Diet tips to boost mood naturally & reduce anxiety
Most of us view food as fuel, it’s what gives us energy to function throughout the day. We’re conscious of how our diet impacts our weight and physical health, however, many of us underestimate the impact our diet has on our mental health. Along with exercise, quality sleep and stress management, getting the right balance of nutrients in the diet can go a long way towards balancing your mood and anxiety levels. And this can be achieved by making small, simple tweaks to your diet:
Nutritionally Balanced Diet: First and foremost, eating an overall balanced diet is key. This starts with eating nutritionally balanced meals. So at meal times it’s important that you include a portion of protein along with complex carbohydrates and plenty of vegetables.
Protein – Including protein rich foods at meal times (e.g. eggs, chicken, fish, beans, nuts) is very important because protein contains the amino acid tryptophan which is the building block for serotonin production, a brain chemical that promote a feeling of well-being. If you have low levels of serotonin, it can lead to low mood, anxiety and poor sleep.
Protein also helps us to feel full & satisfied as well as keeping our blood sugar levels stable which is important for mood balance. Aim to fill one quarter of your plate with protein rich foods.
Complex Carbs: Including complex carbohydrates into your meals is equally important e.g. oats, brown rice, sweet potato, beans and green vegetables. Complex carbs give us a slow steady release of energy and encourage a slow steady release of serotonin. So, they have a long lasting positive effect on our energy & mood. However…Not all carbohydrates will have the same effect – Simple carbohydrates like sweets, chocolates and white flour foods will give you a quick energy & serotonin boost but the good feeling won’t last long because when you’re blood sugar levels crash you’re likely to experience a dip in energy and mood.
B complex vitamins – Another reason why complex carbohydrates are so important in the diet is they are a great source of B vitamins which are essential for good mental health. Our bodies can’t make them, so we depend on our daily diet to supply them. Also complex carbs like brown rice and green veg are rich in the mineral magnesium which is a calming mineral that helps the body cope with stress.
So to make sure you’re getting enough B vitamins & magnesium in your diet, I’d recommend that you fill one quarter of your dinner plate with healthy carbs like brown rice or sweet potato and fill half your dinner plate with vegetables, particularly green vegetables.
Vitamin D & Omega 3 - Getting enough vitamin D can be a challenge in Ireland because we don’t get enough sunlight, and if you’re vitamin D levels are low, you’re more likely to experience low mood. If that’s the case, you may benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement especially in the winter months along with eating foods which contain vitamin D like oily fish and eggs. Oily fish is also an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids which nourish our brain and nervous system, so it really is the ultimate good mood food – aim for 2-3 portions a week or consider taking an omega 3 supplement.
Sunlight & Exercise: Increasing your skins exposure to sunlight is also one of the best ways to top up your vitamin D levels. Try to spend at least 30 minutes outdoors in daylight every day. Doing some exercise outdoors is ideal as both sunlight and exercise are known to boost serotonin levels.
Limit Stimulants: And last but not least, I recommend limiting your intake of anything that stimulates the nervous system. Overdoing dietary stimulants like caffeine, sugar and alcohol can cause blood sugar highs and lows which in turn leads to dips in energy and mood. Too much caffeine can also rev up stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol which can raise anxiety levels. Most people report feeling calmer with less caffeine
Elsa Jones is a qualified Nutritional Therapist & Bestselling Author of ‘Goodbye Sugar’. Available in book shops and on Amazon UK.
I go through phases of liking different things for breakfast but lately I’ve gone mad for chia pudding with fresh berries. Now that it’s warmer I’m happy to eat cold refreshing things in the morning and this really hits the spot! Also, I’m trying to cut down a bit on the carbs as will have to get into a bikini in 4 weeks – yikes!
Chia seeds are a great source of protein which helps you stay fuller for longer, they’re also full of fibre which helps keep things regular (if you know what I mean ) and they deliver lots of energy & mood boosting minerals like magnesium, iron and calcium!
I like mine with subtle flavours such as vanilla & cinnamon which adds natural sweetness. I pair my chia pudding with fresh berries because they’re full of anti-oxidant vitamins and low in fruit sugars, plus they’re juicy and refreshing and berrylicious!
For a bit of crunch factor, I sprinkle a little Quinoa Crunch or home made granola on top which gives extra bite! Both Chia Bia & Home Spun are Irish companies so it’s great to support our own don’t you think? Below is my recipe, let me know if you try it out!
