Low mood and depression are common problems for many people of all ages.
If you struggle with feelings of depression, loss of motivation and enthusiasm, or if you have difficulty finding joy in everyday life it's time to rethink your diet.
Our diet and lifestyle can have a profound effect on our mood and research reveals there's a direct link between what we eat and how we feel.
In fact, studies suggest people with depression often make food choices that can actually make them feel worse.
Fortunately, there are many foods that can put a smile on your face and make your body feel awesome.
These foods provide you with the right nutrients or co-factors the body needs to produce neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) that give up a natural lift.
You are what you eat: Our diet and lifestyle can have a profound effect on our mood and research reveals there's a direct link between what we eat and how we feel (file image)
Depression affects around one in 10 adults with estimates that up to 50 percent of the population will experience at least one episode of depression during their lives.
Mainstream medicine still relies upon psychoactive drugs that not only have a success rate of 50 percent or less but are fraught with potential side effects.
Current research suggests depression is actually linked to an array of underlying factors including inflammation, insulin resistance, oxidative stress, poor methylation and hormone imbalances.
By tackling these underlying imbalances you can improve overall brain health and boost mood too.
Fixing your brain starts with fixing your body. Optimising what you put in and taking out the negative influences is the first start
This is the basis of Functional Nutritionist and Chef Christine Bailey' s new book The Brain Boost Diet.
Using evidence based research on brain health and proactive lifestyle and dietary changes you can make a profound difference to how you think and feel whatever your age.
If you're looking to eat your way to happiness Christine has developed a three-day Mood Boosting Diet to kick start a happier you.
6 healthy eating strategies to boost your mood
1. Avoid processed foods
Avoiding blood sugar imbalances is one of the quickest ways to notice an immediate improvement in mood.
This means ditching the refined sugary carbohydrates, white starch, fruit juices and sugary smoothies and instead basing your meals around lean proteins, healthy fats (like oily fish, avocado, olives, nuts and seeds) and plenty of antioxidant rich vegetables.
2. Stop being fat phobic
Around 60 percent of your brain is fat – mostly comprised of phospholipids and omega 3 fats. Deprive your body of these healthy fats and your focus, concentration and mood will suffer.
Healthy fats are particularly beneficial to the brain and you can get your daily dose from three different oils – olive oil, coconut oil, and omega 3 rich oils such as oily fish.
Extra-virgin olive oil, which is a good source of polyphenols and monounsaturated fats helps protect the brain cells and lower inflammation.
Coconut oil is rich in special fats called MCT or medium-chain triglycerides that can improve your brain function.
Essential omega-3 fats present in oily fish (e.g sardines, mackerel, salmon, trout, halibut, anchovies) walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds have been shown in studies to boost mood and tackle depression.
Daily dose of broccoli, cauliflower and sprouts could…
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3. Drink green tea
If you're feeling stressed, then grab a cup of green tea. Green tea contains potent antioxidants including catechins known to protect the brain as well as L theanine which has been shown to improve focus and concentration and lower the stress response.
4. Eat vitamin D rich foods
Low levels of vitamin D are associated with low mood and depression. It is difficult to get sufficient vitamin D in the winter as the main source is sunlight. It is found in small amounts in mushrooms, liver, egg yolks, full fat dairy and oily fish but you may need to take a supplement over the winter.
5. Include fermented foods daily
Recent studies are revealing the importance of a healthy gut flora to mood. Boosting the levels of beneficial gut bacteria have been shown to help the body cope with stress, reduce anxiety and improve mood. Try and include fermented foods daily such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and miso. It may also be helpful to take a good quality probiotic supplement.
6. Try magnesium
When we are stressed, exercise regularly, drink excessive alcohol or consume too many sugary foods we deplete our body's magnesium reserves.
Magnesium is a powerful relaxant mineral it's particularly beneficial if you suffer with stress, anxiety or poor sleep.
YOUR 3-DAY PLAN
Here is a list of meals to keep your mood boosted. Scroll down for the recipes showing how to make them.
Chocolate protein overnight peanut bowl
- a great slow releasing breakfast option to energise your body and brain through the morning
- Bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan as well as vitamins A, B6 and C, fibre, potassium, phosphorous, iron and carbohydrate
- Mood-boosting carbohydrates aid in the absorption of tryptophan in the brain
- vitamin B6 helps convert the tryptophan into the mood-lifting hormone serotonin, helping to boost your mood
Oatmeal is a great slow releasing breakfast option to energise your body and brain
Chicken burrito bowl
- Chicken is a good source of lean protein, and also contains dietary choline and vitamins B6 and B12 to help maintain healthy homocysteine levels
- High levels of homocysteine have been associated with cognitive decline
- Choline and the B vitamins have been shown to play important roles in healthy cognition and provide neuro-protective benefits
- Choline is an essential building block in acetylcholine, a brain chemical that helps memory
Smashed avocado on gluten free oat cakes or rice cakes
- Known for their heart healthy fats, avocados are packed with monounsaturated fats known to lower inflammation (inflammation can disrupt levels of mood boosting neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin)
- Avocados are packed with tyrosine, an amino acid that helps the body produce dopamine which helps increase feelings of reward and motivation helping to lift mood
Fish Pie made with mixed fish including salmon and prawns and top with a sweet potato mash. Serve with steamed vegetables or salad.
