You can’t eat your way to happy, but you can be smarter about what you’re eating for the benefit of your mood.
Depression can’t be cured by carrots, nor can anxiety be dulled by some protein – let’s make that clear from the get go.
But, while there are limits to how much your diet can affect your mood, it has been proven time and time again there is a link.
And yet, when we’re feeling low, we tend to be partial to foods that can leave us worse in the long-run, as found by premium salmon brand MOWI, as 65% of people they surveyed identified with this.
The instant gratification is off-set by a later slump – that isn’t to say all ‘unhealthy’ foods are bad for you, though.
At this time of year when part of population is affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), it’s a good opportunity to take stock and gently switch up your food intake.
Speaking to Metro.co.uk, former Bake Off finalist and psychologist Kimberley Wilson says: ‘A common mistake people make when trying to improve their eating is doing too much at once.
‘We eat mostly out of familiarity, so it can feel like a big jump to take away familiar foods at the same time as introducing new ones.’
The author of How To Build A Healthy Brain believes it’s more helpful to think about what healthy things you can add into your day-to-day eating habits, rather than what you can take out.
She calls this a more ‘practical’ approach.
‘So, let’s say you regularly eat pasta and sauce on a Monday. Instead of changing that meal entirely, try thinking about where you could add more fibre, healthy fats and vegetables,’ she says.
‘Could you switch to wholemeal pasta, or half and half? Could you add in some lentils or beans? Perhaps you could serve your pasta with a portion of trout or salmon. Or could you stir in some spinach or serve it with a side salad?
‘This way, you are making the foods you currently eat more nutritious, which should make the changes easier to sustain.’
Foods to put in
Kimberley says: ‘Think about your regular meals and snacks. Now, consider where you could add in extra brain-healthy nutrients. Try to tick off the following in a week (1 serving = 2 heaped tablespoons).’
- One 140g portion of oily fish, such as pre-cooked salmon for lunch
- Three servings of beans/legumes (including hummus)
- Raw unsalted nuts (one serving per day)
- Switch to wholegrain – try the higher fibre versions of bread, pasta and rice
- Switch your sweet breakfast cereal for porridge or muesli topped with berries
Which foods actually make you feel good?
This depends on how you look at it.
A slice of cake after a long day might well make you feel really good in the moment, as can a salad for very different reasons.
‘Food can make us feel good in lots of ways,’ Kimberley says.
‘Just the act of eating can release chemicals in the brain that elevate mood and certain foods, like sugar, can give us a buzz. Some nostalgic foods can elicit happy memories.
‘We can also use food to distract ourselves from unpleasant feelings, but these effects are typically short-term and may have other negative consequences.
‘For long-term improved mood, we need to think about what nutrients our brains need to function well and how we can provide those on a consistent basis.
‘A healthy brain needs essential fats, micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), fibre and water.’
So don’t punish yourself for odd indulgence – rather look at where you can add things that helpful to your diet in the longer term.
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