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PLASTIC & FOOD PACKAGING

PLASTIC & FOOD PACKAGING

I am delighted to welcome back Lisa Patient as this week’s guest blogger. Lisa works together with my friend and colleague Emily Fawell. Both are registered nutritionists, and you can learn more about their work at Vital Health Nutrition here. In this article which was initially written for the #ion_nutrition Institute for Optimum Nutrition magazine, Lisa paints an honest picture of the desperate need for a Plastic Pollution Solution. This is something I feel incredibly strongly about: please do read and share, and then maybe take just a few minutes to consider what YOU might do to cut down on your own plastic consumption…

 

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted annually, so keeping food fresh for as long as possible is vitally important for the economy and the environment. But how safe is the plastic packaging that we use today? Lisa Patient writes for the Optimum Nutrition Magazine:

 

Plastic, in many forms, is the most widely-used material for food packaging. It was first introduced in 1949 as a product called Saran Wrap (a forerunner to products such as Clingfilm in the UK), and soon went on to replace traditional methods that used cloth, paper, or glass. Developed from the first type of plastic to be invented [polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC)], food wrap plastic could keep out air, moisture, and chemicals. It was also versatile, lightweight and cheap to transport — unlike glass, which incredibly dates back to 1,500 BC as a food packaging and meets many of the criteria for food storage.

 

HORMONES

But despite all of plastic’s positives, it has been suggested that exposure to some types could disrupt our hormones. Some research, predominantly using rats and mice, has shown that the chemical structure of certain plastics causes them to either mimic the function of a hormone with a similar molecular structure, or block the action of a hormone by latching on to the receptor site that triggers a hormone to activate. For example, a chemical called Bisphenol-A (BPA), which is used in plastics, has a structure similar to the female hormone oestrogen; a comprehensive review of BPA published by the State of California links it to a number of female hormone conditions including recurrent miscarriage and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Many of us will have encountered the term ‘BPA’ on products that are marketed as BPA-free. Widely used since the 1960s, BPA is a component part of the white lining inside food cans, and 
is found in drinks cans, plastic water bottles, and bottle tops. Studies, mostly from the US, have found that circulation of BPA in women’s bloodstreams is common: one study that tested 85 samples of umbilical cord blood found that all 85 contained BPA. In another study of 268 pregnant women, 96 per cent tested positive for BPA in their urine.

Whether or not BPA causes actual harm to human health, however, is contested by the plastics industry because very few studies have been carried out on human subjects — although one 2015 study linked levels of BPA in mothers to low birth weight in babies, with female babies affected more than male babies.

But it is not just women’s hormones that are suspected to be affected by plastics. A recent study found that surfynol, a chemical used to create multi- layer food packaging, damaged sperm in laboratory tests. Analysis of the sperm showed multiple defects including their ability to swim, to make energy, and in their protection mechanisms.

 

 

CARDIOVASCULAR & WEIGHT WORRIES

Another area of concern is phthalates, which are chemicals that are used to soften plastics, and which can leach onto food during microwaving and heating. Emerging evidence suggests these may damage the walls of arteries and may directly damage heart cells. A 2014 study linked dietary phthalate exposure to higher systolic blood pressure in children and adolescents.

However, plastics containing these phthalates are commonly used to package processed foods, and so it may be that further studies need to separate the risk factors of phthalates and quality of diet.

It has also been suggested that some plastics may affect cholesterol levels. Widely used perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been shown to interfere with the genes that regulate cholesterol metabolism, affecting how much cholesterol we produce, and how effectively it is transported around the body. Resistant to heat, water and grease, PFAS are used to line non-stick cookware, greaseproof paper, fast food wrappers (particularly burgers and fries) and microwave popcorn bags.

And it may be the case that dieters in particular should beware of these plastics. More than 620 people participated in a weight-loss trial in Louisiana over two years, during which time blood samples were regularly taken to assess subjects’ blood levels of PFAS. After two years of dieting, higher PFAS concentrations in the blood were linked to weight regain and slower metabolic rates (the rate at which we extract energy from food), particularly in women. The study concluded that “the possible impact of environmental chemicals on the obesity epidemic therefore deserves attention”.

In mouse studies, BPA has also been linked to weight-gain; one study found that even a low dose of BPA caused disruption to the metabolisms of male mice, affecting body weight, food appetite, and insulin and glucose regulation.

