Mental health and nutrition
As a clinical nutritionist, I regularly work with clients with mood imbalances and understand the impact that this can have on an individual's quality of life.
What I wanted to explain today is how our nutrient status plays a crucial role in mental health as neurotransmitters, also known as "happy hormones," are affected by what we eat.
The most commonly known neurotransmitters are Serotonin, dopamine and GABA. Low levels of these can all contribute to mood imbalances.
People with low serotonin may feel very flat, suffer from depression, lack enjoyment of life, and experience a low mood. Low dopamine can lead to apathy, lack of interest, low motivation, and addictive behaviours. Low GABA can cause individuals to feel uptight, anxious, overwhelmed, and they may experience an overactive mind. I talk more in depth about these symptoms in the video below.
It's essential to have enough protein in the diet to support the production of these neurotransmitters. The amount of protein that you need on a daily basis is often more than you realise. For vegetarians and vegans, it's crucial to consume a wide range of plant proteins each day to get the full range of essential amino acids needed for mood balance.
Sugar is another factor that can contribute to mood imbalances. It can cause blood sugar fluctuations and inflammation in the body, leading to feelings of anxiety and depression. Not only this, it can affect the cellular levels of key minerals that are crucial for neurological health. I often recommend lowering sugar intake for individuals with mood imbalances.
Dehydration can also impact mood as the body goes into fight or flight mode when dehydrated, leading to the release of adrenaline and cortisol, which can worsen anxiety and mood imbalances. Staying hydrated is therefore essential for optimal mental health.
Stimulants like caffeine can be too excitatory on the brain, worsening anxiety and mood disorders. I often recommend reducing or eliminating caffeine intake for individuals with mood imbalances.
In my clinical practice, I support people by checking their nutrient levels and prescribing minerals and supplements to help support neurotransmitter balance. I also help individuals develop personalised diet and lifestyle plans to support their mental health, including recommendations for nutrient-dense foods, exercise, and stress management techniques.
If you're struggling with mood imbalances, I encourage you to reach out to me to book an appointment. Together, we can work to develop a personalised plan to support your mental health and help you feel your best.
Protein is so important. It is the nutrient that supports your body in building healthy tissues and cells. Not only this, but it is responsible for our hormones, our mood, blood sugar balance and our enzymatic processes.
Proteins are fundamental structural and functional elements within every cell of the body and are involved in a wide range of metabolic interactions.
Proteins are used every day to keep the body going. Because they’re used to develop, grow and maintain just about every part of our bodies, from our skin and hair to our digestive enzymes and immune system antibodies , they’re constantly being broken down and must be replaced.
Vital organs, muscles, tissues and even some hormones of the body are made from proteins. Additionally, proteins create haemoglobin and important antibodies. Proteins are involved in just about every body function from controlling blood sugar levels, keeping our neurotransmitters balanced to healing wounds and fighting off bacteria.
Protein and your mood
Nutrition can play an important role in achieving better mental health.
Studies have shown that adults with depression who ate a diet rich in produce, fish and legumes experienced a reduction of their symptoms.
Foods rich in protein contain amino acids to help produce key neurotransmitters in preventing and treating depression and anxiety. Protein packed meals and snacks help you avoid sugary, processed foods, which can trigger anxiety and depression. A diet rich in protein also helps improve energy levels, giving you the strength to get moving and feel better.
Amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, play an important role in the production of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals which allow brain cells to communicate with each other. For example, if you eat a piece of chicken, your body breaks down the protein and synthesises the amino acid L-Tyrosine to produce Dopamine.
Low dopamine levels are associated with a whole host of disorders, including depression, addiction. ADHD, Alzheimers and schizophrenia.The amino acid L-Tryptophan, which can be found in poultry, fish, dairy and nuts, serves a precursor to serotonin. Eating foods rich in L-Tryptophan can help improve mood and help SSRIs and other antidepressants work better.
