I don't know about you, but I tend to feel terrible around the Christmas period. Of course, it's nice to get a break, and I love spending quality time with my family.
But by the end of the 2-week break, I become irritable and sluggish - not much fun to be around. I'm desperate to get back to the gym and into a healthy eating routine.
Why? It's simple - if you put junk into your body, you'll get junk out.
Too much sugar and inadequate nutrients can mess with your mood. In the short term, you can feel lethargic and experience mood swings. In the long run, you increase your risk of developing a mood disorder, like anxiety or depression.
While there's no problem enjoying yourself and indulging in sweet treats occasionally, it's important that you make sure your daily diet is high in foods that help to elevate and maintain your mood. By improving your nutrition and eating enough of the right foods, you can help to protect your mental and physical health.
Here are 9 of the best mood-boosting foods to add to your diet!
1. Green tea
While I'll always be a coffee-first kind of guy, you can't deny the beauty of a nice cup of green tea. The ritual of making it can be therapeutic. There's no instant gratification - you have to wait for your water to boil and then another few minutes for your tea to brew.
But did you know that green tea is scientifically proven to be good for your mental health? It contains a strong dose of L-theanine, an amino acid shown to help fight anxiety.
L-theanine improves brain function, relieves stress, improves mood, and helps to maintain a healthy sleep pattern.
This might seem counterintuitive at first, as green tea contains caffeine - often thought to give you the jitters and make you a bit anxious. Unlike a red bull, though, the caffeine levels in green tea are mild, and most people find it gives quite a slow and steady release of energy and focus.
You can find l-theanine caffeine-free supplements on the market if you avoid caffeine. However, the benefits of this amino acid are most potent when paired with a dose of caffeine.
You've probably heard about antioxidants, but do you know what they actually do?
Simply put, they help to fight inflammation in the body. If you supply your body with enough antioxidants, you’ll give your body the tools it needs to fight against oxidative stress. If you don’t, your body becomes inflamed, harmful compounds multiply, and your body becomes unbalanced. Consuming antioxidants helps your body recover from the stresses of everyday life, keeping you healthy and happy.
But it's not just the antioxidants that make berries so powerful for your mood. They also contain a high source of anthocyanins. One study found that eating plenty of anthocyanins is linked to a 39% lower risk of depressive symptoms.
If you're on a budget, consider buying frozen berries. They're cheaper than buying fresh, last longer, and tend to be flash-frozen at their most ripe point, so they often taste better, too.
Spinach is an excellent source of magnesium, a nutrient that many people don't get enough of.
This is crucial, as high magnesium levels have been linked to reduced anxiety. A diet high in magnesium has also been shown to help you maintain a healthy sleep pattern.
It's not just magnesium that makes spinach so powerful. It's also rich in folate, an amino acid shown to improve mood and even symptoms of depression. Like berries, it can be worth buying frozen spinach, as it's often cheaper and more convenient than fresh. This makes it super easy to throw some into your smoothie!
4. Fermented foods (like Kefir, Kombucha, and Sauerkraut)
Gut health has been a hot topic recently, and rightly so. A wealth of research shows that a healthy gut balance is vital for maintaining our mental health.
To get probiotics into your diet, you should consume fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, or sauerkraut. The fermentation process works by converting sugars into alcohol and acids: this process creates probiotics.
Probiotics support the growth of 'good' bacteria in your gut. This helps your body to produce serotonin, a crucial neurotransmitter that affects your mood, stress levels, appetite, and sex drive. In fact, recent studies suggest that up to 90% of your body's serotonin is produced by your gut microbiome!
If you don't eat fermented foods often, it can be worth incorporating a high-quality probiotic supplement into your daily routine.
5. Dark Chocolate
Note that this entry is for dark chocolate only. Sadly, a Reese's peanut butter cup doesn't count.
Consuming dark chocolate releases caffeine, theobromine and N-acylethanolamine - supposedly linked to an improved mood. This argument does need more research, though, as some experts argue that the levels in chocolate may not be enough to trigger a measurable response.
However, even if that's the case, dark chocolate is still worth incorporating into your diet. Dark chocolate is loaded with flavonoids which increase blood flow to your brain, helping to reduce inflammation, leading to better mood regulation.
Plus, it tastes great!
Most people in the western world need more fibre in their diets. A regular serving of oats is a simple (and super affordable) way to get more in.
Fibre plays a surprisingly important role in mood regulation. One study found that participants who had a high source of fibre in the morning (by eating oats) had better overall mood and energy levels during the day (compared to participants who didn't).
Researchers think this is because fibre helps to regulate our blood sugar levels.
Have you ever had a high-sugar meal and crashed an hour or two later? This is due to your blood sugar crashing, leaving you feeling irritable and tired.
Oats are also a great source of iron. This is particularly important for people who menstruate, as iron levels can dwindle as the body loses blood. Low iron can lead to fatigue, sluggishness, anxiety, and depression.
7. Nuts and seeds
And what better to pair with your morning oats than some nuts and seeds?
Nuts and seeds are good sources of healthy fats that are essential for your health. They also contain high levels of tryptophan. This is an amino acid that helps to produce more of that all-important serotonin.
You can opt for almonds, peanuts, walnuts, or cashews - all of which work well in a nice bowl of oats or a smoothie. Add a scoop of pumpkin, sesame, hemp, or sunflower seeds, and reap the rewards.
Some seeds, like flaxseed, are also a good source of plant-based omega-3. Unfortunately, though, it's not quite enough to give you the optimal levels of O3. It's recommended that you consume a high-quality omega-3 supplement sourced from Algae for potent levels of DHA and EPA.
In terms of cost vs benefit, it doesn't get much better than the humble banana.
They're high in vitamin B6, which helps to synthesise dopamine and serotonin, leading to an improved mood. It's also a potent source of fibre.
It does contain a significant amount of sugar (about 16 grams). However, this isn't equivalent to downing a can of Coca-Cola. When sugar from fruit is combined with fibre, it releases slowly into your bloodstream - instead of shocking the system.
This leads to stable blood sugar levels and improved mood control. Bananas are also a good source of prebiotics, which can help improve the health of your gut microbiome, leading to a healthy source of serotonin and an overall better mood.
9. Vitamin B12
If you pick up a 'natural' energy drink in the supermarket and check out the ingredient list, you'll notice it's loaded with B vitamins. That's because they are crucial in energy production. Consequently, having low levels of B vitamins, such as Vitamin B12, can lead to mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
B12 is naturally found in soil. However, as our modern agricultural practices involve washing our produce, we simply don’t get enough of it.
It's found in animal products purely because they receive a B12 supplement, but animal products aren't good for your health, the environment, or the welfare of the animals themselves. Livestock also receive doses of hormones and other antibiotics that can end up on your plate and harm your health.
Instead, you can cut out the middleman and simply consume a potent B12 supplement directly. A liquid supplement is ideal for optimal absorption as the body can find cheap tablets hard to absorb.
Fortunately, B12 is a super-affordable supplement. Our liquid Vitamin B12 only costs £0.21 a day - a low price to protect your mental health and boost your energy.
Our mood can be affected by many things we can't control. Flat tyre, bad news, rubbish weather…but you do have control of your diet.
Start incorporating these foods into your daily diet today, and watch your mood improve over time!
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