It’s not just what we eat that affects our mood – when we tuck into meals can make a difference, too. If your days tend to be an emotional roller coaster, you find yourself feeling anxious or irritable, or you want to feel happier overall, these simple tips from nutritionist Jane Clarke can help.
Studies have shown that eating soon after we wake can help to balance our blood sugar and hormone levels to give us vitality and mental focus for the day ahead. I recommend having protein at breakfast – poached eggs, full-fat Greek yoghurt with fruit, or a bowl of porridge with nuts and seeds (the combination of slow-release energy from the oats and protein from the topping is a winner). If you’re on the go or you’re someone who can’t face a bigger meal at the start of the day, one of my Nourish Drinks. Prices start from £15.80 for a pack of four drinks, order online at Nourish By Jane Clarke or over the phone on 07856 552696 between 9:30am and 10:30am, Monday to Sunday. Nourish Drinks are made with all-natural and organic ingredients, and are a good option, as they’re nutritionally balanced to contain all the carbs, protein, vitamins and minerals you need for a complete meal replacement. There’s also a psychological effect of having a good breakfast. Knowing you’ve eaten well helps you to feel in control, so you’re more inclined to keep up the good work throughout the day.
Complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, porridge oats and wholegrains are processed by the body more slowly than their refined counterparts such as white bread and pasta, and the effect is enhanced if you eat them with some protein such as fish, eggs or nuts. It means they release their energy more slowly, so you won’t get a classic high followed by a crash that makes you feel sluggish and irritable.
Carbohydrates also trigger a response in the body that ultimately leads to the production of the feelgood chemical serotonin in the brain. This soothing effect can be felt around 30 minutes after eating a carbohydrate-rich meal.
If low mood or anxiety is a problem, you may find some relief by increasing the amount of tryptophan-rich foods in your diet – as tryptophan is used by the brain to produce the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin. Chicken, turkey, eggs, salmon, tuna, beans, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds. Oh, and chocolate! As well as tryptophan, chocolate also contains theobromine, which is proven to boost mood and also relaxes muscles, creating a calming effect.
You may not associate how much water you drink with your mood, but dehydration can make you feel short-tempered and irritable. Keep a flask or bottle of water beside you and keep sipping throughout the day. Aim to have 2.5 litres a day, and more if it’s very hot or you are exercising.
I never miss my morning coffee, but I find that drinking caffeine after lunch can make me feel twitchy and anxious – and it certainly doesn’t help me to sleep later on. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, you may find switching to a fruit or herbal infusion after 4pm can keep you on an even keel. Calming teas include chamomile, bergamot and lemon balm. Before bed, switch to more traditionally sedative brews, such as blue vervain, valerian and hops. Milky drinks, whether that’s a glass of fresh milk or one of my Nourish Drinks, or a lavender infusion, are also fantastically soporific, not least because they can remind us of our treasured childhood wind-down routine.
Put a mug of milk and a teaspoon of dried lavender flowers in a pan and slowly bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes. Strain the milk into a mug and sweeten with honey if desired.
Here’s a healthy take on French toast. Vary the fruits by season for maximum taste. This recipe uses summer fruits.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
2 medium eggs
4 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon cinnamon
small handful blueberries
small handful raspberries
1 tablespoon oil
small knob of butter
4 slices bread
natural yoghurt, to serve
In a large, shallow dish, whisk together the eggs, milk and cinnamon.
Quickly rinse the fruit. Reserve a handful and place the rest in a small saucepan, using the water that clings to the fruit for cooking liquid. Leave on a very low heat until the raspberries begin to share their colour.
Remove from the heat and set aside.
Add the oil and butter to a frying pan over the medium heat. While waiting for the butter to melt, dip the bread into the egg, making sure each side has soaked some up.
Fry the bread for a couple of minutes on each side until golden, then serve with the stewed and reserved fruits, and yoghurt.
Jane Clarke is a leading dietician, cordon bleu chef and author, she has 30 years clinical experience looking after patients with eating disorders and nutrition and health challenges.