Your brain is very reliant on several amino acids in order to manufacture neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are commonly referred to as brain hormones because they enable communication between different regions of the brain, and they significantly impact your mood, emotions and cognitive functions.
Tryptophan is an amino acid needed for the production of serotonin. You have probably heard serotonin referred to as the happy hormone. Serotonin is a compound in the brain that promotes feelings of relaxation, happiness, security and confidence.
A serotonin deficiency can result in depression, sleep disturbances, anxiety and a tendency to overeat, especially carbohydrates like sugar. Feeling stressed can deplete your brain of serotonin, and levels decline as we age. Eggs, salmon, turkey, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds are all good sources of tryptophan.
An important amino acid for the brain is Tyrosine. Tyrosine is required for the manufacture of the brain chemicals dopamine and noradrenaline (norepinephrine). These neurotransmitters are required for concentration, alertness, memory and a happy, stable mood. They may also help you to handle stress more easily and feel less overwhelmed by problems.
Tyrosine is also required for the manufacture of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones help to control your metabolic rate, but they also play a critical role in mood. Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland) is a common cause of depression. What you may not know is that even a slightly under functioning thyroid gland can flatten your mood, reduce your motivation and your ability to concentrate. Tyrosine is found in fish, turkey, chicken, avocados, almonds and a few other foods.
Essential amino acids
There are about 20 different amino acids commonly found in plant and animal proteins. For adults, 8 of these, have to be provided in the diet and are therefore defined as ‘essential’ or ‘indispensable’ amino acids. These are:
In children, arginine, histidine, cysteine, glycine, tyrosine, glutamine and proline are also considered to be essential (indispensable) amino acids, because children are unable to make enough to meet their needs. These are referred to as ‘conditionally’ essential. There may also be certain disease states during adult life when a particular amino acid becomes conditionally essential.
How much protein should we eat?
The Dietary Reference Values for protein are based on estimates of need. For adults, an average requirement of 0.6g of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day is estimated.
There is an extra requirement for growth in infants and children and for pregnant and breast feeding women. Any excess protein can be used to provide energy.
Good sources of protein
Protein content of some common foods found in the diet:
Protein content (g) per 100g
Chicken breast (grilled without skin) - 32
Beef steak (lean grilled) - 31.0
Lamb chop (lean grilled) - 29.2
Pork chop (lean grilled) - 31.6
Tuna (canned in brine) - 23.5
Mackerel (grilled) - 20.8
Salmon (grilled) - 24.2
Cod (grilled) - 20.8
Prawns - 22.6
Mussels - 16.7
Crabsticks - 10
Chicken eggs 12.5
Whole milk - 3.3
Semi-skimmed milk - 3.4
Skimmed milk - 3.4
Cheddar cheese - 25.4
Half-fat cheddar - 32.7
Cottage cheese - 12.6
Whole milk yogurt - 5.7
Low fat yogurt (plain) - 4.8
Red lentils 7.6
Kidney beans n- 6.9
Baked beans - 5.2
Tofu (soya bean steamed) - 8.1
Wheat flour (brown) - 12.6
Bread (brown) - 7.9
Bread (white) - 7.9
Rice (easy cook boiled) - 2.6
Oatmeal - 11.2
Pasta (fresh cooked) 6.6
Almonds - 21.1
Walnuts - 14.7
Hazelnuts - 14.1
Adults and children should consume two to three servings of protein every day. If plant sources dominate, it is important to make sure that different types are consumed.
One typical portion size equates to:
• 100g of lean boneless meat (red and poultry)
• 140g of fish
• 2 medium eggs
• 3 tablespoons of seeds or nuts.
When buying protein, make sure it’s from organic, natural sources. Non-organic protein derived from animals are loaded with hormones, antibiotics, steroids and other chemicals that may cause you more health complications.
You can go to the website nutritiondata.com and look up the amount of protein in the amount of food you’ve consumed.
