The Nutrition Guru

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Food and how it affects your mood

Do you find life a struggle sometimes, with so much you need to do but no motivation to do it? You wake up and feel overwhelmed by the day ahead and generally feel low. We now know that food can directly affect how we feel, think and behave!

Evidence linking diet and mood, concentration, IQ, anxiety levels and wellbeing is growing at a rapid pace.  Anyone who has ever drank alcohol, tea or coffee or eaten chocolate knows that such products can improve one’s mood. However, it is not commonly known that something as simple as low levels of certain nutrients can leave you feeling blue or simply unmotivated.

Studies demonstrate how low intakes of fish (rich in omega 3 fats), is correlated with high levels of depression among its citizens – and the reverse – have been shown for many types of depression. Those with low intakes of folate, or folic acid, have been found to be significantly more likely to be diagnosed with depression than those with higher intakes. Similar conclusions have been drawn from studies looking at the association of depression with low levels of zinc and vitamins B1, B2 and C.

Complex carbohydrates, as well as certain food components such as folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and tryptophan are thought to decrease the symptoms of depression.

How you help improve your mood and overall wellbeing with simple dietary changes?

What looks like a reasonably healthy diet may not be providing your body with sufficient nutrients to produce the feel good hormone Serotonin or fuel the neurotransmitters in your brain.

Plan a weekly menu for you and your family, ensuring you are getting a diet rich in the following nutrients:

  • Omega 3 fats for both brain structure and function (oily fish such as wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, pilchards) or take a good quality fish oil supplement.
  • Protein (amino acids), known as the architect of mood and mind.  They help produce the brain’s essential messengers, neurotransmitters (fish, poultry, eggs, meat, dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds).
  • Phospholipids enhance our mood, mind and mental performance (eggs, sardines, organ meat, or, if you don’t eat these sprinkle over your cereal or in a yoghurt 1 tablespoon of lecithin).
  • Balanced blood sugar levels – aim to eat regularly, three low GI small meals and two snacks a day to avoid blood sugar dips, which make us feel tired, and negatively affect our mood. Aim to pair up some protein with complex carbohydrates and ditch the ‘white stuff’; white bread, baguettes, buns, biscuits, white pasta and watch your energy levels soar!
  • Vitamins and Minerals are the intelligent nutrients to keep the brain in tune (aim to eat plenty of fresh brightly coloured fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds in your diet).

Natural sugars versus sweeteners

Do you find yourself craving certain foods? Well if you do you’re not alone.  In my Nutrition clinic there’s not a day goes by when I don’t encounter an ‘artificial sweetener’ junkie. On their quest for a healthy diet, they seem to be able to make all manner of dietary changes. However, this is the hardest one to give up every time, even though it often makes them feel lousy, giving them headaches and cravings for more.

The truth is that artificial sweeteners and other additives are, by and large, chemicals produced in labs, and were never intended to feed human bodies. The more artificial and unnatural the product, the more likely it is to affect the basic structure of our DNA, causing damage and possibly cancer. Following research studies into the possible role of artificial sweeteners causing cancer, Cyclamate was banned by the FDA in the US.

These additives play a major, albeit covert, role in the current obesity crisis.

The majority of sweeteners and artificial additives are found in fatty, salty, sugary foods that are not the healthiest food choices. These additives just make foods that are bad for us last longer, taste better, cheaper, and more addictive.

My clients will tell you that when they’ve cracked the habit they are released from this nasty addiction and start to feel well again, so start reading the labels and avoid these nasties for good.

You’ll find them in all manner of diet products and drinks, biscuits, cakes, chocolate and desserts. Look out for aspartame, acesulfame-K, saccharin, sorbitol, splenda, nutrasweet and candarel.

If you want healthy alternatives for home cooking try Xylitol, Agave syrup and F.O.S (Fructo Oligo Saccharide). These are delicious natural low GI sugars that can be used as you would regular sugars or syrups. Xylitol is just like granuated sugar and can be sprinkled on porridge, used in drinks, cakes, desserts, yoghurts etc. Xylitol has the added benefit of helping prevent dental cavities, so it’s perfect for baking with the kids.

Agave is a wonderful alternative to honey, golden and maple syrup but won’t give you the blood sugar highs and lows normally associated with sugary foods, so they are better for your waistline to. F.O.S can be used like you would icing sugar, it’s a type of fibre and a prebiotic so it supports the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria and again it doesn’t elevate blood sugar.  Studies have found that F.O.S. can promote calcium absorption in the gut.

Large supermarkets now sell Agave syrup in the baking section, but for xylitol or xylosweet and F.O.S. (by Biocare) try an online supplier such as Revital (

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