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Ask Elsa: Dark Circles

Q I've developed dark circles under my eyes which are quite noticeable. My sleep pattern hasn't changed so I don't know why I have them, could it be something I'm eating?

A To determine the cause it's important to observe and address your diet as well as your stress levels and sleep quality. Dark circles under the eyes can be due to a number of factors including allergies/hay fever, adrenal fatigue, fluid retention, medications, dehydration and iron-deficiency anaemia.

Dark circles under the eyes can sometimes be caused by a wheat or gluten intolerance. If you are experiencing digestive trouble as well, you might consider taking a food-allergy test.

Consuming foods high in antioxidants can help strengthen the blood vessels around the eyes, so eat plenty of fresh cranberries, blueberries, bilberries, onions and parsley.

It's also important to reduce the amount of salt in the diet. Avoid adding salt to food or eating processed foods such as ready-made meals or sauces, sausages, bacon, stocks, condiments, etc.

Dark circles can also be a sign of dehydration. Start the day with a cup of warm water with the juice of half a lemon to kick-start detoxification and hydration. Drink at least two litres of water throughout the day and avoid tea, coffee and alcohol. Try Rooibos or dandelion tea instead.

QMy seven-year-old son is often tired and moody. I've recently cut down on the number of sweets I allow him and noticed an improvement. Are there any other diet tips to help improve his energy and mood?

AAbsolutely, even making small changes can make a big difference. Below are my top tips for boosting your child's health both physically and emotionally:

  • Check for additives -- artificial colourings, sweeteners and flavourings can all contribute to adverse behaviour, particularly the orange-colouring tartrazine (E102) found in some squashes and sweets.

  • Have protein with every meal -- include either fish, poultry, meat, eggs, beans or nuts to keep blood-sugar levels balanced and so avoid hyperactivity, mood swings, low concentration or energy slumps.

  • Increase vegetables to at least three per day -- do it sneakily by liquidising vegetables and adding them into main meals such as a Bolognese sauce.

  • Include nuts and seeds in the diet -- pack nuts into the lunch box or add chopped nuts or seeds to muesli or granola.

  • Make your own healthy treats -- batch-cook either home-made muffins, banana bread or flapjacks and store cleverly so they last the week. See my website for recipes.

  • Switch to wholegrain -- swap white bread, pasta and rice for their wholemeal alternatives.

Increase fruit to at least two portions a day -- try adding chopped fruit to muesli or porridge or stewed fruit such as apple or rhubarb to natural yogurt. Dried fruit and fruit juices can be high in sugar so fresh fruit is always better.

Elsa Jones is a nutritional therapist and presenter of How Healthy Are You? on TV3. Elsa offers individual consultations. See www.elsajones nutrition.ie for more information