Eating more of the right foods can positively support mental health and it is a real honour this month to share with you this guest blog by Media Nutritionist and Author, Jenny Tschiesche.
There are some very specific interactions between food/drink and the body which lead to an increase in neurotransmitters responsible for both positive and negative emotions. To find out which foods could help you beat stress, concentrate more, sleep better, relax more and reduce anxiety read on….below:
Stressed? Foods to Beat Stress
Stress breaks down protein in the body which explains why people under extreme stress often lose
weight. You need to ensure that each of your main meals contains some form of protein so that your
intake is regular. The quality of that protein is important as is variety. Opt for grass-fed meats,
organic poultry, and wild fish as well as nuts, seeds and legumes.
Inflammation is triggered by stress hormones. This in turn can create inflammation in the body. To
reduce inflammation, you should try and get enough omega 3 fatty acids into your diet. Omega 3
can be found in oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines if you’re a fish eater. If not, you can
always supplement. Algal oil is a suitable vegan source of omega 3 fatty acids whilst fish oil
supplements are widely available from good health food stores.
When stressed, our bodies tend to focus on dealing with the stress and not with other bodily
processes. Digestion is often one of the first processes to be dropped from the priority stack. To help
your body during stressful periods try to consume foods that are easier to digest such as homemade
vegetable soups and broths, white fish, rice and lower sugar fruits such as berries and Granny Smith
Liquorice tea can support adrenal function which is often affected when your body is under stress.
Your adrenals are located just above your kidneys hence the term ‘ad’ ‘renal’ – upon your kidneys.
They produce stress hormones when your body senses that they’re required. Our modern western
lifestyle causes a lot to be asked of these small glands. Try adding a cup of liquorice tea to your daily
Moody? Foods to Boost Your Mood
Depression has been linked to low levels of folic acid. Food’s rich in folic acid include green
vegetables, pulses and citrus fruits. Try sautéing your green leafy vegetables in some butter or olive
oil to increase absorption of fat-soluble nutrients and serve with your main meal.
Spicy food has been shown to release endorphins when consumed. Endorphins are the body’s
natural way of relieving pain by blocking the nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals. The
neurotransmitter dopamine is also responsible for a sense of reward and pleasure. For some, eating
spicy food triggers a sense of euphoria similar to a high! Be sure to include chillies in your soups,
stews and curries to boost your mood.
Tired? Foods to Improve Sleep
Green tea contains a brain relaxing chemical called L-Theanine which encourages the production of
alpha waves. These are the brain waves we produce when we are relaxed. Green tea can be
consumed throughout the day and even into the evening, unlike other caffeinated drinks.
Foods rich in the amino acid L-Tryptophan have been found to improve sleep because they provide
the amino acid which is the precursor to both serotonin (our happy hormone) and melatonin (our
sleep hormone). Foods rich in L-Tryptophan include poultry, seeds and nuts, beans as well as dairy
In order to sleep well it’s important that you simply eat enough. One 2013 study found that people
who slept for a very short period of time overnight consumed less relative protein and
carbohydrates than normal sleepers. Aim for quality proteins and slow-energy release carbohydrates
such as vegetables and fruit.
Potassium has been linked with improved sleep. Food sources of potassium include leafy greens,
baked potatoes, yogurt, fish, avocadoes and bananas. Including these foods is a good idea to help
improve your quality and length of sleep.
Distracted? Foods to improve concentration & memory
Ripe bananas (those with the brown spots on the skin) are able to stimulate the production of
dopamine, a brain chemical involved in increasing motivation and concentration. The browner
bananas are the richer in tyrosine they are. Freeze peeled and sliced ripe banana in freezer bags or
containers and when you want a quick and easy dessert simply whizz the banana up with avocado,
frozen raspberries in a food processor. You’ll be amazed at the delicious ‘gelato-style’ dessert it
Another source of food that can stimulate the production of the brain chemical dopamine is seed
and nut butters. Enjoy a dollop of either with wedges of freshly chopped apple as a snack or dessert.
Foods that are high in antioxidants such as fruits (especially berries and tomatoes) and vegetables
(especially cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli) are beneficial to concentration levels. These may help
with blood flow to the brain, which will supply the brain cells with more oxygen.
Eating berries at least once a week may protect the brain from age-related memory loss according to
a very large 2012 study. Blueberries and strawberries were the berries used in this study so perhaps
that’s where we should be focussing our attention.
Nervous? Foods to reduce anxiety
B-Vitamins are often depleted in individuals who suffer from anxiety. Algae’s such as spirulina and
chlorella provide a wide range of B-Vitamins. These can be added to your porridge, smoothies or just
sprinkled over any of your main meals.
Certain teas such as valerian and chamomile can help calm you down. Valerian works like a sedative
on the brain so the best time to have a cup is late in the evening i.e. just before bedtime. It should
be brewed for between 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, chamomile tea can be consumed throughout the
day, perhaps 2 or 3 times as and when needed to reduce anxiety.
Magnesium is a calming mineral that nourishes the nervous system and helps prevent anxiety, fear,
nervousness, restlessness and irritability. Magnesium is also very protective of the heart and arteries
which is important if you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks. Food sources of magnesium include
cacao/cocoa, fish, dark green leafy vegetables, beans and lentils.
Insufficient intake of L-tryptophan, L-phenylalanine, or L-tyrosine are associated with increased
symptoms of anxiety. Food’s rich in these amino acids include poultry, seeds and nuts, beans, dairy
products (L-Tryptophan), lentils, chickpeas, nuts, flaxseeds (L-Phenylalanine) and spirulina, eggs and
This article was compiled by Jenny Tschiesche, a best-selling recipe book author and nutritionist,
who runs workshops and webinars on a variety of subjects for mostly corporate wellbeing clients
and sports teams. Find out more at www.lunchboxdoctor.com
I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog as much as I did and are now feeling inspired with your food? Jenny has highlighted some great mood-boosting foods in this blog and if you would like to read why 'how' we eat is just as important as what we eat, read our blog, Mindful Eating for Better Health to find out more.