In the spring, flowers blooming and more hours of sunshine bring a welcome mood boost after the flu bugs and grey of winter.
What and when you eat can profoundly affect mood. Here are three helpful strategies to put in place year-round, free of what our west coast weather is doing.
Strategy 1: Eat Regularly
Somewhere on the list of top ten reasons you might be cranky is low blood sugar. Too long between meals and snacks (typically more than 4 hours) can leave you feeling blue. Symptoms of low blood sugar range from irritability, fatigue and dizziness, to clammy skin and even fainting.
If you find you're a bit irritable mid-morning or afternoon, it could mean it’s time for a snack. Pack an extra snack with your lunch to keep blood sugar steady throughout the day. An apple or pear, whole grain crackers with a little cheese, or bell pepper strips and snap peas with dip are quick, healthy options.
Avoid the temptation of high sugar/refined carbohydrate goodies (cookies, chips and candy). While you'll get a quick burst of energy, these foods without protein and fibre do not supply a lasting mood and energy boost.
Strategy 2: Make up for the lack of sunshine
In addition to keeping bones and the immune system healthy, vitamin D is involved in regulating levels of serotonin (the feel good hormone).
Our bodies can build vitamin D with enough sun exposure, but at this time of year we’re still not getting enough from being outdoors – even with a 10-day getaway somewhere tropical.
Make up the difference by eating foods rich in vitamin D such as milk products (milk, cheese, yogurt), fortified soy beverages, lean meat, eggs, salmon and tuna. The current recommendation for vitamin D is at least 400 IU per day. Two servings of milk products provide only 200 IU. Health Canada suggests all adults over age 50 take a multivitamin containing 400 IU. Many experts recommend more.
Strategy 3: Fight Brain Drain
If you always feel drained despite getting enough sleep and making reasonable food choices, you may want to rule out anemia.
Anemia can be due to iron deficiency, a lack of folic acid or shortage of vitamin B12.
Signs of anemia include fatigue, irritability, easy bruising, pale skin and weakness. Iron is abundant in lean meat, fish, eggs, whole grain breads, dark green vegetables, some dried fruit and whole grain cereals. Excellent sources of folic acid include “foliage” (dark green veggies), legumes (beans and lentils), mushrooms and citrus fruits.
Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal products – eggs, meat, poultry, fish and shellfish and milk products. If you eat only small amounts of animal products, or are vegan you may need to take B12 by supplement. Check with your doctor and a dietitian before self-prescribing.
* The easiest way to implement these “feel-good-food” strategies is to ensure you keep a variety of fresh healthy foods on hand at home and at work. A little planning can go a long way to save time you can put towards other mood-boosting activities like going for a seaside walk, reading a good book or catching up with an old friend.
Patricia Chuey is a registered dietitian and Senior Nutrition Consultant to SportMedBC. She can be reached at www.patriciachuey.com.
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