SCALE OF THE PROBLEM

Currently, we can’t seem to escape plastics. Samples taken from water supplies around the world have shown that the vast majority of water supplies across all continents are contaminated by microscopic plastic fibres. In the UK, plastics were found in 74 per cent of samples — so avoiding plastics may be more difficult than we might like to think.

And it’s not just tap water that is affected. A broad analysis of 259 bottles of water from 11 different brands sampled from Europe, Asia, Africa and America, found that 93 per cent contained particles of microplastic, including polypropylene, polystyrene, nylon and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

 

Demonstrating how difficult it is to avoid plastics, one fascinating study in 2012 analysed the blood levels of phthalates and BPA in a group of volunteers that had been restricted to an organic natural diet that had not been in contact with any plastic packaging. These were compared to samples from a group eating a regular plastic-wrapped diet. Much to everyone’s surprise the concentration of phthalates in the blood of the organic group actually increased over the course of the study. After much investigation, the research team attributed this to leaching of phthalates from the plastic tubes that were used to extract organic milk from the cows’ udders.

 

INNOVATIONS IN FOOD PACKAGING 

The plastics used in food packaging do not biodegrade, but instead break down into smaller and smaller pieces until they become tiny particles called microplastics.

Frans Timmermans, first vice-president of the EU, has said that Brussels’ priority is to clamp down on “single-use plastics that take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes and it takes 500 years to break down again”.

But nature may have a solution — in the form of microbes. A paper published in
 the Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research discusses how microbes and fungi could be used to break down plastics.

For example, mangrove soil taken from the Niger delta contains a family of bacteria called the Aspergillus species, which feed on carbon from both high-density and low- density polyethylene, the latter of which accounts for about 60 per cent of all plastic waste.

The race is on to produce packaging and bottles that are wholly or partially made from plants or biomass such as corn, sugarcane, cellulose, seaweed and algae. In the meantime, some consumers are looking for more natural ways of storing food. Herbs, for example, have been used for centuries as a means of preserving foods, and recent publications describe success with cinnamon oil, rosemary extracts and green tea as preservatives, using them to line the inside of packaging.

However, any changes to our use of plastic is likely to be consumer-driven rather than led by manufacturers. This is because the success of plastic remains: it’s very low cost to produce, and change can be expensive.

 

For a referenced version of this article, please click here.

 

 

 

If you would like to learn about the alternative to plastic food wrapping that Shaw Lifestyle recommends click here

 

MY SELF CARE MORNING

MY SELF CARE MORNING

 

“Self care” can cover so, so many things, so that sometimes just fitting it in can seem like a marathon of a task. But actually, if we get in to the habit of putting a few simple steps into place daily, we will find our Self Care Ritual becomes both easy & enjoyable!

So, what are my recommendations for self care? Well, how’s about I tell you MY way of doing it…

 

MY SELF CARE START TO THE DAY 

1. Belly Breathing – before actually getting out of bed. This is so powerful. As I am just “coming to” in the morning, I roll to lie on my back, direct my thoughts to my breathing and do just 1 or 2 minutes of abdominal breathing. It is such a great way to start feeling energised and refreshed for the day ahead.

2. Step-by-Step Gratitude. This is adapted from Rhonda Byrne in her wonderful book “The Secret”. My own version is that when I get up in the morning, as my first foot touches the floor I name (out loud) one thing I am truly grateful for; as my other foot touches down I name another; as I walk into the bathroom I name a third. That’s my 3 gratitude journal entries done without the need for a pen & paper – it is such a game changer for a positive start to my day.

 

3. Diffuser ON. I choose which essential oils I want according to the mood I feel I need to create – something citrus-y for vitality, geranium for balance, or maybe rosemary for focus. Whichever I choose, those gorgeous scents fill the air & really can switch my mood (and they encourage me to breathe mindfully too).

 

4. DON’T go to my Phone! This is really important. I stopped having my phone in my bedroom at night a long time ago, but it took much longer to break the habit of looking at it as soon as I came downstairs. But nowadays it’s an absolute: no phone until breakfast is done and the kids are all out at school. It may sound simple (though I confess it wasn’t simple to achieve it) but it is so powerful.

 

5. Hot water & lemon. There are many advantages to making this the first thing that goes into your digestive system in the morning, but for me it’s also about mindset. If the very beginning of my day includes consuming something that is nourishing me and specifically good for my health, I am oh so much more likely to continue that way for the rest of the day.

