You may have heard the phrase ‘let food by thy medicine’, but can it help you to escape a bad mood (and we’re not talking comfort eating)? We asked some top nutritionists for their tips on what to eat when you’re feeling less than okay…
If you’re feeling… Sad
Daily life can be a rollercoaster, so it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll feel upset. To get yourself through the blues, nutritionist Ruth Reynolds (ruthreynolds.com) advises that you eat foods rich in tryptophan, the precursor to the feel-good hormone serotonin. It’s found in oats, chicken, turkey, eggs, nuts, beans, fish and milk products – a great snack example is an oat cake with nut butter, as combining these types of foods with carbohydrates helps more tryptophan get to the brain. Ruth also recommends oily fish as they are rich in omega 3, a fatty acid known to support nerve function in the brain, which is associated with mood. It can be taken as a supplement, but be sure to choose a quality one from a sustainable, contaminate-free source. Don’t worry about missing out on omega 3 if you’re a vegetarian, as nutritionist Rick Hay (rickhay.co.uk) suggests algal oil, which has a similar effect on the brain. Primrose Matheson, founder of Primrose’s Kitchen (primroseskitchen.com), also suggests the trusty banana for a lift when you’re feeling down, as it gives you a feel good boost, as well as a shot of fructose to raise your energy.
If you’re feeling… Angry
When you’re seeing red and your heart is racing, it can be hard to calm yourself down. Instead of releasing the tension in an unhealthy way, take a step back and relieve it with some of these foods. “Magnesium is one of nature’s tranquillisers and can be found in leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds,” says Ruth. “Eat magnesium-rich foods for a calming effect. A salad that includes spinach, rocket leaves and tryptophan-packed chicken, topped with some nuts and seeds, would be an ideal chillout choice.” Ruth also advises calming herbs such as chamomile and valerian, which are available in tea form. Naturopathic nutritionist Fiona Ogilvy-Wedderburn adds that certain deficiencies in the diet can fuel feelings of anger, so be sure that you’re getting enough nutrients such as magnesium, manganese, vitamin C and B vitamins in your diet.
If you’re feeling… Stressed
From looming deadlines to a seemingly never-ending to-do list, stress is an inevitable part of life, but there are ways to lessen it. “During stressful times our bodies use up a lot of vitamin C, so instead of grabbing a coffee and a handful of biscuits, eat some foods rich in the vitamin,” says nutritionist Jacqueline Newson. “Oranges may seem the obvious choice, but you could try papaya, peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts and strawberries. It’s also vital when feeling out of control to eat nutrient dense foods, as these help our adrenal glands to cope better with stress. Fresh fruit and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds and whole grains are all beneficial in restoring balance and control over circumstances that may be running away with you.” Rick Hay suggests dark chocolate, as it reduces levels of the harmful stress hormone cortisol.
If you’re feeling… Irritable
Whatever the cause for your feelings of grouchiness, irritability is a horrible feeling. “Whole grain foods are arguably the best for combating this,” advises nutritionist Julie Montagu (juliemontagu.com). “Your blood sugar levels will drop as you become hungry and this can quickly affect the areas of the brain that control your mood. Whole grains are known to increase the presence of the hormone serotonin in the brain which will work to balance things out. This is because they are generally naturally high in the amino acid tryptophan which the body uses to produce serotonin.” Another great tip is to eat foods that are high in folate, as they produce dopamine, the pleasure-inducing brain chemical which helps to keep you calm – Fiona suggests lambs lettuce, mustard leaves, watercress and dandelion leaves.
If you’re feeling… Tired
Have you spent the morning yawning at your desk and sleepily scanning through your emails? “One of the best things you can do when you are feeling tired is to get a good dose of chia seeds,” explains Julie. “These tiny seeds have a great ratio of fibre, fats and protein, making them the perfect high energy food. Consuming them as you begin to feel yourself becoming tired will provide you with a sustainable surge of energy that will carry you through the next few hours. You can add the seeds to practically anything, but a teaspoon in my morning smoothie is my favourite way to include them. Other great foods for boosting energy are avocados, bananas, nuts and broccoli, thanks to their impressive nutrient content.” Clinical nutritionist Peter Cox of OMNIYA Healthy and Beauty MediClinic (omniya.co.uk) also recommends liquorice tea for a quick lift.
If you’re feeling… Anxious
If you’re on edge or nervous, Ruth advises eating oats – “They’re a complex carbohydrate which means they are great for stabilising energy and blood sugar levels, and contain a substance called gramine which is said to have calming properties”, she says. “Get your day off to a good start with a bowl of comforting porridge, sprinkled with nuts and seeds for added protein and nutrients and add cinnamon as a delicious blood sugar balancer.” Another idea is to incorporate B vitamins into your diet, as they are vital for combating anxiety by supporting nerve function. Ruth recommends B5 in particular, as it plays an important role in adrenal function, which controls our stress response. You can increase your intake with nuts, seeds, eggs, lamb, chicken, rye, lentils and quinoa.
Foods to avoid
Whatever mood you’re in, there are some things you should try to steer clear of to keep yourself feeling balanced. These include:
- Sugary foods, as they lead to changes in our blood sugar levels, triggering mood swings.
- Caffeine, as it is a stimulant and can increase anxiety and stress levels.
- High sodium foods, such as salty crisps and pastries, as they raise blood pressure.
- Alcohol, as it is a brain depressant and increases adrenal hormone output.