During these times of uncertainty, we can feel overwhelmed and run down. Here are some simple tips from a nutritional therapist to hep you feel better inside and out
All of the stress, strain and emotions of these challenging times takes its toll on our bodies and mind. The key to being able to handle what life throws at you is to feel as well as possible, by ensuring your nutritional needs are a priority. Here, nutritionist Elsa Jones shares the key to bolstering your wellbeing through nutrition.
1. Choosing complex carbohydrates over simple ones
Carbohydrates are chains of sugar molecules that the body breaks down and uses as fuel. They are in effect our energy source. They’re also instrumental in triggering the release of serotonin, the brain chemical which influences one’s feeling of wellbeing, Elsa explains.
“Research has shown that low levels of serotonin can lead to poor mood, anxiety and disrupted sleep patterns, so we should always include a moderate amount of ‘complex’ carbohydrates in our daily diet,” Elsa says.
“Foods like oats, brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa, beans, lentils and vegetables. They have a longer lasting more positive effect on energy and mood than ‘simple’ carbohydrates (sweets, chocolates and white flour foods). I’ve seen many clients who rely too much on ‘simple’ carbs. All too often they result in sugar highs and weight gain. So, at meal times, aim to fill ¼ of your plate with ‘complex’ carbohydrates.”
2. Ensure adequate protein intake
Protein contains the amino acid tryptophan, the building block for serotonin production. It also helps maintain stable blood sugar levels. Animal meat, fish, egg, beans and nuts are protein rich.
“Pairing protein and complex carbohydrates can have a positive effect on mood and energy. Combinations I often suggest are egg with wholegrain toast, oats with milk, chicken with roasted root veg, nuts with a piece of fruit, or hummus with carrot sticks. Always aim to fill ¼ of your plate with a protein rich food. It will help you feel full, provide you with lasting energy and support your serotonin production,” Elsa says.
3. Eat foods rich in good fats, vitamin B and magnesium
“Oily fish, walnuts and flax / chia seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids (‘good fats’). The ultimate good mood foods, they nourish our brain and nervous system. Aim to eat 2 portions of oily fish weekly or a handful of nuts and seeds daily,” Elsa says.
“B vitamins, and the mineral magnesium have been shown to influence mood balance and support the ability to handle stress. Our body cannot make or store them for long periods, so daily consumption in our diet is important. Green leafy vegetables (spinach, rocket, kale, broccoli) are a particularly good source of both B vitamins and magnesium, as are nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. Meat, fish and eggs are also rich in B vitamins.”
4. Nurture your gut health
“It’s estimated that 95% of our serotonin (our ‘happy hormone’) is produced in the gut. So, a healthy gut, rich in ‘live friendly’ bacteria is crucial. We can best do this by nourishing it with prebiotic foods, and enriching it by consuming ‘live’ foods. So, add nourishing foods such as onion, garlic, asparagus and oats to your shopping list, together with ‘live’ foods like tempeh, sauerkraut, kefir and natural yoghurt,” Elsa says.
“You can also enrich your gut by taking a microbiotic supplement. Be sure to choose a high strength one containing both Lacto and Bifido strains. I frequently recommend Udo’s Choice Super 8.”
5. Exercise outdoors daily
“If your vitamin D levels are low, you are more likely to experience poor mood. Exercise in nature is known to reduce stress levels and promote good sleep. It also boosts your serotonin and vitamin D levels. So, a daily thirty-minute walk outdoors can reap big rewards. If you are fortunate enough to have strong sunshine take care not to over expose your skin. Find the happy and safe balance.
Vitamin D deficiency is common in Ireland so I suggest taking a vitamin D3 supplement, especially in the winter months when sunlight exposure is limited.”
6. Limit consumption of dietary stimulants
“Overdoing dietary stimulants like caffeine and sugar can cause blood sugar highs and lows. These lead to dips in both energy and mood. Caffeine can also rev up the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. They can make you more prone to anxiety and can negatively impact your sleep patterns. Avoid caffeine after 2pm and limit yourself to a maximum of two caffeinated drinks per day.”