- Wild-caught salmon is one of the best foods for both your mood and brain health
- This lean protein is rich in vitamin B12 which has been shown to reduce feelings of depression
- It also packs plenty of omega 3 fats which help optimize brain function and production of neurotransmitters
- Salmon is also rich in Tryptophan, the amino acid required to boost serotonin levels
Scrambled eggs with shittake mushrooms and wilted spinach
- The protein in eggs, particularly the yolks can significantly boost your blood plasma levels of tryptophan and tyrosine – the building blocks to mood neurotransmitters
- They also contain choline and omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve memory too
- Shittake mushrooms are rich in energising B vitamins particularly B6
- Because vitamin B6 impacts the production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, healthy B6 levels are associated with a positive mood and reducing stress naturally
Eggs are filled with protein while mushrooms are rich in de-stressing vitamin B
Lemon tahini wilted kale salad with chickpeas
- Kale is packed with B vitamins, folate and magnesium, which are essential for the production of neurotransmitters including mood boosting serotonin and dopamine
- The seeds and tahini contain healthy fats, zinc and vitamin E, which all have an important role to play in cognitive function
Kefir protein smoothie (blend up kefir with a scoop of protein powder and add a cup of fresh or frozen berries)
- Probiotic rich foods like yogurt and kefir are a must for a healthy brain
- Packed with beneficial bacteria researchers have found probiotics can help fight depression and anxiety
- It is thought that bacteria may decrease inflammation in the body and increase levels of tryptophan
- Berries are loaded with antioxidants including anthocyanidins, known to boost brain function and promote brain and nervous system health
- Berries are also low in sugar and calories and packed with fibre to help balance blood sugar and energy levels
Turkey chili with wholegrain rice and broccoli
- Turkey is a protein packed food rich in tryptophan, which the body uses to make serotonin
- Lean poultry also contains another amino acid called tyrosine, which can help reduce symptoms of depression and boost motivation by improving levels of dopamine too
Optional bedtime drink
Golden milk turmeric smoothie
- Curcumin, one of the active compounds in turmeric, is capable of crossing the blood–brain barrier, which is one reason why it holds promise as a neuro-protective agent
- Known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it might help in the prevention and recovery of brain function in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's
Bullet-Proof Mocha Mushroom Smoothie
- Medicinal mushrooms like Lion's mane and Reishi have been shown to be particularly beneficial for brain health
- Lion's mane appears to improve cognitive function and nerve regeneration
- They are adaptogenic – helping the body cope with daily stress
- These powders are now widely available and make a great addition to smoothies and soups
- If you are caffeine sensitive choose a quality decaffeinated brand, Green tea or use dandelion coffee
Smoked mackerel salad with raw sauerkraut or kimchi
- Eating foods like probiotics that promote good bacteria in the gut can also improve your focus and mood
Mackerel is an oily fish rich in probiotics that promote good bacteria and boost your mood
Handful nuts and two squares of dark chocolate
- There are over 300 naturally-occurring chemicals in chocolate, and some of them can affect the human brain via the release of particular neurotransmitters which affect how we think and feel
- Phenylethylamine is sometimes called 'the love drug', because it arouses feelings similar to those that occur when one is in love
- Another chemical found in chocolate known as tryptophan causes the release of the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin
- A recent study found that eating 40g (just an ounce and a half) of dark chocolate daily for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in highly stressed, anxious individuals
- The researchers discovered that compounds in dark chocolate affected our beneficial gut bacteria which changed the metabolism of stress hormones reducing overall anxiety
- Nuts are full of serotonin, a feel-good chemical that's in short supply when you're depressed
- Nuts are also full of antioxidants and healthy fats – vital nutrients for optimising brain health
Grilled lamb with aubergine & minty chimichurri with mixed salad
- Lamb is a rich source of high-quality protein, essential for neurotransmitter production
- It is also an outstanding source of many vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and vitamin B12, all of which are important for cognitive function
- Low iron can result in poor energy, cognitive function and low mood
- Lamb is also a good source of taurine, a potent neuro-protective amino acid that might also improve sleep patterns and overall cognitive function
For more information buy The Brain Boost Diet Plan: 4 weeks to optimise your mood, memory and brain health for life or visit Christine Bailey's website
Chocolate Protein Overnight Peanut Bowl
The night before simply blend up a small banana 1 banana with a scoop of vanilla or chocolate protein powder, 1tbsp raw cacao powder, 1tsp peanut or almond nut butter with around 125ml almond milk. Place in a bowl and spoon in 40g gluten free oats. Soak in the fridge overnight. Serve with plain yogurt and berries.
