January can leave you feeling rundown and worn out. Here, Lisa Oxenham speaks to leading nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert about the foods to boost mood
Whether you’re a believer in Blue Monday or not, January can be a shock to the system for everyone. Getting back into the swing of work and juggling your resolutions with staving off the cold, this time of year can be overwhelming and it leaves loads of people (including me) feeling low on energy sometimes.
Sure, the tried and tested ways of getting out of a funk (think fresh air and movement) work brilliantly but often, they don’t completely cut it. That’s why, I love to turn to foods to boost mood. Thanks to the gut-brain axis, your microbiome and what you eat play a much bigger part in your emotions and mental health than you think.
“There is a genuine link between food and mental health,” explains Rhiannon Lambert, founder of Rhitrition and author of The Science of Nutrition. “Your gut, which consists of no less than 100 trillion bacteria, has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS) and, while its main purpose is to regulate digestion, it also has a strong connection to the brain and can have a major impact on your mental wellbeing.”
Having helped renowned personal trainers (Alice Liveing is one of her clients!) choose what to eat after and work out and television stars including Catherine Tyldesley with their food choices, Lambert is an expert when it comes to a healthy diet. Focusing on the science behind great balance, Lambert shared her favourite foods to boost mood with me.
She begins with the basics, getting enough fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy greens. Not only are things like spinach, bok choy and curly kale great vitamin D foods, “they’re also rich in magnesium, which is a mineral that helps our nerves and muscles to relax,” starts Lambert.
“Green leafy veg may help protect our brain from deterioration and keep us feeling sharp. Antioxidants, which are found in green, leafy veg, are substances that also mop up potentially dangerous compounds known as free radicals in the body – this leads to less oxidative stress on the body, which may have a preventive role against depression,” she goes on.
Pomegranates are also full to the brim of antioxidants so they have the same cleansing effect on the body as greens. Other than expelling excess nasties, the berry (a fun fact for you) is also a great source of protein and fibre too. That means it helps you to stay strong and keeps your digestion moving.
What other foods can I eat to boost my mood?
Bananas: A banana a day can keep the blues at bay. Lambert says: “They contain serotonin, our happy hormone, which can help stabilise our mood, feelings of wellbeing and happiness. They’re also high in potassium, which affects mood and mental energy.”
Fermented foods: The quest to figure out what causes bloating can be a tiring one but, one fix is fermented foods. What’s more, “These types of foods feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut, which produce short-chain fatty acids to support the communication loop between our brain and gut. This can improve mental clarity and a positive state of mind.”
“Kefir is a great addition to your diet because not only is it gut-aiding, but you’re also adding tryptophan into your diet, which is an amino acid that helps produce our happy hormone, serotonin, when paired with a carb,” shares Lambert, before singing the praises of digestion-friendly Kombucha.
“Kombucha is a tasty, alternative way to include ferments in your daily diet and reduce overall sugar,” she says, pointing me to her favourite brand Remedy, which is sugar free and packed full of organic acids, live cultures and antioxidants.
Walnuts: I have always been a huge lover of walnuts as an energy boost throughout the day because of the benefits that they have on my skin. But, Rhiannon sold them to me even more with her knowledge, “Studies have shown that these contain omega-3, which may play a role in keeping our brain healthy. Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with a reduced likelihood of depression – you can also find it in chia or pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts and almonds, flax and oily fish.”
Wholegrain bread: It’ll come as no surprise that carbohydrates are a key food that boosts your mood. Playing a vital role in the creation of glucose, this food group helps us all to feel energised. But, picking your carbs right can lift your mood too, Lambert says: “Getting more fibre into our diets can support our gut health, feeding the good bacteria that live there and which send messages to our brain to enhance our mood. They also play an important role in helping serotonin production.”
Water: Even mild levels of dehydration can produce disruptions in mood and cognitive function. Water makes up around 70 percent of the body. It carries hormones and nutrients to their destinations, so when fluid consumption is reduced, this process slows down and blood pressure can drop. Get into the habit of starting and ending the day with a large glass of water, and try to consume around four to six glasses in between. And try to cut down on booze. Alcohol reduces the amount of serotonin in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter that helps you to feel calm and happy.
Avocado: Feel-good foods include avocados – they are rich in B vitamins, because they encourage the release of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.