes per year, which is only half of the total food wasted in the UK! (1) At the same time many families are struggling to put food on the table and, as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, one of the panellists, said, there is something we can all do about it.

We have become accustomed to having a huge amount of choice available all the time and there is no way supermarkets can provide the variety of food without wasting an awful lot of it as well. Many supermarkets try to never have empty shelves, but have you ever asked yourself where all of that food goes at the end of the day?

It was also suggested that we don’t tend to value food very highly any more. The average family in the UK spends £57 a week on food (2) – many people may spend more than that on their mobile phones! Food has become so readily available and such a commodity that we don’t worry about throwing it away if we don’t fancy it.

To tackle this problem, we can all make small changes to our habits which will add up to help reduce the food wasted at home. As customers we influence what the supermarkets supply so if we try and buy seasonal produce the supermarkets will focus on supplying more of that and hopefully waste less food as they are not trying to offer so much all the time.

We can also use tips and tricks, such as those on Sainsbury’s website to help our food last longer (like as keeping bananas away from other fruit to stop them ripening too quickly).

Maybe also try putting less on your plate – I know my eyes are often bigger than my stomach, so now if I have made too much I put some in the fridge before I eat, then if I’m still hungry I can finish it. If not, it’s there for me to use for lunch or dinner the next day.

In restaurants we could also ask to take away the food we couldn’t quite manage to finish so that we can keep it cold to use the next day. This works well with salads and pastas but remember to be careful of food safety – if it has been out for quite a while (especially meat and fish), it may not be safe to keep it for the next day. (Here are some good tips on food safety – https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/index.html)

We can also support some of the wonderful charities and start-up companies that are helping to make surplus food available for use by other people.

The Felix Project is the main charity supported by the Evening Standard campaign. They collect surplus food from shops and restaurants around London and take it to charities which make it into hot meals for those in need at no extra cost.

The Olio app enables surplus food to be shared, so you could use it to give away surplus veg from your garden, or you could also pick up a good last minute bargain on some food that somebody else has put on the app.

The take home message of the event was; ‘Small is beautiful’. We need to start by addressing food waste in our own homes and local areas. Maybe also support any local charities that may be trying to tackle food waste and poverty. We all deserve to have access to good food, so if you have a little bit extra why not help someone else out with it instead of throwing it away?

 

Sources

  1. http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/node/2472
  2. https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/blog/how-much-does-your-family-spend
  3. http://www.standard.co.uk/news/foodforlondon/food-for-london-our-campaign-to-collect-food-dumped-by-stores-and-suppliers-and-give-it-to-the-a3349291.html

 

Salmon and Stir-fry Salad

I love using Asian-inspired flavours in salads, especially when I’m using salmon! Using chili flakes and ground ginger gives this salad a lot of flavour without going overboard with the soy sauce which contains quite a bit of salt.

I made this salad  with leftover oven baked salmon and boiled new potatoes from the night before, but you could just as easily cook it all at once and have warm salmon and potatoes in your salad if you have time. Or you could use precooked salmon from the supermarket.

I’d also recommend serving the stir-fried veg hot so this is probably a salad to make to eat at home rather than taking with you to work!

P.S. This salad contributes 3-4 portions of veg to your 5-a-day.

Enjoy!

 

Serves 1

1 cooked salmon fillet

5 or 6 boiled new potatoes

80g broccoli, cut into bite size florets

5 pieces of baby sweetcorn

1 tsp olive oil

A splash of soy sauce (use Tamari for gluten free)

½ tsp chili flakes

½ tsp ground ginger

1 tsp sesame seeds

Handful of baby spinach

5cm cucumber, sliced

1/2 lemon

 

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the broccoli and sweetcorn and stir-fry, trying not to let the vegetables burn. Add the soy sauce, chili flakes, ginger and sesame seeds. Stir-fry for about five minutes, until the sweetcorn is a caramel colour or until the vegetables are cooked to your liking. (I prefer them al-dente).

Place the spinach and cucumber in a salad bowl. Cut the potatoes into bite size pieces and add to the salad. Add the stir-fried vegetables to the salad and drizzle any juices from the pan over the salad. Flake the salmon and add. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the salad and serve immediately.

The second part to this feature on fruit and vegetables explains how much fruit and veg you should eat to achieve your 5-a-day. I have also included some examples of how you can incorporate this into your daily diet.

 

How much is a portion?

Current policy from the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that adults should have a daily intake of at least 400g of fruit and vegetables. In England it is advised that this is split into at least five (80g) portions. For children, it is recommended that a handful is a portion of fruit and veg.

1 portion = 80g, or the following:

Fruit

Vegetables

·  One banana, orange, pear or apple or similar sized fruit

·  One slice of large fruit such as melon

·  Half a large grapefruit or avocado

·  Two plums, satsumas or similar sized fruits

·  A handful of berries or grapes

·  One heaped tablespoon of dried fruit such as raisins

·  Three heaped tablespoons of fruit salad

·  150ml fruit juice (can only count as one portion no matter how much you drink)

·  Three heaped tablespoons of vegetables (raw, cooked, frozen or canned)

·  Three heaped tablespoons of pulses such as beans, peas or lentils (can only count as one portion no matter how much you eat)

·  One dessert bowl of salad

This infographic by BBC goodfood is really helpful in determining what a portion of fruit and veg looks like and which nutrients different types provide.

 

What does a sample day look like?

Breakfast

45g of muesli with 80g mixed berries and milk

150ml pure fruit juice

 

2 portions

Mid-morning snack

3 sticks of celery (or other favourite crudités) with a tablespoon of hummus

 

1 portion

Lunch

Your usual sandwich with a side salad

1 portion
Mid-afternoon snack

25g mixed nuts with 80g (or a handful) of grapes

 

1 portion

Dinner

Spaghetti bolognaise (add onion, grated courgette and tinned tomatoes to the sauce) served with 3 tablespoons of frozen veg

 

2-3 portions

This sample day would provide 7-8 portions of fruit and vegetables, but if you don’t feel the need for a snack between meals you would still gain your 5-a-day.

Remember to try and include a couple of portions of fruit and veg at each meal and you will reach your daily target of 5. Also remember that this is a daily average target so don’t beat yourself up if you only have 2 or 3 portions one day, maybe because you are out all day. Just jump back on the bandwagon the next day.

fruit

 

Sources

Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Report of a joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation, Geneva, World Health Organization, 2003. http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/trs916/en/

 

Fruit and vegetables – how to get five-a-day, BDA Food Fact Sheet, https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/FruitVeg.pdf

 

What counts as 5-a-day?, bbcgoodfood.com, http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/what-counts-five-day

 

5 A DAY: what counts? NHS Choices, http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/5ADAY/Pages/Whatcounts.aspx