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Diet’s role in easing stress

If you are prone to anxiety or low mood it's important you pay particular attention to your lifestyle habits. Looking after your diet, taking regular exercise and employing stress-management techniques are all vital components, and are even more powerful when done together. Sinead is living proof that an integrated whole body approach is what works best.

I created a nutrition plan for Sinead based on her health history. My main focus was to eliminate the food and drink that were contributing to her feelings of anxiety and low mood. They included caffeine, alcohol and sugar. From a nutrition point of view, a diet high in 'good mood foods' and low in 'mood zapping foods' can help balance how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally.

The key to understanding the connection between the food we eat and our mood lies in understanding a little about how the brain functions. The brain communicates by chemical substances passed from one nerve cell to the next. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are made in the brain from the food we eat. One of the neurotransmitters that is most sensitive to diet and influential in affecting mood is serotonin, also known as the 'happy hormone'.

Our bodies produce serotonin from an amino acid called tryptophan which comes from food. This is a calming and relaxing chemical. When produced, feelings of stress and tension decrease, and our sleep cycle is regulated. Women are three times as prone to low moods as men. The cause of this lies in the fact that women are prone to low levels of serotonin. A deficiency can be brought on by many factors including hormone imbalances, blood sugar and nutritional deficiencies.

However, we can boost our mood naturally. One of the ways we can do this is by increasing our consumption of tryptophan-rich foods. Found in protein-rich food this is the building block for serotonin production which helps us feel alert and content. Foods high in tryptophan include, nuts, turkey, eggs, fish, such as mackerel (inset), beans and cheese.

In order for tryptophan to be converted into serotonin, it requires several other vitamins and minerals.

The B vitamins play a crucial role in the production of serotonin. A deficiency in B vitamins can lead to depression. Stress or anxiety can easily deplete our body stores of these vitamins leaving us open to low mood and anxiety, so it's important that we consume foods rich in B vitamins on a daily basis such as oats, brown rice, fruit and green leafy vegetables.

Sample 'Good Mood' menu

Breakfast: Poached eggs on soda bread

Snack: Handful of nuts with a banana

Lunch: Tuna and chick pea salad

Snack: Cottage cheese with blueberries

Dinner: Stir-fried turkey and vegetables served with brown rice

>Elsa Jones