 

 

AND THE REST OF MY DAY…

My personal choice is that these 5 steps have to happen in order. Then the following 3 will happen at some point during my day: exactly when will vary each day of the week, depending on my other commitments.

 

6. A truly mindful coffee (or a herbal tea if I’m being “good”!) Instead of grabbing that #onecoffeeaday on the hoof, I try to take ten minutes to stop and pause, and to really enjoy it. It enforces a break from my pc, or my sessions or whatever I may be racing at (& that pause is so great for my mental health), and it also means I enjoy the coffee so much more – and that in turn helps me to stick to just one-a-day!

7. 20 minutes of reading – either a novel or a personal development book. If it’s a novel it’s usually for pure escapism, if it’s personal development…you guessed it, it’s for personal development!

 

8. Between 10 & 20 minutes of meditation. This is another true game changer for me: discovering meditation very literally changed my life. It really does only need to be 10 minutes a day, and whenever I slot in those few moments of utter peace I feel I can get off the merry-go-round of life, just for a little. As a note, I am not perfect(!) so there are days that I don’t manage to fit it in…and on those days I feel the difference and I truly feel so much less “in control”.

 

 

 

 

This list isn’t exhaustive, and it certainly doesn’t provide a “one size fits all”. These are simple strategies that work for ME: some will resonate with you also, others may not. What matters most is that you take the time to consider what will work best for you, and then you carve out the time to make it happen. Taking that step to find the time is undoubtedly the first step towards #selfcare – and surely one of the most important. 

 

MY TOP TIPS TO MANAGE HORMONAL IMBALANCE

MY TOP TIPS TO MANAGE HORMONAL IMBALANCE

 

Hormones!! They control most of our body’s major systems, and they determine almost everything in our body, from growth, mood and behaviour to metabolism, digestion and fertility…so they’re pretty important! In order to stay fit and healthy, we have to ensure we maintain HORMONAL BALANCE. Like any balancing act, this requires constant fine tuning:

“Think of hormones like a cake recipe. Too much or too little of any one ingredient affects the final product.”

So, what can we do to help achieve this balance?

HERE ARE MY TOP TIPS:

1. Check your nutrition. The energy and nutrients in your diet provide the building blocks your body needs in order to produce hormones, and to fuel your body effectively. This is a huge topic in itself, but in simple terms aim to eat digestion-friendly protein (which helps build hormones), fruit and veg for antioxidants (to balance hormones), healthy fats and complex carbohydrates (also to balance hormones), and probiotics to maintain gut health. 

2. Avoid inflammatory foods such as refined carbs, sugar, coffee and alcohol. The inflammatory response is directly connected to hormonal balance.

3. Get active. Exercise affects dopamine and serotonin levels (both of these hormones are mood boosters), and also levels of testosterone and oestrogen. The recommendation is for a a combination of strength training and cardio-vascular workouts to gain maximal health benefits and to boost hormone levels. (We must remember however that excessive exercise can create hormonal imbalance, so considered exercise is key).

4. Practise stress management to help keep stress hormone levels in check. Again, this is a huge topic, but typical strategies (aside from the others in this list) include abdominal breathing, journaling, getting out in nature, and meditation or mindfulness, all of which will help balance these vital hormones.

5. Watch your coffee intake. There are many studies showing just how detrimental coffee can be to our hormonal balance, affecting cortisol, dopamine, oestrogen-to-progesterone and insulin. Admittedly different individuals have varying reactions to coffee, but taking into consideration all of the above, plus the fact that caffeine causes inflammation and can damage the gut lining (all related once more to hormones) it’s surely worth cutting down!

6. Think about plastic pollution. Whilst plastics are slowly destroying our planet, they can also be highly detrimental to our own health, and disruptive to our hormones. Just one example is “Bisphenol A”, or BPA. This is a synthetic chemical found in many plastics, which can either be ingested or absorbed through skin contact.  Various studies have shown that once in the body BPA “mimics the action of the hormone oestrogen and disrupts the endocrine system – the glands that produce hormones regulating, among other things, metabolism, growth, sexual function and sleep”. Surely this is reason enough to cut back on plastic

7. Check your bathroom cabinets. Chemical preservatives used in many commercial cosmetics may cause changes in reproductive hormones in women. We should be especially aware of products containing parabens, as these widely used preservatives have been shown to mimic oestrogen. Do stop and think and do the research before you next buy a new cream, potion or lotion. Choose wisely: there are many alternative products which are genuinely natural and chemical free.