If you go to DrAxe.com and search for protein in the search box, you will find a plethora of recipes and protein snack ideas that you can explore. Dr Axe is also a great resource for learning more about natural health.
Dairy – yoghurt, cottage cheese, fromage frais, Greek yoghurt, etc
White fish, e.g. Coley, Cod, Haddock, Sole, Bass, Sole, Halibut, Whiting
Oily fish, e.g. salmon, trout, herrings, sardines, mackerel, pilchards, fresh tuna
Beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas
Hummus (made from chickpeas and sesame seeds)
Baked beans – check for the sugar content, choose organic unsweetened if possible
Tofu – either plain that can be marinated or stir-fried, or as sausages or burgers
Nuts and seeds (in moderation) – raw and unsalted and avoid peanuts
Whey protein powders - avoid if lactose intolerant
Soy protein isolates
Amino acid formulas in tablets or capsules
Protein Combining – combining two or more different types of protein can maximise the bio-availability of amino acids, e.g.
Eggs and lean ham or fish
Baked beans, eggs and salmon
Cottage cheese and fish
Steak and eggs
So, if you are looking at this and thinking that maybe you aren`t getting enough protein in your diet, give it a go.
Most people notice considerable differences in their energy, mood and general well-being after assessing and increasing (if necessary) their protein content.
It`s late September and my house is smelling all lovely and fruity. That`s because I have a load of Rosehips in my dehydrator that I have picked this morning in-between the showers we are having this week, here in England. Honestly, it`s hard to know whether we`re coming or going this week. One minute we have blue skies, the next torrential rain. I`m sure it is timed everyday for 3pm when it`s time to go and pick up little B from School. Never mind...
Well, whilst the sun was shining I managed to get outside with my basket and snips and get a great haul of Rosehips. They are starting to get on the squishy side so if you are thinking about getting some, get them now!
When you pick your rosehips, you want the glossy red ones that are firm with a slight squeeze to them. They will go dull and lose their shine as they go past their best. They will mush when you squeeze them and go a brownish colour. Only get the ruby red ones.
The old advice was to wait until the first frost had sweetened them, but with our current warmer climate, they will be far too squishy if you wait for a frost in the UK. You can encourage them to sweeten by putting them in your freezer for a day or two at least before using them once defrosted.
Rosehips are so good for you in so many ways. Herbally, they are cooling, which is great if you have a fever but also have a calming influence. This means they are great for angry things like skin issues such as eczema or hives.
They are astringent, Stomach strengthening, great for diarrhoea, good for warding off coughs and colds (and also getting rid of them quicker), asthma, heart palpitations, immune system strengthening, mood lifting and nervous system supporting. They have great quantities of vitamin C in them which makes them an excellent choice to use as a supplement if you have any joint problems, cartilage issues (like Ehlers Danlos), osteoporosis and painful joints. This is because the pathway to create great functioning cartilage relies on having the right amount of vitamin C.
If you struggle with your immune system or are having immunomodulatory medicine or a condition where your immune system is compromised then you should explore them further also.
Rosehips have such an amazing amount of vitamin C within them that the UK Ministry of Defense looked into them during the war as a substitute for oranges (which were unavailable at the time)
It was found that the humble rosehip had 20 times more vitamin C than oranges!
The Ministry of Defense went on to get communities to gather rosehips across the UK and made rosehip syrup to be distributed across the nation to mothers and young children. People were taught how to make it and it was widely available to buy in chemists right up until the 1970s.
The Rosehip is grown on the wild rose bushes that you see in hedgerows. It is more commonly known as the Dog Rose. It was thought that the name "Dog Rose" pertained to the plants ability to heal the sufferer from the bite of a mad dog! It`s more commonly accepted that "Dog" was actually "Dag" and meant "dagger" due to the thorns and the serrated edges of the leaves.
