I’m often asked about my best advice for those wishing to transform their body or the most powerful foods to help lose weight and many similar questions. The starting point and without doubt the most powerful tool we possess in achieving our goals is our mind. It can also be a liability! January is that time of year where we set targets, we make promises, we take action and gather all our will power and drive into our new program and eating regime. It can be a difficult time for people. Many people look in the mirror and feel unhappy at what they see, depression is common place and all the fun of the festive season is over! Fear not, we are going to look at what’s happening and which foods can really help in giving you a boost -both physically and emotionally! 

Exercise & Food – The Magic Combination

Exercise releases endorphins in the brain which make us feel incredible and naturally boost our sense of well-being. Getting regular exercise is hugely important for our mental health. When we eat food, our brain also rewards us with many “feel-good” chemical messengers such as serotonin and dopamine. When we combine regular exercise and good food in the right way, we engage the most powerful reward system which can not only charge our body with energy but also give us a wonderful feeling and lift our mood. Certain foods can drain us of energy and others can provide the metabolic spark plugs we need. Let us have a look at different foods, vitamins, minerals and powerful compounds than can help beat the January blues and raise our mood.

Vitamin D -The Sunshine Vitamin

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin which we get from various foods and from direct sunlight! Vitamin D is very important in bone health and muscle development. As we live in Ireland – we may not be getting enough direct sunshine, especially in the winter months, so we must rely on getting our Vitamin D from either food sources or a supplement. I nearly always prefer whole foods. Vitamin D is also linked to the production of dopamine which impacts our mood significantly. To ensure you are getting sufficient levels of Vitamin D, make sure you are eating oily fish like sardines, salmon or tuna. If you don’t like oily fish, you can also get Vitamin D from cereals and many soy milks and other foods are now fortified with Vitamin D. Vegetarians can get ample vitamin D from peppers, melon, mango, avocado, and butternut squash. And get outside to soak up some winter rays as well. 

Greens, Greens, Greens

In working with elite athletes, sick patients and everything I read and research daily – Leafy Greens are one of those ubiquitous foods that appear on nearly every list of what to eat to improve health and performance. These nutrient dense foods are essential for the feel-good factor. Leafy greens are packed with B-Vitamins and very high in Folate as well. Vitamin B6 is crucial for transforming tryptophan into serotonin and folates have also been linked to so many different conditions of the nervous system including irritability, insomnia and anxiety. Folates can be found in spinach, black beans and avocado. Leafy greens are also full of antioxidants which not only fight ageing and oxidative damage of the skin but also in the brain! We need to protect our brain health as much as any other part of our body to ensure vitality, health and good mood.

Omega 3

Omega 3 fatty acid plays a critical role in the development and function of the central nervous system. There is a growing body of evidence and research linking Omega 3 with mood disorders and some have even identified Omega 3’s as a potential treatment for various mood disorders. Not only that, but Omega 3’s can also improve your immune system, help stabilize your blood sugar and leave your skin glowing. Where can we find them? These omega 3’s can be found in fish oils, Algae oil, walnuts, flaxseeds, hemp seeds and Chia seeds. Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed or chia to your cereal each morning to supercharge your brain health and lift your mood.

B-Vitamins and Complex Carbohydrates

B-Vitamins have long been linked with positive mental health and vitality. Not only that, but low levels of Vitamins B12, B6 and Folates have been linked with depression. Vegetarians and vegans need to supplement directly with B12. Vitamin B12 has been shown to help regulate adrenal function, enhance memory and assist in nerve growth and development. Good food sources of Vitamin B12 are fish, meat, poultry eggs and dairy. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you may supplement with B12.

As mentioned previously, tryptophan is an important amino acid which helps in the production of melatonin and serotonin. This help calm us down and are found in many complex carbohydrates. When we finish training, especially in the evening time, it is important to unwind. When we eat foods like complex carbohydrates, this puts our body into what is known as the “rest & recover” para-sympathetic state. In this state, we feel calm and relaxed and our body starts to recover.


Take Home Message

When we consume high sugar, high energy foods which do not possess any nutrient value, we suffer! We can suffer physically, mentally and emotionally. This can have a toll over a longer period. When we start to look after our body and our mind though good nutrition and regular exercise, this automatically lifts our mood, it changes how we feel and invigorates us with positivity. The key messages here are as follows;

  • Exercise – move, get off the couch and get moving. This is the most important first step which can kick start you into action and improve mental health.
  • Make sure you are getting a healthy balance of whole foods which are not loaded with sugar and processed.
  • Start to include foods which are high in Vitamin D, Omega-3 and B-Vitamins.
  • Your mental health is probably more important than any other aspect of health – “all action is born in the mind”. Take care of it, as it drives all other aspects of health.
  • Include ground seeds on a daily basis; as well as berries, leafy greens and complex carbohydrates.

I would always tell people to go and have a good work out and then re-think whatever is going on in their mind. The gym is a fantastic place to work out the body as well as work out the mind. Nourish it, feed it, fuel it and it will take care of you as well. For more information, recipes and tips, you can contact us on [email protected].