8. Experiment with essential oils. Swap your cosmetic products for those containing essential oils (some of which actually help to balance hormones according to aromatherapy), or alternatively, pop those oils in a diffuser! This is a real double-whammy: essential oils are natural preservatives (so avoiding the need for parabens and such like), and they are also full of anti-oxidants which will aid hormonal imbalance (see point 1 above).  

9. Get enough sleep. Give full value to your bedtime routine and sleep patterns, & be sure that when you do get to bed you are experiencing good quality sleep. Without this, every one of the above suggestions will be less effective…

 

WHY BOTHER? 

Balancing our hormones can be a long process, but the potential results are endless. Achieving hormonal balance can help to:

“reduce mood swings, depression, anxiety, and irritability; increase energy and reduce fatigue; boost happiness, mental clarity, and focus; reduce weight and decrease hot flashes and night sweats; and eliminate acne and hair loss.”

I’m pretty sure there is something on that list that most people would like to achieve, so why not make a start today? Don’t try to do it all overnight: choose which of the above tips feel more “doable”, and start putting them in place bit-by-bit. And remember: if we wish ANY of the above to be genuinely effective, we must ensure that the tweaks and adaptations we make become ongoing LIFESTYLE CHANGES. A flash-in-the-pan attempt to change your health in any way is never going to create lasting results. Instead it MUST be an ongoing commitment to honour and cherish your own health…

 

 

 

MUMS MATTER

MUMS MATTER

 

As mums, if we don’t take care of ourselves, there is little chance of anybody else doing it for us!!

By nature it is mum’s job to nurture and protect her young, but in this day and age there is so much more going on too.  We often seem to end up juggling our kids, our partner, our dogs, the goldfish & the neighbour’s cat(!) and this can very definitely take its toll on our health. If we don’t practice a little #selfcare along the way, we can end up making ourselves ill, or suffering from burnout.

 

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

Taking a little time out for YOU is so valuable in terms of “topping up” your own health – both mental and physical. It also provides a powerful message to our kids. We are all aware of giving positive examples to our kids by ensuring they see us eating well and/or keeping active, but do they see us taking care of our mental health too? If we can start putting small steps in place to do this ourselves, we will become role models for future generations. This can be the first move towards kids, tweens & teens creating their own toolbox for a positive outlook, and for true #connectivity (with their family and not with a screen), which is so very important as we watch statistics on youth mental health worsen daily…

 

MY TOP TIPS

  1. Get out in nature – enjoy being out in the open & walk, run or simply sit and breathe.
  2. Take a mindful shower or a bath and pop in a few drops of essential oils.
  3. Read a book.
  4. Find some calming music to Just Breathe, OR grab your fave dance track and SHAKE IT!
  5. Take 5 minutes to try out relaxation techniques – download my audio aid here.
  6. Go through your cupboards and/or your shopping list and make sure you have some positive Mood Food to hand for your daily snacks.
  7. Get creative! Create a masterpiece or simply doodle, get knitting or bake a cake!
  8. Grab a pen and start a journal – write down 3 things to be grateful for each day.
  9. Choose a task you do daily to practice mindfully – drinking your coffee, showering, taking a walk.
  10. Think about your sleep patterns: give value to the slot of time BEFORE you sleep and be sure to create an environment that is genuinely relaxing so you make the very most of this chance to truly relax & recharge.

 

The most important point in all of this of course is to carve out a little time to achieve this self care daily. It really does only take ten minutes a day, and the benefits are immeasurable – for you and for all those around you. So make the decision TODAY to give a little back to you…

 

As a mum I truly do know how overwhelming it can seem just to find those ten minutes a day. If you are struggling with this and feel you’d like a little more help in structuring this in and truly making it happen, grab my FREE DOWNLOAD here

 

 

HOW (& WHY) TO START A JOURNEY OF SELF CARE IN 2019

HOW (& WHY) TO START A JOURNEY OF SELF CARE IN 2019

What is this mania with “self care”? And what even IS self care??

