WORKING from home, schooling your kids and being cooped up indoors takes its toll, leaving many of us reaching for junk food.
A study this week revealed that gorging on takeaways dramatically affects emotions, often making us irritable and angry. So soothe your mood by changing what you eat.
Nutritionist Charlotte Faure Green says: “This is not the time to beat yourself up about what you’re eating. But remember, a diet full of fruit and veg not only boosts mental health but will go a long way to supporting your immune system.”
Here, Charlotte shares her top 18 foods and vitamins to boost well-being in lockdown.
These are loaded with vitamin B6, which helps to build serotonin and dopamine – our happy brain chemicals.
They are also a great source of fibre, which goes to feeding our good gut bacteria.
Not only do they come in their own clever packaging but they are the perfect snack to give your brain a feel-good boost.
2. Vitamin D supplements
Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because we get it from exposure to the sun.
We live under a pretty grey sky in the UK during the winter so it’s fair to assume we’re not getting enough, and that in turn is linked to low moods.
A supplement is a great way to top up those levels and could offer just the boost you need.
3. Baked beans
Beans are good for your heart, but also your brain.
They contain high levels of protein, including tryptophan, which acts as a mood elevator.
They also provide the B vitamins, making beans a bit of an all-in-one food for a good mood.
It is the most popular drink in the world. And studies show caffeine may elevate levels of feel-good serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
One decade-long study showed that women who drank coffee were less likely to become depressed. But be mindful that the mood-lifting success differs from person to person.
Try to drink it after food to slow down the stimulatory effect. And preferably before lunchtime.
Potatoes have a bad reputation they just don’t deserve. Our humble spud is one of the healthiest foods going, full of mood-boosting nutrients including magnesium and vitamin C.
Our brain needs carbs to function and create serotonin. Why not get all this goodness in the nation’s favourite form of potato – the chip?
Pair with protein and swap to sweet potato fries for extra brownie points (they contain a little more vitamin B6).
6. Omega-3 fish oil supplements
These unbeatable mood boosters are cheap and full of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, without the pong!
Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be the only anti-inflammatory able to cross the blood–brain barrier into our grey matter. Fish oils are vital for brain health and managing our stress response.
Supplements are great if you’re not hitting the recommended two portions of oily fish per week.
You have probably heard about the health benefits of fibre. But not all fibres are created equal. Oats contain a special type of fibre called beta-glucan.
We eat these for our gut bacteria to use as fuel, to enable them to make our happy and calming brain chemicals.
Clever! A study showed people who ate oats at breakfast reported better mood and energy levels and less irritability.
8. Peanut butter
An energy-boosting protein with healthy fats. A study completed in 2020 found that regular consumption of nuts and legumes was associated with a 66 per cent lower risk of anxiety.
This could be due to a special compound called p-coumaric acid which is associated with increasing brain levels of GABA, our calming neurotransmitter, to decrease stress.
Leaving only the argument: Smooth or crunchy?
You want clinically proven permission to eat chocolate? You got it! A 2013 study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology showed that chocolate has many different compounds that can give our mood a boost.
Dark chocolate in particular contains the building blocks of serotonin, and magnesium which reduces stress.
It also makes us release endorphins, much like we do when we exercise, which can also serve to reduce our stress levels.
10. Vitamin B12
In an ideal world we would get all our nutrients for good health from the food we eat.
Vegans are often very low in vitamin B12, which is primarily found in animal products, and iron, which can be found in abundance in leafy greens.
This complex contains many of the big hitters for good mood- building, as an all-in-one capsule.
The lovely dark purple and red colouring of berries is due to all the antioxidants they contain, which are responsible for protecting our cells, particularly in the brain.
They also feed some of our most beneficial gut bacteria, essential for creating calming neurotransmitters and help manage inflammation in the brain associated with depression and other mood disorders.
Eggs are a great source of protein. But also of choline, which is an essential micro- nutrient required in order for the brain to function properly and is associated with mood regulation.
Eggs are also high in vitamins B6 and B12, among countless other nutrients, that are vital for the production of our good mood chemicals.
13. St John’s Wort tablets
St John’s Wort has long been used as an herbal remedy to relieve mild to moderate low mood, anxiety and sleep problems.
It is readily available over the counter, but this does not mean it is for everyone. Speak to a healthcare professional first.
St John’s Wort is known to interact with numerous medications, including reducing the effectiveness of the contraceptive pill.
Being poorly hydrated can mimic feelings of panic, so ensuring that you have lots of water-filled foods such as oranges can go a long way to improving mood.
Oranges are rich in those lovely B vitamins but also vitamin C, which we burn through at very high rates when stressed, making replenishing those stores very important.
We all know about using honey to fight colds and infections, but magical honey also contains tryptophan, the building block of serotonin, so it can help to boost your mood.
It is sweet like sugar, but honey does not release inflammatory free radicals in the same way refined sugar does and can actually help reduce brain inflammation.
Pro- biotic foods, including yoghurt, contain friendly gut bacteria.
Many of our happy hormones and neurotransmitters are produced by the bacteria in the gut, so ensuring these are kept replenished every day gives our mood the best chance.
Oily fish salmon makes up one letter of nifty acronym S.M.A.S.H.
Not the powdered potato you remember from childhood – it stands for Sardines, Mackerel, Anchovies, Salmon and Herring – all easily sourced fishes rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
They are brain protectors which help increase circulating levels of serotonin.
Yes, we’ve saved the best till last. Research has linked moderate alcohol intake with a better mood, not to mention a longer life.
And red wine also provides tons of antioxidants that benefit your brain and heart. Having a small glass of red alongside dinner has been established as a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with a reduced risk of developing depressive symptoms.
But remembering that the health properties of wine may stop after a small amount is important.
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