Trying to manage your friends, social life, coursework, revision, a job and exams can start to impact your mood. As a result, you’re likely to be highly susceptible to stress and low mood as you try to tackle everything. Firstly, you should realise that you’re not the only one going through it and talking to your friends, peers and lecturers can often help you to feel less stressed.
Secondly, did you know that your diet can significantly help or hinder your stress levels, low mood and anxiety? Let me explain…
During times of stress the brain reduces the importance of any unnecessary processes such as digestion, reproduction and food requirements in order to tackle the stress. However, in today’s society too many of us are running around with constant stress which is leading to issues in digestion and gut health, weight maintenance, anxiety, sleep and poor food choices to name but a few.
However, it’s not all bad news and the food we eat can help with stress management. Individuals under chronic stress often require higher nutrient dense foods. Nevertheless, in reality during stressful times we typically reach for the less nutrient dense high sugar, high fat comfort foods.
Below I’ve outlined my top tips for eating well to support your mood.
- Support your happy hormone
Tryptophan is an amino acid which along with vitamins B3, B6 and magnesium help to produce serotonin. Serotonin contributes to heightened mood and as a result will help you to feel better and manage your stress levels more efficiently. Foods rich in tryptophan include tofu, turkey, oats, eggs, cheese, salmon and nuts.
The second dietary component that is important in synthesising serotonin is carbs (shock!). Have you ever been on a low carb diet and felt groggy and irritable? Or are you someone who knows that carbs make you happy? There’s a scientific reason why. Opt for complex carbohydrates to help balance your blood sugar levels and prevent you experiencing sugar crashes which could lead to heightened stress and anxiety. Complex carbohydrates include whole grains, oats, beans, chickpeas, rye toast, wholegrain pasta, fruits and vegetables etc.
- Eat your B-vits
B-vitamins are vital in energy production. Vitamin B deficiencies may promote stress-like effects such as anxiety, fatigue and irritability. Vitamin B5 is particularly essential in helping to control some of the stress mechanisms. Foods rich in pantothenic acid (aka B5) include: seeds, avocado, eggs and broccoli.
- Reduce your coffee intake
Whilst the coffee debate is still on going, it’s clear that excess caffeine stimulates cortisol production (the stress hormone) which can lead to energy highs and energy lows. If you’re experiencing chronic stress, low mood or anxiety try swapping your pre-lecture coffee for green or herbal tea. Green tea contains L-theanine as it promotes the release of GABA (a neurotransmitter) which has a calming effect on the brain. The L-theanine also ensures the caffeine is released as a slower rate to prevent energy dips and spikes.
- Get your dose of dark chocolate
I bet you never thought a nutritionist would be telling you to eat chocolate! Dark chocolate is actually a great source of magnesium that plays a role in muscle and nerve relaxation. Foods rich in magnesium include green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate and almonds. Ensure you’re not over-consuming on the milk varieties…
- Ensure you’re hitting your 5 a day
It’s no secret that fruits and vegetables are good for our health but they also play a key role in our mental wellbeing. Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin C, it’s not just oranges which contain this famous nutrient). Vitamin C is required for the metabolism of the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine (stick with me here). These amino acids help increase the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norephinephrine, both of which act as anti-depressants to the brain. As a result, fruits and veggies are really important in looking after your mental wellbeing and whilst they alone won’t cure mental illness they can help to support you through it.
So there you have my top tips for using nutrition to support your mental wellbeing.
For more tips and recipes follow my Instagram @jennahopenutrition.
Tomato and egg pizza
1 wholemeal wrap
1 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp mixed herbs
salt to taste
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C.
- Brush the wrap with olive oil and place in the oven for 8-10 minutes.
- Cut the peppers and tomatoes into cubes.
- Add the peppers and tomatoes to a bowl with the tomato puree, mixed herbs and salt. Mix well.
- Remove the wrap from the oven and add the mixture to the top of the wrap.
- Crack an egg in the centre and place under the grill for 3-4 minutes. Be careful not to burn.
Eggs are a source of vitamin D which can be difficult to obtain from the diet. Vitamin D plays a key role in mood regulation. The tomatoes and peppers are also a source of lycopene, an antioxidant which helps to remove free radicals in the body.