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Eat yourself happy

From: Va Voom Health,

Eat yourself happy

As featured in Grazia magazine

How happy are you? For many of us, desperately trying to balance the pressures of work, family and relationships, not to mention financial worries right now, even to ask this question is to risk adding yet another source of angst. ‘You mean I’ve got to be happy AS WELLl!’

But that sort of totally wired ‘I will kill that girl if she gets her hands on that handbag before I do’ feeling is not an inevitable part of where we all are now. What could be contributing to it is the food and drink you are giving your body. Of course food can’t alter external factors - eating an avocado is not going to turn the partner who fails to put the recycling out for the third week running into Mr Super Helpful – but it can shift internal ones. It just might prevent you from breathing fire when he forgets yet again.

There is a growing body of scientific evidence telling us is that what we eat affects our brains. MIND, the mental health charity, publishes food advice on its website, including the Mind Meal, a menu devised specifically to reduce depression. And supplement companies have been quick to see the potential of this new area of research. There is an ever growing array high tec happy pills on the market.

The good news is you really can Eat Yourself Happy.

You don’t even have to be that depressed to see a benefit from the Eat Yourself Happy Diet. It works fantastically for those who feel stressed out, overwhelmed, tired and under par. And the results? That exhausted feeling of ‘Oh, God, have I really got to go to work?’ you get every morning? You can get rid of that. As for the mid-morning jitters, the late afternoon slump, the 4am lying awake worrying about stuff, tearfulness, pessimism and generally flying off the handle at the slightest thing, if this all sounds familiar, well, you can say goodbye to all that too.

So, how does The Eat Yourself Happy Diet work? To explain that, you need to understand a bit about how your brain works and what it is made of. The brain is a network of nerve cells. The outside layer of each of these cells is made from essential fats, as well as phosopholipds (found in eggs and organ meats). Messages are transmitted between nerve cells via chemicals called neurotransmitters. These are made out of amino acids, which come from proteins.

So, the clues are already there. If your brain is made largely out of proteins and good fats (as well as water), you need those in your diet for your brain to work properly. And yet, if you are depressed, you are more likely to reach for a bar of chocolate perhaps, or a comforting bowl of pasta, than a plate of steamed sea bass. This is not accidental. Serotonin, the brain’s happy chemical, is made out of tryptophan, which comes from protein. However, we need carbohydrate to raise insulin to carry tryptophan into the brain.

As proof of this, a recent year-long Australian study looked at the moods of two groups of dieters. One was following a low cal/low fat plan, the other a low carb/high protein plan. The low carbers were found to be more depressed. We need carbs to make us happy. This probably goes double for women. There is a theory that women have naturally lower levels of serotonin than men, which may be why it is we girls who are the real chocolate addicts. We are self-medicating our serotonin deficiency.

The Eat Yourself Happy Rules

1) Boost Your Neurotransmitters

To up your serotonin levels, you need to increase tryptophan. This is found in: red meat, chicken and turkey, dairy foods, nuts, seeds, bananas, shellfish and soybeans.

But seretonin is not the only neurotransmitter that has a role in us feeling happy. Adrenaline and noradrenaline, made from dopamine, give us our get up and go, somewhat lacking if you’re depressed. Dopamine is made from tyrosine. Sources of L-Tyrosine include red meat dairy and fish.

2) Ace Your Adrenals.

Yes, it may feel like you simply can’t get through the morning without that first café latte, or you might have to put the kids into care if you can’t have that 6.30 glass of wine, but stimulants make depression worse.

Caffeine and alcohol raise our blood sugar, which can result in a rebound effect an hour or so afterwards, where you feel even more exhausted. This sort of blood sugar roller coaster, also powered by too much refined carbs, stimulates the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Pumping out large doses of cortisol on a long term basis can unbalance other adrenal hormones, leading to adrenal stress. This is characterised by tiredness, despondency, weight gain, tearfulness…in other words, depression.

Adrenal stress also doesn’t do much for your sex life either. The adrenal glands produce three important hormones, one of which is dehydroepianrosterone (DHEA). DHEA is a precursor for the production of sex hormones like testosterone and oestrogen. If your adrenals don’t produce enough DHEA, you will have the sex drive of a snail.

To ace your adrenals, you need to cut out or reduce: Tea (even green tea which contains caffeine), coffee, caffeinated soft drinks, energy drinks, alcohol, white flour, pasta and rice, sweets, cakes and chocolate, including dark chocolate (loaded with caffeine).

6) Go For Gut Health.

What’s your gut got to do with your brain? Actually, a lot. If your digestion isn’t working properly, it doesn’t matter how many turkey sandwiches on rye you eat, you will not get the nutrients you need to build and power your brain. ‘Friendly’ bacteria in the gut also manufacture B vitamins, which are important co-factors in energy production in the body which the brain needs. B vits are burnt up by stress and B-vitamin depletion is associated with depression.

Gut health is also key because food allergies are associated with depression. Gliaden, a protein found in wheat, irritates the gut wall. Dairy allergies can cause a thick head, tiredness and headaches.

Exclude wheat and cow dairy foods (you may have sheeps and goats milk products) and take a daily probiotic supplements.

7) End Hormone Havoc.

When hormones are out of balance, they can affect mood. An underactive thyroid is linked to depression. High oestrogen further depresses thyroid function and stops the body breaking down the stress hormone cortisol, so prolonging the stress response and increasing the likelihood of adrenal stress.

One solution is to encourage the excretion of old hormones, so they don’t recirculate, by including plenty of fibre, found in beans, vegetables and oats.

8) The New Hi-tech Happy Pills

5-HTP 5-hydroxytryptophan is a derivative of tryptophan and has been shown to be as effective as SSRI anti-depressants at boosting serotonin in some studies. Dose:50 – 100mg twice a day with a glass of fruit juice, but on an empty stomach.

TMG Trimethyl-glycine (TMG) is converted in the body to s-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), which could have an anti-depressant effect. Dose: 6 - 2000mg p/day, with a glass of fruit juice, but on an empty stomach.

Taurine Taurine can bring you down from an adrenaline high, so it could help stress-induced anxiety. Dose: 500 – 1000 mg twice a day.

Rhodiola A herbal ‘adaptogen’, it could help carry amino acids into the brain. Dose: 250 mg p/day

St John’s Wort The most famous herbal anti-depressant. Dose: 300mg two to three times a day

Omega 3 Fish oils have been shown to improve brain function in adults as well as children. Dose: 1000 mg EPA p/day

A good multi-vitamin Containing: all the Bs, especially B3, B6, B12 and folic acid (deficiencies associated with depression), chromium (for blood sugar control), magnesium (nature’s tranquiliser) and Zinc (anorexics have been found to be deficient in zinc).

If you have been prescribed anti-depressants, you should consult your doctor before taking any herbal or nutritional supplement.


Breakfast Vegetable omelette Or whey smoothie with half a banana

Lunch Turkey salad sandwich, on rye bread. Or, goats cheese salad with avocado and flax seed oil dressing or lentil soup.

Dinner Prawn stir fry or griddled cod with chick pea salad or roast chicken with oven-roasted Mediteranean vegetables

Snacks Small bag of sunflower/pumpkin seeds Boiled egg with rye bread soldiers Small pot of humous with oatcakes Apple with palmful of mixed nuts.

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Lowri is a journalist, nutritionist and hypnotherapist, specialising in weight loss, skin and anti-ageing. Her business, Va Voom Health, offers a rare and unique service using both hypnotherapy and nutritional advice to get you the body you want. Whether you're trying to lose weight with one diet after the next or your skin is crying out for help, Lowri has a personalised approach that can help you reach the right balance.

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