If you only read one of my blogs ever, make it this one. How you fuel your body will have a direct impact on your mood. And then an improvement in your health and energy levels will follow suit. There is so much to say on this topic that I got myself into a right lather and had to pace up and down for half hour to collect my thoughts. I’m going to plant three words in your mind. Gut. Mood. Body.
We’re going to start with a case study. Let’s take Susan. She’s 53, works full-time, and has two boys in their late teens. She has a busy husband, who also works full-time. The onus of life and house admin generally falls to Susan. She is frazzled much of the time and just about manages to keep the balls in the air (two of those belong to her husband when he’s had too many ‘meetings’ at the pub) so the evening meals she cooks are quick and very often pasta-based (the white stuff, the boys don’t do anything brown). The rest of her diet is given over to bowls of cereal, orange juice (“It’s fruit isn’t it?”), then sandwiches and crisps for lunch and occasionally something with the word lentil written on it. She arrives home each evening tired and the only thing which calms her is the half bottle of Chardonnay and the ‘woe is me’ squares of (milk) chocolate. Her sleep is sporadic (toilet trips, husband’s snoring, her own snoring) and she has heart palpitations and a delightful river of sweat down her cleavage every night.
While the palpitations and the sweating may largely be due to the hormonal changes of the menopause, the rest of Susan’s obvious discomfort and exhaustion is also hormonal. The emphasis on white carbs and sugary foods in her diet means a lot of insulin production. The more insulin we produce, the more we crave the carb-y sugary food and the more frequent the sugar crashes. The response of other hormones to this creates even more turbulence and means Susan faces each day feeling grouchy and cantankerous. If we flatten those curves a little then Susan’s mood (and life) would regain some balance.
What’s the plan? Well, the gut has a strong connection with the brain and therefore with emotions and mood. Keeping that in good shape will boost her spirits, her energy and improve her general wellbeing. An upturn in inner health will radiate outwards and Susan’s skin, hair and nails will also start to feel benefits. How? Focus on eating a diverse range of vegetables, nuts, seeds, each week – this will maximise vitamin and mineral uptake as well as fibre. The more fibre we have, the more we’re feeding those lovely gut microbes.
Next up protein. Among other things, protein fills us up, stops sugar cravings and helps slow down the absorption of sugar in the blood. It also helps keep our mood stable and calm. Even Susan’s husband will notice the difference! Amino acids make up proteins and there are 20 of them. Nine of those are essential and we can only get them from our food so let’s fill our boots with as wide a range of plant and animal-based products as possible – dairy, fish, eggs, soy products, chicken, beans, pulses.
If Susan was to start her day with a big bowl of high protein yogurt, fruit, almonds or an omelette, she would breeze through the meetings, the conference calls, the tussle with her boss, the tricky situation with her children and empty her inbox all without snarling or feeling remotely hungry. Cutting down on sugary and processed foods, eating more protein along with a more diverse range of vegetables every single day, means your mood, your body, your gut and your skin will radiate happiness. And so will your family.
(Originally written for Woman&Home magazine)