 

Strangely enough, #selfcare means taking care of yourself!  But what I really mean is truly taking care of yourself with little acts of kindness to YOU. To my mind it is a huge comment on the life we are living that we have to consciously stop & think about engaging in self care: about being kind to ourselves, and giving ourselves a little hug…

That “little hug” can be anything that equates to giving a little special time to yourself. It might be stealing some time in the afternoon to indulge in reading a favourite book, or getting up half an hour earlier to start a practice of mediation in solitude, or treating yourself to a long ramble in the woods once a week. It can be ANYTHING that genuinely feels like a little “me time”. This fact is important: if you don’t actually enjoy reading, then reading a book will NOT constitute me time for you; if the thought of lying in the bath for 20 minutes just makes you feel frustrated and bored then that isn’t self care for you. Choose wisely: select something you will genuinely enjoy, and something which will be a true “switch off”. Time to “park” everything else for a while and simply focus on YOU: on doing something you like whilst not even thinking about anything else…

 

 

In today’s society our day to day lives are such that we are forever being pulled in different directions. We have constant demands on our time, from a work ethic that (largely due to our digital world) often demands 24/7 availability, to children whose clubs and hobbies have become a full time job, to the “MUST DO” habit whereby we MUST fit in exercise/meditation/self development too. It can all seem totally overwhelming, & it can feel nigh on impossible to fit in anything else, but I promise you it is possible to carve out an extra 5 or 10 minutes in your day if you set your mind to it. It is YOUR choice, and it has to be YOUR commitment: if you make that commitment, the benefits to be had are endless…

 

THE BENEFITS OF SELF CARE

Giving a little back to YOU makes you feel less resentful of ‘giving’ to everyone else. If we’re honest, we’ve all been there. That feeling that everyone always wants a piece of us: the kids, your partner, work, neighbours – even the dog! It is impossible to achieve this without some degree of resentment unless we find a way to give a little back to us too.

Breathing space: time to “switch off”. In a society of constant demands – from the “ping” and “woosh” of notifications on our phone, to the endless stream of info for our kids activities – the chance to “switch off” or “unplug” for a while becomes a luxury. It is a NECESSARY luxury: one we need to make time for.

Welcome release from from mind chatter. The idea of “mind chatter” goes back to the Buddhist concept of “monkey mind”. Buddhists observed the never ending restlessness of a monkey and compared this to our own restless minds. Our minds are never still, (it is believed humans have around fifty thousand separate thoughts each day), and when this is added to the stresses of modern day society, we can see how real a NEED we have for this release.

Improved health. Taking time out for ourselves will enhance both physical and mental health. When we are forever “on the run” our bodies and our minds feel the pressure. Both end up “running on empty” and this can lead at best to feeling a little run down, and at worst to burnout.

Lowered stress levels. If we are a little clever about which activities we choose as self care, we can succeed in significantly lowering stress levels (see below).

A chance to be mindful. There is a very good reason why “mindfulness” has become such a buzzword: it is SO very necessary as an antidote to what today’s world throws at us. But how easy is it to be mindful in the midst of our never ending day-to-day? Not at all! Giving yourself a few minutes each day for self care however can double up as an opportunity to be mindful as well.

Feeling better about YOU. Giving yourself a little time, a little kindness, equates to giving value to yourself. If we don’t believe we’re worthy of that, then we are really not respecting “self”: not awarding ourselves enough self worth. Committing to a regular practice of self care gives value to YOU, thus increasing self esteem.

AN EXTRA “PLUS”

An added advantage of elevating self esteem is that feeling better about yourself can be the first step to start to doing other (perhaps more challenging) things to make you feel better still: to make you the best version of you that you can become! So we’re talking the biggies like exercise and nutrition, which are themselves a hugely important aspect of your self care. If you start with simple “me time” activities such as those discussed above, this will get your self esteem back where it belongs. This in turn will do wonders for your ability to tackle the bigger challenges a little further down the line: just think what that might do for your 2019 New Year’s Resolutions, and your ability to stick to them…

 

HOW TO “UP” YOUR SELF CARE TO THE NEXT LEVEL

If you can include some activities that are more specifically related to stress management, then this will enhance ALL of the above even more. Some examples might be:

  • Getting out in nature (scientifically proven to lower stress hormones)
  • Practising “Belly Breathing”
  • Starting a daily practise of Gratitude
  • Starting a daily meditation or mindfulness practise

Once again, ALL the above are pleasant things to do: I’m not asking you to go clean the house, I’m asking you to find the time to do something lovely!

 

I am well aware that for most of us, the most challenging part of this whole article is actually FINDING THE TIME. I get it: I’ve been there. But I PROMISE you that ANYONE can find five minutes extra in their day. It is about prioritising YOU, and that is the very first step in self care. There is a wonderful Zen saying which states:

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy: then you should sit for an hour”

…no more need be said!

