Beating the blues

2014-07-17 00:00

ON the National Health Calendar, July is dedicated to Mental Health Awareness. Last time we looked at the role that nutrition plays in warding off mental disorders, and learnt that what we eat dramatically affects our brain health and cognitive ability. The good news today is that eating well and keeping active can ward off the blues that so often hit during the cold winter months.

Consuming the right types of foods at the right times in the right amounts will ensure that the body is fuelled adequately and optimally all through the day. This should help us to avoid the underlying fatigue and poor energy levels that seem to be the norm in our busy society. Many people survive on sugar and caffeine rushes to keep going all day which places greater stress on the body and inevitably results in a crash after the initial high.

By following a few simple guidelines, we can ensure that our blood sugar levels remain stable throughout the day.

Choose lower GI starches

whenever possible

The term GI stands for Glycaemic Index and is a rating of foods indicating their effect on blood sugar levels. A higher-GI food will tend to raise your blood sugar rapidly, causing an over secretion of insulin (which acts as a fat storer) and leaving your energy levels low within a short period. At every meal time, choose a starch that is lower in GI. For example at breakfast choose a cereal such as bran flakes, porridge such as cooked oats, low-GI bread or a lower-GI muffin. At lunch and supper make use of wraps, sweet potatoes, baby potatoes, brown rice, couscous, pasta or low-GI breads.

Always add some lean protein to your meal

Protein increases the meal’s satiety, meaning you will feel fuller for longer. It also helps to moderate the change in blood sugar levels. Lower-fat protein options for breakfast may include any low-fat dairy products (such as milk, yogurt or cottage cheese). Alternatively, a poached or scrambled egg, fishpaste or sardines on toast offer a tasty change to cereals. At lunch and supper, you could add lean chicken, pork, beef, or a form of legumes such as hummus or baked beans.

Eat regularly

I often have clients bemoaning the fact that if they eat breakfast they feel like eating constantly for the rest of the day, whereas if they skip breakfast they can quite happily not eat anything until late afternoon or even make it to supper time. Feeling hungry in this context is a good sign that the metabolism is active and the body is ready to burn up some more fuel. Skipping meals and not eating for many hours at a time causes the metabolic rate to slow down and the body to enter a fat-storage mode. Blood sugar levels also drop through the day and need regular refuelling. Late-afternoon energy dips can often be avoided by topping up with a fresh fruit between meals, or snacking on a few crackers with cottage cheese, or a few handfuls of lightly salted popcorn.

Be active

Aim to make time everyday for an activity that you enjoy. Make sure it is vigorous enough that your heart and breathing rates increase. This will improve circulation, mental alertness and general wellbeing. The most common reason I hear in my practice for not exercising is a lack of time. I haven’t yet found the easy solution for this problem, but prioritising physical activity is the starting point to affecting the change. Try dancing to a favourite song on the radio or skipping while waiting for the kettle to boil.

To make sure your mood and energy levels don’t drop with the temperatures this winter, keep active and eat well throughout the day, everyday.

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