In today’s world, being ‘busy’ is a badge of honor. However, the more we fill our days with work, chores and life admin, the less time we have for activities that make us feel good. Stress, in itself, can create biochemical changes in your body that impact your physical and your mental wellbeing. Many of us have fallen into the trap of ‘short fixes’, turning to foods and drinks that give you an initial energy and mood boost. Think caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and fat, preferably all together! However, as you may have noticed, the high you experience is only short lived, and often, you’re left feeling worse.
The best approach to improving your mood will need to address multiple fronts. Discovering and managing the root of the problem, whether it be work, a relationship, or your self confidence, is key. In the meantime, it is well known that healthy lifestyle patterns can improve your mood in the long term. When it comes to food, studies have shown that following a Mediterranean diet may help.
Following in the footsteps of our healthy and happy Mediterranean friends, start including these five foods for boosting your mood.
Oily fish, including salmon, tuna, sardines, trout and swordfish, are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. It is well known that Omega-3’s can reduce inflammation in the body, and for that reason, are often recommended for treating high triglycerides, arthritis and sporting injury. In addition, omega-3’s can increase the secretion of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, improving mood. In fact, low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, aggression and suicidal tendencies. To achieve the recommended dose of omega-3 fatty acids, aim for 3 servings of oily fish per week. If you are a vegetarian, or don’t like fish, aim for daily serves of chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and/or spirulina.
One of the biggest influencers on mood is blood sugar levels. Once your blood sugar levels drop, irritability, fatigue, moodiness and sugar cravings tend to follow. Foods containing refined carbohydrates and sugars, knows as ‘high GI’ foods (i.e. white bread, pretzels, rice crackers, sweets) will cause your blood sugar levels to peak and drop within 2 hours. Skipping meals or avoiding carbohydrates altogether may also cause low blood sugar. Eating ‘low GI’ foods at each main meal, such as fresh fruits, unflavoured dairy products and high fibre grains (i.e. oats, quinoa, wholegrain bread) help to keep blood sugar levels stable for at least 3-4 hours. Moodiness be-gone!
Dark green leafy vegetables
Most of us could probably do better when it comes to meeting the recommended five servings of veg per day. Now there’s even more reason to boost our intake of dark green leafy veggies, with studies showing that they may play a role in improving mood. Folate, a B group vitamin, helps to reduce blood homocysteine levels, and high homocysteine has been shown to double the risk of depression in women. Be careful with how you prepare these vegetables – folate is water soluble, and you may lose some vitamin content by boiling or over cooking. We suggest raw, lightly steamed or sautéed with a dash of extra virgin olive oil.
Lean red meat
There’s no doubt about it, lean red meat is one of the best sources of iron and vitamin B12 going around. Anaemia, which can develop as a result of inadequate iron or vitamin B12 intake, will certainly leave you feeling down in the dumps. Furthermore, one study involving over 1,000 women showed that lower intakes of lean red meat may be related to anxiety and depression. The Mediterraneans preference vegetarian and fish meals over meat, but may include lean red meat varieties once a week. The CSIRO Total wellbeing diet suggests lean red meat up to four times a week. We suggest you aim for somewhere in between, or as guided by your healthcare professional. In the meantime, if you’re feeling low, make sure to check your iron and B12 levels with a blood test.
Ok – this last one may not strictly follow the Mediterranean lead, but we can’t go past dark chocolate as a ‘sometimes’ treat! Dark chocolate contains mood improving compounds theobromine and phenylethylamine, as well as flavanols, polyphenols and methylxanthines – three antioxidants all believed to contribute to dark chocolate’s mood-enhancing effects. A recent Swiss study found that consuming 40g of dark chocolate per day for two weeks reduced the stress hormone cortisol in people with anxiety. Note – 40g of dark chocolate contains 200 calories (840kj), slightly over the recommended 150 calorie target for a healthy snack. So – enjoy in moderation!