Eating well to boost our mood during the pandemic
The Public Health Agency (PHA) is encouraging everyone to eat healthily in order to boost both our physical and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Feeling good comes from a variety of lifestyle factors including taking exercise, the food we eat and how much sleep we are getting,” said Laura Taylor, Health Improvement and Wellbeing Senior Officer with the PHA.
“Getting the balance right can help us cope a little bit better with the everyday stresses we face.”
Serotonin, the feel good hormone, is partly made from a protein found in foods called tryptophan. Tryptophan is present in a variety of foods such as dairy, fruits and vegetables, oily fish, eggs and grains such as wheat, rice and barley.
“Researchers continue to study the effect of foods on our serotonin levels but in the meantime there is nothing stopping us including these foods as part of a healthy balanced diet,” added Laura.
Here are some ways we can use food to help boost our mood:
Start the day with a good breakfast
A number of studies report health benefits of regularly eating breakfast. Breakfast helps kick-start our metabolism in the morning by providing that much needed energy boost after a night’s sleep. It helps keep our blood sugar levels steady so we are not craving sugary snacks by 10am.
Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates are great energy providers. High fibre versions (eaten regularly throughout the day) are a great option as they stabilise our blood glucose levels and help keep us feeling full for longer. Foods such as breakfast cereals and bread are fortified with a number of different vitamins and minerals that help us meet our daily requirements.
Fruit and veg
We all know that eating five portions of fruit and veg a day is good for us but did you know that folate, a vitamin found in fruit and veg, may be particularly good at helping to keep our mood stable, especially in older people? Good sources are green leafy vegetables, oranges and other citrus fruits, along with other foods like liver, beans and fortified breakfast cereals.
Foods containing protein include beans, peas, fish, eggs, red meat, poultry and nuts. These foods are a great source of B Vitamins, iron and selenium. B Vitamins help our body release energy from the food we eat, iron helps carry much needed oxygen to our blood and selenium is important for many bodily functions. B deficiency has been linked with tiredness, feeling irritable and depression and lack of iron in our diet can result in iron deficiency anaemia. One of the main symptoms of this condition is fatigue. Lack of selenium may also increase the feelings of low mood and depression. It is therefore important to eat foods rich in protein every day.
Researchers continue to investigate the link between oily fish consumption and protection against depression. Although not conclusive there are other health benefits to eating oily fish so it is worth including 1-2 portions each week. Oily fish varieties include salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines.
Caffeine is found in tea and coffee. It is a stimulant and drinking it can make us feel more alert and less tired. Many of us enjoy a cup of tea or coffee first thing in the morning to help wake us up, but caution is needed as too much caffeine has been associated with increased heart rate and feelings of anxiety. It can also interrupt sleep and getting a good night’s sleep is crucial in helping people manage their stress.
Many of us don’t drink enough throughout the day. If you don’t drink enough you may find it difficult to concentrate or stay focussed. Water is the best option followed by milk. Tea, coffee and juices count but these may contain caffeine and/or sugar so best to limit these throughout the day.
“When feeling low, many of us reach for a bar of chocolate, biscuits or cake,” said Laura. “We associate these foods with comfort and reward. Eating these when we are feeling down in the dumps gives us a feeling of satisfaction and contentment. Also, our blood sugars rise and give us that much needed boost in energy. However, the feeling is short lived and as our blood glucose drops we may feel a slump in both energy and mood.
“It is worth remembering that no food is a bad food and if you are craving chocolate then eat some but just try to limit the amount you consume and how often.”
The Public Health Agency’s Choose to Live Better website has over 80 tasty, simple recipes at www.pha.site/recipes the site includes recipes for starters, mains desserts and snacks and the recipes are easy to follow.