Vanilla & Cinnamon Chia Pudding
- 6tbsp chia seeds (approx 1/3 cup)
- 2 cups almond milk (reduced sugar/unsweetened preferably)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp cinnamon
Mix or whisk the chia seeds with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl or glass jar with a lid. If using a jar, you can give it a good shake to mix the ingredient really well. Put in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Serve with chopped berries for a nutritious low GI breakfast.
This mouth watering crumble is naturally sweet and very versatile as any combination of fruit can be used. It make for a real comforting treat that the whole family can enjoy. It’s also super quick and easy to make and yes, you guessed it, its sugar free!
800g cooking apples (peeled, cored and sliced)
200g fresh/frozen strawberries (quartered)
3 tbsp water
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped almonds (chop in a food processor or use a knife)
1 large tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 190 degrees. Place the sliced fruit into a baking dish, then add the water and toss with salt to bring out some of the natural sweetness in the fruit.
In a separate bowl, mix together the oats, nuts and cinnamon, then pour in the melted coconut oil and mix well. Spoon the crumble mixture over the fruit to cover it entirely. Bake the crumble for 30-35 minutes or until the fruit is tender and bubbling.
Serve this ‘not so naughty’ dessert with a dollop of natural Greek yogurt or coconut cream.
Recipe taken from ‘Goodbye Sugar’ Book By Elsa Jones.
Set Yourself Up For Success On The 10 Day Sugar Challenge!
I’m a big believer in the saying ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’. In order to be successful with any dietary changes, you will first need to set yourself up for success. In practical terms, this means taking a bit of time to get yourself organised and prepare your environment before you start on the 10 Day Sugar Challenge.
Below are several steps that will help you do just that:
Remove temptation – It’s advisable to limit your exposure to trigger foods when you’re starting out, Over time, you will have less cravings and will develop skills to resist temptation, but, ‘out of sight, out of mind’, is a good policy for now.
As such, I’d recommend that you go through all of your food cabinets, fridge and freezer, and, if possible, give away or else throw out foods that are not on your food plan and/or foods that are personally tempting for you i.e. the foods you reach for when you are feeling emotional, tired etc. For most people that’s chocolate or biscuits! If they’re not there, you can’t eat them! If this is not possible because of other members of your household, move these foods to a high shelf or to the back of the fridge or cupboard.
Ask for Support: If you share your kitchen with others at home or at work, you may want to ask them for their co-operation and support in helping to keep tempting foods out of your sight as much as possible, particularly at the start. Rather than demanding that they also make changes, phrase your request in a nice way, for example, ‘would you be willing to help me by….? ‘could we come to some agreement whereby…?
So for example, when Susan started her eating plan she made a ‘no sweets in the house rule’ for the whole family. However, as a compromise she agreed that once a week her husband would take the kids to the shop and they could choose one serving of whatever sweets they wanted as a treat. That way the kids learned that sweets are not an everyday food and Susan was removed from all temptation.
Plan your meals & snacks – have a good look at the list of foods allowed on the 10 day sugar challenge as well as the meal suggestions and see which ones appeal to you. Then plan what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner & snacks for the next few days. Once you know this, you can make a list for the supermarket and stock up on what you’ll need. Having the right foods to hand is half the battle and preparation is key!
Cook Smart: If, like most people, you are time starved and/or sometimes feel too tired to cook from scratch in the evenings, then I’d highly recommend that you cook a few dinners, soups etc. in advance and freeze them so you have healthy options to hand at all times. For example, whenever I make a up a Bolognese sauce or a curry, I cook up double the amount and either store it in the fridge to eat a day or so later or else freeze it for later use. This comes in so handy, particularly on days when you know that you’re likely to be particularly busy or tired.
Healthy Snacks: I’d also recommend that you get into the habit of keeping healthy snacks close to hand at all times so you will have no excuse when hunger and temptation strikes. So, for example, I always carry a container with nuts, oat cakes and fruit in my handbag so that I don’t get caught out and tempted to reach for the biscuit tin. You may also like to keep a few healthy snacks in your car or at your work desk too.
The 10 Day Sugar Challenge is available on my website for free, give it a try!
You can purchase my ‘Goodbye Sugar’ Book in Irish Book Shops and on Amazon UK