• Grumpy, irritable and comfort eating?


        OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis week there has been much written in the press about mental health, but something which is less touched on is a SAD; temporary condition which affects millions of people worldwide throughout the winter months.

        SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a condition which can have a profound effect on mood, and mental health from late autumn until the spring. Symptoms can include tearfulness, stress and anxiety, lack of concentration, irritability, feelings of low-esteem and worthlessness and general despair, and in severe cases sufferers can feel suicidal. A lack of sleep can often be a major issue, and it can also influence appetite, immunity and production of feel good hormones such as serotonin, which help us feel positive and motivated.

        The main cause is the lack of sunlight, which causes the brain to produce more melatonin; a hormone which helps us sleep at night. Melatonin production is triggered by the brain as darkness sets in, and then cortisol is produced as daylight emerges to help us feel awake and active, so longer darker days can cause hormone imbalance which can impact on many facets of our well being. This hormone shift can encourage comfort eating and binging, blood sugar imbalance leading to mood swings, and weight gain. Another side effect can be an impaired immune system, which can explain why we are so susceptible to colds and flu at this time of year.

        So what can you do to beat the winter blues?

        • Help support your gut health by cutting back on sugary foods such as refined carbohydrates (cakes, biscuits, pasta, bread and potatoes), and foods we tend to be more intolerant to such as wheat and dairy. Switch white rice and bread for brown rice, grains and wheat germ. Sweet potatoes are a filling and good alternative to white varieties.
        • Reduce stimulants; caffeine, alcohol and chocolate might offer a quick fix when you need a pick me up, but they can trigger cravings and play havoc with your blood sugar levels and brain function in the longer run.
        • Increase your fruit and vegetable portions to boost your vitamin and mineral intake to support your immune system.
        • Boiled eggs brighton hove nutrition wellbeingEggs are the perfect winter fast food. Plenty of ways to cook them; they are cheap, nutritious and rich in Vitamin D and choline and which supports the brain.
        • Essential fats are vital for your brain function so include oily fish, nuts and seeds and olive oil.
        • Look for foods that will help you produce serotonin. Turkey, chicken, fish, avocados, bananas and beans will help. These are also rich in Vitamin D to help make up for lack of sunlight.
        • Get outside in the daylight as much as you can. Take time at lunchtime to leave your desk and go for a walk. If that’s isn’t feasible, look for daylight bulbs to use in your office or home.

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        Finally, comfort eating is fine if you choose the right options. One pot dishes such as bean and vegetable stews, shepherds pies, fish pies, or curries will give you nutritious filling meals to keep you going until the days start getting much longer!

        So, if your friends, family or colleagues are grumpy and irritable this winter, a good place to start is with their diet. After all, as Paul Theroux once wrote “Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.”