The Festive and New Year season is now over and our leftover Christmas treats are now long gone or will be very soon. As such, many of us are saying to ourselves that we need to cut out all sweet or savoury treats and start looking after ourselves again. This can be a depressing thought and actually, banning foods completely from your diet creates a negative association with food and your diet will likely be over before you even start! However we can eat intelligently to ensure we are still enjoying food and eating the foods we like!
The food you eat can have a massive impact on your overall mood and mindset, based upon the chemicals they release inside you. Similarly to exercise, food can have a beneficial effect on the regulation of your body’s dopamine and serotonin levels. Serotonin is your ‘feel good’ hormone which also promotes quality sleep, whereas dopamine regulates your feelings of motivation, reward and attention!
Nearly 90 % of all your serotonin is produced in the gut, so it would make sense that keeping your gut happy will have a positive effect on your own mood. Supporting this, poor sleep patterns and anxiety have both been linked to a poor diet in adults. You can improve your gut health by including probiotics and prebiotics in your everyday diet. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts (not as disgusting as they sound) that are easily consumed in dairy products such as yoghurt. Prebiotics promote good gut bacteria and are found in complex carbohydrates such as oats, most green vegetables and bananas.
In fact, complex carbohydrates play an even larger role in both your physical and cognitive well being than just promoting a healthy gut! Found in all vegetables, many fruits and wholegrain foods, complex carbohydrates release sugar into your body slowly, whereas simple carbohydrates (Heavily processed foods such as white rice, french fries, baked potatoes, chocolate and sweets) are broken down and absorbed much more rapidly. This rapid absorption leads to a spike and subsequent drop in blood sugar and insulin release which negatively impacts your mood and also causes you to feel hungry soon after (often why once you start, you can’t stop eating sweets!). In contrast, complex carbohydrates negate this spike and drop, keeping your mood balanced and keeping you feeling fuller for longer!
Complex carbohydrates also contain large volumes of vitamins and minerals. There is a growing amount of scientific research surrounding vitamins and their effect on our cognitive health, with B vitamins receiving the greatest attention. B vitamins have been shown to contribute to healthy brain function, reduce fatigue, enhance immune function and can also protect against depression. Other foods high in B vitamins include eggs, red meat and beetroot.
From a weight loss perspective, you don’t need to have tiny portions that leave you unsatisfied, instead you should include more vegetables in your meals in place of simple carbohydrates. This is due to the simple fact that 200 calories of vegetables take up much more room in your stomach than 200 calories of simple carbohydrates, meaning that you feel full much sooner after consuming less calories! Now, this is not to say you should avoid all simple carbohydrates as we all like to indulge! If you understand how they will interact with your body, then you can happily enjoy that chocolate bar or packet of crisps, releasing dopamine, increasing your mental well being and actually increasing the likelihood that you will stick with your diet as you are not being left unfulfilled.
Eggs themselves are an excellent inclusion in any healthy diet as they not only provide B vitamins but also include healthy fats! Despite the notion that fatty foods should be avoided at all costs to maintain a healthy, happy lifestyle, dietary fat does have its place! Healthy fats facilitate greater absorption of these vitamins that promote health and improved well being. Additionally, studies have shown that low fat diets can increase daily feelings of anger and hostility, so be sure to include some fat in your diet! Another great source of healthy fats are oily fish, which provide both Omega 3 and Zinc. Omega 3 aids with the communication of serotonin and dopamine hormones to the brain, and zinc deficiencies have previously been linked with low mood states in young women.
The importance of protein should not be understated either, as it provides the building blocks for all your bodily functions and allows your brain to regulate your thoughts and feelings. Found in meat, fish, dairy, nuts and beans, protein should be included in each of your meals. Furthermore, protein keeps you feeling fuller than any other macronutrient, contributing to a positive mindset though periods of weight loss.
Unfortunately, people will continue to perform these self-punishing, unsustainable diets that create a negative association with food, however this does not need to be you! With a little bit of knowledge, your diet can be manipulated to provide your mind and body with everything it needs to run happily and optimally, allowing you to smash your personal goals for this year!