HOW TO PUT ALL THIS INTO ACTION

Your first step has to be believing you are worth it, remembering your own self value, and therefore finding that time. The second step is COMMITMENT: make the decision that 2019 is going to be the year that you give back to YOU – and therefore to everyone around you. Write down your commitment to a self care programme, sign it & place it somewhere you will see it regularly. Tell other people about it: telling others increases accountability. Then jot down a list of activities that you consider to be true self care for YOU.

If you’d like to take it all a step further and to engage in a daily 5 minutes of stress relieving self care, then do grab my FREE download here. This is where the real turnaround happens. The guide will take you through a simple, manageable, step-by-step process to carve out that time and practice self care activities that will truly address your stress levels as well. In the space of just seven days you will start to see the difference, and THAT is the turning point: the point at which you realise that SELF CARE WORKS: that it is oh so very worth putting in that time. And you’re not thinking it because you’ve read my article: you’re BELIEVING it because you’ve tried it yourself, and you’ve seen the results .

 

MOOD FOODS

MOOD FOODS

I am delighted to welcome Lisa Patient as my guest blogger for this week! Lisa works together with my friend and colleague Emily Fawell. Both are registered nutritionists, and you can learn more about their work at Vital Health Nutrition here. I know you will love reading this post about ‘Mood Food’ from the Spring 2017 edition of the #ion_nutrition Optimum Nutrition Magazine. Lisa writes about how different foods affect our mood, and investigates whether swapping comfort foods for healthier choices could make us feel much better in the long run…

 

‘I was feeling low so treated myself to a cake/glass of wine.’ If I had a pound for every time a client has said this, it would amount to a tidy sum. But why do we turn to sugar and alcohol to cheer ourselves up? And are there healthier ‘mood foods’ available? 

 

THE SUGAR HIGH 

Saliva and digestive enzymes rapidly break down sugary foods such as cakes and biscuits so that they quickly enter the blood stream as glucose. But before you’ve even swallowed your first mouthful, the taste of sugar on your tongue has already activated the release of a hormone called dopamine in your brain. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for feel-good feelings, particularly those associated with reward, which is why that doughnut may indeed make you feel happy. But it’s not the doughnut itself that cheers us up, more the chemical reaction in our brain. 

The bad news, however, is that over-activating the dopamine reward mechanism with too much of any pleasurable substance can begin to desensitise it, so that we need more to get the same response, in the way that addicts require more of a drug to get the same level of high. Studies have found that switching to a ‘normal’ diet after following a high-fat or high-sugar diet can lead to sugar cravings, feelings of anxiety, and low mood.(1) This may be a biological response to the rapid release of insulin, as a result of the surge of glucose in the bloodstream, which is then followed by a crash in blood sugar levels. Taking all this into account, and the fact that it can contribute to us piling on the weight and rotting our teeth, sugar is not a good mood food after all — long-term. 

In the case of alcohol, we might use it to celebrate or cheer ourselves up, but it is described by the NHS as a ‘depressant drug’.(2) Although alcohol may relax us initially, heavy drinking affects levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, leading to anxiety and depression. Like sugar, it also wreaks havoc with blood sugar control; so an alcohol binge results in low blood sugar, which can lower mood. 

 

 

HEALTHY BOOST 

Most anti-depressants work by altering the balance of serotonin in the brain. If we want to eat foods to naturally improve our mood without the side effects of sugar and alcohol then, ideally, we would look for foods that would boost both dopamine and serotonin. 

However, we don’t get serotonin itself from food. For our bodies to produce it, we need to consume sufficient amounts of the amino acid tryptophan. Soya-containing foods such as tofu and miso are particularly high in tryptophan, as are eggs, edible seaweed, spirulina, and most seafood. But to get the maximum benefit, think about combining foods: research has shown that ingesting tryptophan with carbohydrates makes the tryptophan more available to the brain. 

 

TYROSINE

Turkey is definitely not just for Christmas. As well as being a lean form of protein, it contains both tryptophan and a high concentration of the amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine increases levels of dopamine in the brain, improving mood, and has also been shown to promote deep thinking, which may be particularly beneficial for the creative among us.(3) Other foods high in tyrosine include most fruits (particularly apricots, cranberries and kiwi), soya beans, chicken, cheese and eggs. 

