Thursday, 26 September 2013

SAD 2013: Food to lift your mood


(Disclaimer: I’m not in any way an expert in diet, exercise, mental health or health in general.  All my advice on SAD is based on my own experience of it and on information I’ve picked up on the way.  If you believe you’re suffering from SAD or any other health condition your first port of call should be with your doctor to rule out the possibility underlying illness.)

We know that what we eat affects our physical health but how often do we consider the impact on our mental health?  For SAD sufferers having a basic understanding of the link is vital.  This isn’t an in depth explanation of nutrition, I’m just going to stick to this basic fact: Some foods cause your blood sugar to climb quickly, giving you a brief spike in energy which is followed swiftly by a ‘crash’, when your body’s burned up the sugar and your energy level plummets.  If you experience any kind of mood disorder this is particularly troublesome as it just adds to energy/mood dips.

Food where the sugar’s accessed and used up quickly are classed as high GI (Glycemic Index) and foods where the sugar’s used up slowly are classed as low GI.  Examples of high GI foods are:


  • Refined sugars in sweets, chocolate, cakes and biscuits.
  • Processed carbohydrates in pasta (cooked until soft), bread, rice and breakfast cereals such as Cornflakes and Rice Crispies.

You don’t need to give up high GI foods but it helps to cut down on them and eat them along side lower GI foods such as:

  • Grains such as oats, quinoa, barley and millet.
  • Wild rice.
  • Pasta cooked so that it’s barely tender.
  • Beans and lentils.
  • Bread containing lots of grains and where the flour hasn't been greatly processed.
  • Most fruits and vegetables.

If you’d like to find out more there’s a list of low, medium and high GI food here.


Caffeine can also give you spikes and crashes.  Last year I cut right down on caffeine and switched to herbal tea and decaffeinated coffee and it played a big part in evening out my mood. The Yogi brand herbal teas are better than your average herbal tea and they have some intriguing, complex blends such as 'Woman's Energy', 'Cold Season' and 'Breath Deep'.  They're available in many health food shops and online.  If you don't want to give up caffeine pair it with a low GI snack like oatcakes or a piece of fruit.  The low GI snack will cause a slow peak in your blood sugar which should take some of the sting out of the caffeine spike/crash.

On the subject of drinks alcohol is also very sugary and is a stimulant, like caffeine, so avoid drinking excessively as it could make you a very grumpy drunk! 

This is a much repeated advice but I'm going to say it anyway; drink plenty of water every day.  Most of us spend most of our time dehydrated!  This makes it harder for your internal organs and all of your cells to shift out waste products, and being dehydrated can leave you sluggish and confused.  Your skin will glow after a couple of days of good hydration, which is a bonus.  If you don't like drinking water mix in a little high juice squash for flavour.

Examples of tasty, filling things to eat to keep you balanced during SAD:

Breakfast: Porridge with cinnamon, nutmeg, maple syrup, fresh berries or frozen berries heated up and mixed in.  I use sweetened soy milk in my porridge as it's creamy and sweet.  I mix it together the night before, leave in covered in the fridge then microwave it for two minutes the next morning.  It's much better for you than quick oats, is more filling and much cheaper.  Granola with low fat plain or soy yogurt is very tasty and is more like eating dessert than breakfast although some granolas are heavy on the sugar.  Whole grain toast drizzled with olive oil (especially basil olive oil) and lightly spread with Marmite hits the spot if you have a savory tooth.

Lunch:  Tuna salad sandwich on wholegrain bread is easy to make if you're in a rush and it's satisfying at lunchtime, something to sink your teeth into.  Sardines on wholegrain toast are comfort food at it's best, as is a large bowl of thick, home made soup (make a big batch, freeze in portions and you'll save time, effort and money).

Dinner:  Replace white pasta with wholemeal pasta and/or cook it until it's still slightly firm.  Top it with lashings of bolognaise sauce loaded with vegetables and herbs and you've got a mighty filling meal.  Or keep things simple with jacket potato and beans (although I always end up sprinking cheese over it, it's just too happy-making to miss).  A piece of fish, sauce, new potatoes or mash made with the skins still on the potatoes and served with lightly cooked veg is easy and filling, and if you buy ready-to-steam vegetables and fish portions it will take very little time to prepare at the end of the day.

Snacks:  Oatcakes or rice crackers with a bit of peanut butter or hummus fill the hungry gap well, as do vegetables dipped in hummus and oat bars instead of biscuits.  Chopped up fruit and plain popcorn kernels air-popped in the microwave are good for nibbling on.  If you enjoy chocolate try dark chocolate containing cocoa solids of 70% and up; two or three pieces of dark chocolate a day is good for you as it contains antioxidants which help cells repair themselves.

Food should be a joy but it should also give you what you need to function at your best.  You deserve food that's good for you and that you enjoy; don't fob yourself off with rubbishy food, you're worth more than that.

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