Chicken Burrito Bowl
The chicken burrito bowl
A lovely one-bowl dish full of fresh flavours, this salad is a perfect way to use up leftover meat and veggies. Using broccoli for the rice is a fun way to eat cruciferous vegetables. The toasted garlic dressing is full of punchy flavours and is just as delicious poured over cooked vegetables or pulses. Add some salad leaves/greens and coriander/cilantro to the bowl for extra freshness, if you like. Any leftover dressing is delicious drizzled over salad or steamed vegetables.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
- ½ tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley leaves
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper or taco seasoning
- 200g/7oz cooked chicken, shredded
- ½ cucumber, cut in half and thinly sliced
- ½ red pepper/bell pepper, deseeded and diced
- 30g/1oz/1/3 cup pitted black olives, cut in half
- ½ avocado, pitted, skinned and diced
- Put the garlic cloves in a non-stick frying pan and toast for 1 minute or until the garlic has turned golden. Leave to cool, then crush the garlic. Put in a screwtop jar and add the mustard, parsley, vinegar and oil, then shake to mix thoroughly. (This dressing will store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
- Put the broccoli in a food processor, or electric chopper, and pulse gently to form rice-like grains. Leave to one side.
- Heat half the coconut oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently for 2 minutes or until softened. Tip in the broccoli and spices, and stir to coat in the oil. Cover and steam-fry for 2 minutes to soften the broccoli slightly. Add the cooked chicken and mix well.
- Put the cucumber in a bowl and add the red pepper/bell pepper, olives and avocado. Mix well. Divide the broccoli rice between two bowls. Divide the cucumber mixture between the bowls. Drizzle over a little of the dressing and serve.
Lemon Tahini Wilted Kale Salad with Chickpeas
Place 150g chopped kale in a bowl. Mix together 1tbsp tahini, 1tbsp lemon juice, sea salt, black pepper and 1/4 tsp each of cumin powder and tamari soy sauce. Pour over the kale and using your hands massage the dressing into the kale so that it wilts. Toss in 1/2 can chickpeas, halved cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices and toasted seeds.
Turkey chili with wholegrain rice and broccoli
Use 100g lean turkey mince, 1/2 can chopped tomatoes, chili paste and 1/2 can kidney beans. Serve with 50g cooked wholegrain rice, steamed broccoli, green beans and salad.
Golden Milk Turmeric Smoothie
This luxurious-tasting smoothie will make you feel good from the inside out. With just a handful of ingredients it's the perfect anti-inflammatory boost for your body and a comforting bedtime drink.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
- 400ml/14fl oz/1¾ cups full-fat coconut milk
- ½ tsp ground turmeric or 5mm/1/4in piece root turmeric, peeled and grated
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- a pinch of ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp xylitol or erythritol, or to taste (or pinch of stevia)
- a slice of peeled root ginger
- 1 tsp coconut oil
Pour the milk into a blender or food processor and add the turmeric, cinnamon, pepper and erythritol, then whiz until smooth.
Pour the mixture into a saucepan and add the ginger and oil. Simmer for 5 minutes to allow the flavour to develop. Strain and serve warm.
Bullet-Proof Mocha Mushroom Smoothie
Blend together 150ml cold brewed coffee, 150ml almond milk, 1tsp coconut oil, 1 scoop chocolate protein powder, 1tsp almond nut butter, 1tsp medicinal mushroom powder and a little xylitol or stevia to sweeten.
Grilled Lamb with Aubergine & Minty Chimichurri
The grilled lamb with aubergine
In this twist on the traditional spicy chimichurri dressing, an abundance of fresh herbs adds to the overall flavour, and it also has the plus of increasing the health benefits too. Any leftover dressing is delicious drizzled over meat and fish dishes and will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus 2 hours or overnight marinating
Cooking time: 20 minutes
- 2 lean lamb fillet steaks, 120g/4¼oz each
- 1 small aubergine/eggplant, cut into chunks
- 1 tbsp olive oil1/2 tsp ground cumin (remove if needed for space)
- 1 handful of salad leaves/greens
- 6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 1 spring onion/scallion, cut into thin matchsticks
- 1 handful of fresh mint leaves
- a small bunch of parsley leaves
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- ¼ tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp sherry vinegar, or red wine vinegar
- sea salt and ground black pepper
- To make the dressing, put all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and whiz to form a chunky sauce. Put the lamb fillets in a shallow container. Spoon half the dressing over and coat the lamb thoroughly. Cover and put in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight, if possible.
- Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5, Gas mark 7. Put the aubergine/eggplant in a roasting pan. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes or until the aubergine is soft and lightly golden, stirring occasionally. Remove from the oven and leave to one side.
- Meanwhile, heat a griddle/grill pan until hot. Season the lamb with pepper, then pan-fry for 4–5 minutes on each side or until cooked to your liking. Remove from the pan and allow the lamb to rest for 5 minutes. Slice thinly.
- Serve the lamb with the salad leaves/greens, the aubergine and tomatoes, sprinkled with spring onion/scallion, and drizzled with a little of the dressing.