It`s thorns can be quite brutal, so do be careful when you are foraging for the fruits. On the plus side, any medicinal plant with thorns is thought to be super - protective to the picker, both physically and mentally.
The rosehip is also supportive to our mood. It contains not only Vitamin C, but manganese, selenium, Vitamin K and B vitamins. All needed for brain health. Supplementing with rosehips can give you extra support with anxiety and depression by gently nurturing our nervous system.
Rosehips are pretty renowned for their ability to give us beautiful skin. Not only is rosehip oil extremely nourishing but the high vitamin C content is rejuvenating for the collagen in the skin. Rosehips are packed with antioxidants so will also go about removing all those free-radicals that can accumulate in our skin. They will also set about removing them all the way through your body if you consume them.
I love looking into the folklore and energetics of plants, I find it fascinating and usually the message that is being told can be linked to scientific studies that have revealed similar benefits.
In this case, when we work with the rose in general, it is said that we should think about wearing our own thorns. Perhaps you say yes too often to things you don`t want to do. Are you in the habit of self-sacrificing when you shouldn`t? Maybe you don`t stand up for yourself when you should. The rose is said to encourage us to have outward kindness and loveliness but also remember to protect ourselves by being a little more assertive.
It is also a good plant for those who are better at loving others than themselves. It can help you remember to find the good in yourself rather than looking for imperfections.
Looking at the evidence of the rosehip being supportive for anxiety, I guess this fits together nicely. Whether it does or not, they are good messages to listen to anyhow as each time we put ourselves last, our cells know about it!
Our immune response has been proven to react negatively when we are under stress, watch something that upsets us or generally feel like we are at the bottom of the pile. So put your thorns out a little... protect your emotions a little more, whilst retaining the grace and beauty of the rose and it`s fragrance.
So... what lovely things can you do with the rosehip?
Well... most commonly, people make syrups with it. It`s tasty and kids will usually happily take a spoonful. If you start taking a measure each day from the Autumn to the Spring, it will benefit them greatly over coughs and cold season. If you can double up with elderberry as well then all the better!
If you like making tinctures then that is an easy way of extracting their goodness and a glycerite tincture with rosehips would be great for kids.
If you prefer less of a sweet product, then try them in a tea. Rosehip tea is delicious and very nurturing. Let it steep for a good 15 minutes to get as much goodness out of the little hips as you can.
Herbal vinegars are also very good for extracting the phytonutrients so you could have a look into rosehip vinegar. You can use it as a dressing or dilute a little in water to drink.
More culinary recipes you can find are jams, powders and even ketchup!
Here comes a red flag alert so pay attention carefully to the next bit...
Rosehips are completely non-toxic but as you open them up, there are tiny little hairs inside, a bit like the ones on a cactus. You must remove them before making anything that you are going to consume. Do your research and look into how to do this - there`s plenty of tutorials out there on the internet.
The hairs are very irritating to the digestive tract and you don`t want them in there. Our digestive tract has enough to deal with already without having all those little hairs in their poking around. There are also little seeds that you need to remove so please be careful!
Ok.. warning over.
So what will I be doing with rosehips this season?
At the moment I am drying rosehips so that I can use them throughout the year. You can freeze them also, but I take up far too much room in our freezer with herbal products so I find jars of them to be convenient, and pretty to look at. I`ll be storing my dried ones for further use and making various remedies with fresh ones.
I will definitely be making syrups and tinctures and getting as much into my little girl and my family as possible. We choose to avoid the flu vaccine in our household so we will be fighting off any nasties with our usual routine of supplements and elderberry and rosehip. I`ll also be making rosehip oil to help with any skin issues and to use in my skin care routine.
I am without a kitchen at the moment as the building work is still happening here so no ketchups or jams for me!
You`ll have to let me know if you make any though how they turn out.
So Rosehips are wonderful, help with numerous things and are tasty and pretty. Go out and get some before they go mushy!
The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, dietary supplement, exercise, or other health program.