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Keep calm and eat well

Stuffed on sprouts and teeming with turkey? All of those Christmas festivities can leave us feeling tired and lethargic. But fear not, you can take care of your wellbeing by ensuring that your diet has enough of the good stuff. Complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals can all improve your nutritional intake and ultimately your mental health. The good news? You can shake off those January blues with a good diet, so you’re ready to face the New Year.

Complex, but not difficult

Feeling sluggish? Know your carbs. Knowing the difference between a ‘complex’ and ‘simple’ carbohydrate can help you to beat the mood swings that come with a high intake of simple carbohydrates such as sugary drinks, sweets, cereals and cakes. These are digested rapidly causing an increase in blood sugar (giving you more buzz than a bee hive), followed by a rapid decline. That explains the lethargic feeling after eating a chocolate bar or fizzy drink.

The body is able to digest complex carbohydrates much slower, releasing energy at sustainable pace, meaning that you don’t get a sudden high or low in your mood. These include sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, peas and brown rice and bread. So dig into some guilt free sweet potato fries.

Fats don’t make you fat

There is a common misconception that fats are bad for you. But research has shown that essential fatty acids found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and tuna) and shellfish, olive oil, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds can improve symptoms of depression, and a higher consumption is also linked to a better night’s sleep.

Holy guacamole!

Wonder why the world is talking about avocado? Foods like avocado, chicken, turkey, dairy and nuts are all rich in amino acids. The amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine and phenylalanine are the precursors for neurotransmitters which regulate mood, sleep, nervous system function, anxiety, motivation, concentration, memory and learning.

Don’t supplement your food

We’ve all heard about vitamins and how important they are. Taking extra vitamins can be helpful for individuals who lack them, but most dieticians agree that there is no better or higher source of vitamins that the ones in good, wholesome food. There are plenty of vitamins which can help us maintain a good level of wellbeing in the cold, dark winter months. Eating broccoli, bell peppers, tomatoes and citrus fruits will fill you with plenty of vitamin C, which helps to ward off those nasty colds. Not to mention our trusty friend, the salmon fish which is packed with vitamin B12 which is needed for neurotransmitter signalling. Research has also suggested that low vitamin B12 is more common in people with depression. So B-12, B-happy!

Get some minerals

Minerals include potassium, calcium, iron and zinc. Looking for your zinc fix? Look no further than Popeye’s favourite snack, spinach! Or, if leafy greens don’t float your boat, bananas have some of the highest potassium content of all foods. These minerals have been shown to be associated with better mental health and well-being. Most dieticians agree that there is no better way of getting the vitamins and minerals that you need than doing it through food. So, why not try a healthy balanced start to 2017?

Made something healthy? Tweet us a picture of your #happyplate to @ncmh_wales!

Lauren Bratton

Lauren is a psychology student at Cardiff University, currently on a placement year at the National Centre for Mental Health.

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National Centre for Mental Health, Cardiff University, Hadyn Ellis Building, Maindy Road, Cardiff, CF24 4HQ

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