 

ANTIOXIDANTS

Research has linked depression with inflammation in the brain.(4) This has led to interest in the role of antioxidants in the diet, which help protect cells against damage caused by inflammation. For example, a small number of studies found that the antioxidants in a tart cherry juice provided a protection mechanism for tryptophan, ensuring that a greater quantity of tryptophan from food was available for the brain to use.(5) 

Curcumin, a powerful antioxidant in turmeric, also shows the same ’neuroprotectant‘ mechanism, and there is evidence that it also has mood-lifting properties.(6) Turmeric is used extensively in Indian cooking and is now widely available in its root form. It’s becoming increasingly popular to add fresh turmeric to smoothies, while turmeric powder can be sprinkled into soups, stews and curries — although in Indian cooking rarely more than a pinch is used because of its bitter taste. 

Saffron, a fragrant herb derived from the stamens of the flower Crocus sativus, is traditionally used in paella, biryani or cakes, and has been used for centuries in traditional herbal medicine as an anti- depressant. In fact studies have found that saffron extract can be as effective in raising serotonin levels as the anti-depressants imipramine and fluoxetine.(7) 

 

 

MAGNESIUM

Magnesium is nicknamed the calming nutrient, with some studies showing it to be beneficial if you feel tense and anxious. Other research has suggested that low magnesium can be linked with depression.(8) A systematic review of studies into magnesium and depression concluded that magnesium appeared to be effective in easing depression, but that further studies were needed to properly understand the mechanism. It also suggested that oral magnesium supplementation might prevent depression.(9) So to keep calm, add magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, nuts, spinach, beans and wholegrains to your daily diet. 

 

VITAMIN D

It is now widely acknowledged that vitamin D deficiency is commonplace in winter when the sun’s UV light is not strong enough to trigger the synthesis of vitamin D by the skin. Studies have linked vitamin D deficiency to depression. While this could be an association, with depression being due to lack of sunny weather rather than vitamin D itself, there is some evidence to show that supplementing vitamin D does improve mood. (10) 

According to the US Department of Agriculture, trout is one of the best food sources of vitamin D, only pipped to first place by wild salmon. Trout contains a whopping 635IU [international units] of vitamin D in a 100g serving,(11) which is considerably more that the recommended daily allowance of 400IU. Vitamin D is also found in other types of oily fish, eggs and tofu, and in mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light or grown in sunshine. Other food sources include processed foods such as bread and cereals, which have been intentionally fortified with vitamin D. 

If in doubt about your vitamin D status, a blood test will help you decide whether you need to take a supplement or to eat more vitamin D-rich foods. 

 

OMEGA-3

Omega-3 fats are critical for the function of the central nervous system, and a diet that is out of balance by containing more omega-6 foods from meat and vegetable oils and less omega-3 from nuts and oily fish has been linked to depression.(12) 

Walnuts, which have the highest amount of omega-3 compared with other nuts, make a terrific snack, and walnut butter can be added to smoothies or rye toast for a delicious breakfast. Flaxseed oil and oily fish are also great sources of omega-3 fats. 

 

B VITAMINS 

The beautiful pink beans called ‘pinto’ (painted) in Spanish are second only to lentils in richness of the B vitamin folate. Folate is essential for the creation and function of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Broccoli, leafy greens and all other beans and lentils are great sources. 

Women planning pregnancy should supplement this vitamin, as deficiency can lead to problems with the development of the baby’s nervous system. 

Hand in hand with folate is vitamin B12, a B vitamin that, along with vitamin B6, is used to create serotonin. One serving of lamb, sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, or scallops provides your daily allowance of vitamin B12, but a sufficient intake of vitamin B12 can be harder to achieve for vegetarians and vegans. 

So although it might be tempting to reach for fast, comforting food, in the long-term, adding healthy, natural foods to our diet is more likely to keep us feeling good in ourselves and about ourselves. Add that to exercise, which is shown time and again to improve mood, and who needs that doughnut? 

 

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  8. Eby, G. A., & Eby, K. L. (2006). Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment. Medical hypotheses, 67(2), 362-370.
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  10. 10.Lansdowne, A. T., & Provost, S. C. (1998). Vitamin D3 enhances mood in healthy subjects during winter. Psychopharmacology, 135(4), 319-323.
  11. 11.ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/
  12. 12.Deacon, G., Kettle, C., Hayes, D., Dennis, C., & Tucci, J. (2015). Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the treatment of depression. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, (just-accepted), 00-00.

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