You are what you eat, says Sarah Keogh, so why not use this knowledge to enhance your mood? The nutritionist breaks down seven ways to nourish our humour
So many things in life can affect how we feel, how much energy we have and how motivated we are on any given day. Many of these factors are outside of our control but looking at what you eat as well as how you exercise and rest can make a real difference to your outlook.
We are so familiar with the expression "you are what you eat" that we often hear it without ever really thinking about it. And it is worth a little thought: you really are made out of the food you eat and what's more, your body spends all of its time updating and remodeling you.You get new skin every 28 days and your body replaces every bit of muscle every 100 days. This means that your nutrition is just as important now as it ever was when you were a child so you need to be eating well most of the time if you are going to feel at your best.
How can we eat to improve our mood? When it comes to mood, there are some great habits to get into and some key foods and nutrients to include.
1. Fuel Your Body
This may sound obvious but how often do you skip meals or have a bowl of cereal instead of a proper dinner? Your body can only run on what you give it and we need regular feeding.
Studies show that if you skip a meal it is very difficult to make up the nutrition that you have missed. Even if you eat a larger meal later, you don't make up nutrients like iron or B vitamins. Plan to have breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday and make time for snacks if you find you do get hungry in between meals.
2. Add Iron
Every child learns that iron's job is to carry oxygen to cells. Your cells need oxygen to make energy so if you are low in iron, your energy levels fall as well. But low energy is just part of the story. You also need iron for good brain function. Low levels of iron can make you feel very apathetic and unmotivated and can actually drop your IQ. Luckily, this all improves when iron levels come back up. It is worth noting that 48pc of women in Ireland do not eat enough iron and that anaemia is a major public health problem here.
Red meat is one of the best places to get iron and if you go for lean cuts, there is little saturated fat. Chicken legs are good sources but there is not a lot of iron in chicken breast. Shellfish, especially mussels, are good foods to include as well as eggs.
On the vegetable front, spinach, the ever-popular kale and green cabbage leaves are good options as well as beans like chickpeas. Red lentils are another good source of iron and can easily be added to soups and casseroles. You need to eat at least two iron-rich foods everyday.
3. Eat More Fish
Fish oils are a great source of the omega-3 EPA which has been linked with reducing depression and anxiety as well as helping to keep our brains healthy. Find EPA in oil-rich fish like salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines. Tinned salmon and tinned sardines are also good sources. Aim to have oil-rich fish at least once a week but more would be better. If you don't eat fish try a good fish oil supplement that is giving you 500mg of EPA per day.
4. Limit Alcohol
Many of us turn to alcohol as a pick-me-up after a hard day but alcohol can actually make it more difficult to handle the stress in your life. Apart from hangovers (which are a problem all on their own) alcohol interferes with how well you sleep.
Although having a glass of wine or beer may make it easier for you to fall asleep, alcohol prevents you from getting the deep sleep where you really rest. Even one drink is enough to disturb your sleep. If you only drink once or twice a week then this is not going to cause much harm but if you drink everyday or most days - even if it is small amounts - then you are going to disturb your sleep every night. So relaxing with a glass of wine tonight means you are going to be even more tired tomorrow and less able to handle daily stresses.
If you are really struggling with tiredness it is worth cutting alcohol out completely for a few weeks to give your body a chance to catch up on your sleep.
5. Speaking of Sleep
Do not underestimate the power of sleep. Many scientists describe us as being arrogant about sleep - we see it as something to fit in at the end of the day rather than something vitally important. Studies show that getting less than seven hours sleep on a regular basis increases risks of dementia, cancer and obesity among others. It also leaves us feeling tired.
We need to aim for around eight hours sleep every night and the sleep we get before midnight is of the most value to us. We have all heard the expression "early to bed, early to rise…". Our bodies do most of their healing and repairing between about 10pm and 3am so these are the key hours to be asleep.
This is nearly seen as a vice these days but the body reacts very well to carbs and really likes them when you are stressed. Have you ever had a bad day and gone home to eat chocolate or crisps or pasta or some other carb-rich food?
We never feel stressed and rush home for a salad, do we? Carbs trigger a part of your brain that can help you feel relaxed.
This does not mean stuff yourself with carbs every time you feel bad, but it does mean don't cut them out either. It has become very fashionable to cut carbs and many people who do fail to realise that they are cutting out fibre and B vitamins as well as the mood-enhancing effects of carbs as well.
Do include carbs but in sensible portions and go for wholegrain varieties. Keep carbs to about one third of your plate - don't just cover your whole plate with pasta and dump the rest of your dinner on top! The same with rice: rice should only be one third of your plate. If you keep carbs to sensible portions then you can include them without the negative effect on your weight.
7. B vitamins
B vitamins help your body to turn your food into energy so they are crucial in helping to reduce tiredness and fatigue.
B vitamins are also needed for a healthy nervous system and for years people have taken B complex supplements to help deal with stress. You can find B vitamins in wholegrain foods like wholegrain breads and cereals as well as milk, yoghurt and lean pork.
Nutritionist Sarah Keogh will be speaking at the upcoming Unislim Health & Wellness Show taking place in Croke Park on Saturday April 18. Tickets are €49 per person, see eventbrite.com.
Health & Living