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TomGransnet (GNHQ) Fri 03-Nov-17 12:30:17

Q&A - How to eat for a brighter, happier wintertime

Jane Clarke will be answering your questions about diet and its correlation with mental health, and any queries you have on how to improve your mindfulness and physical well-being.

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Jane Clarke

Q&A - How to eat for a brighter, happier wintertime

Posted on: Fri 03-Nov-17 12:30:16


Lead photo

Jane Clarke

Mental health is a topic that’s been much in the news of late, with many people in the public eye acknowledging that fame and fortune are no protection from difficult times. Even if we’re fortunate enough not to live with depression, anxiety or another mental health condition, many of us will admit to finding life a struggle sometimes. This time of the year can be particularly troubling, when the days are shorter, the weather can be dark and gloomy, and the rush of festivities (Bonfire Night, Divali, Christmas and more) can make us feel overwhelmed or, conversely, isolated. At any time, an event such as bereavement, illness (ourselves or that of a loved one) or a break-in can be the tipping point that turns a generally upbeat mood into a time when we struggle to raise our spirits.

Many of my patients see me as a calm swan; an impartial confidante who won’t judge their fears when they are diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer, or if they or someone close to them has had a stroke or been diagnosed with dementia. But recently a treasured friend suffered a massive brain aneurysm at the young age of 42 and I’ve been struggling to maintain my equilibrium and positivity. As I explain to my patients, we can often cope with many psychological blows but then there comes a final straw and our body sends out a signal that we need to re-balance. For me, the telltale sign was a change in my sleep pattern. I started waking at 2am and struggled to persuade my body to go back to sleep for another couple of hours. I took out my nutritional, food and herbal remedies, re-engaged with my ballet classes, which I love, and started talking to a counsellor, and now I am sleeping much better and know that above the clouds the sun is shining.

Even if we're fortunate enough not to live with depression, anxiety or another mental health condition, many of us will admit to finding life a struggle sometimes.

I hope that if you are feeling low, you can find someone to talk to and an activity you enjoy that can help pull you out of the dip. Do look at what you are eating, too, as this is often one of the first things to suffer when we are finding it hard to cope emotionally. As John Gunther said, ‘All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast’. And I also love the Jewish proverb that states, ‘Worries go down better with soup’. Below are some quick suggestions and pointers on how to help improve your well-being:

- By changing what we eat, we can influence our moods and improve symptoms such as poor sleep, low energy and disturbed appetite (loss of appetite or a craving for certain foods).

- Nutrition-related factors such as iron-deficiency anaemia and coeliac disease, plus some blood pressure medication, can have mood-lowering effects, so consult your GP to ensure you’re receiving the correct help.

- Lack of B vitamins (found in wholegrains, fish, yoghurt, meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables) and low levels of selenium (Brazil nuts, shellfish, fruits and vegetables) can cause depression.

- It helps to stick to three meals a day plus a couple of snacks, rather than grazing on biscuits and easy-to-grab foods which take away the appetite for a proper meal.

- Think about the flavours you love – my go-to comfort food is a spicy vegetarian curry – so that you look forward to eating. And if you prefer breakfast to dinner, go big on that and have a smaller supper.

- Planning ahead can really help if you’re not in the mood to cook. Writing a menu of meals for the week and shopping for those dishes can save you mental energy.

- Try inviting a friend over. We’ve created the Nourish Afternoon Tea to encourage people to get together over a cup of tea and a slice of cake, or a simple bowl of soup and some bread, as chatting and sharing a meal together is a surefire mood booster.

Do send me your questions and I’ll see if I can share some ideas to help you feel that bit better physically and emotionally. Please go to see your GP if you feel you may be depressed as there are a range of treatments available.

To find out more about Jane's work, visit her website here.

By Jane Clarke

Twitter: @NourishByJane

JaneClarke Mon 11-Dec-17 12:27:50


Great article with lots of helpful advice, I think frequent exercise or taking brisk walks is number one for me, followed by the instant relief of a cosy hot water bottle, with plenty of fruit/veg and some decent chocolate grin it’s a recipe that does wonders for helping to ease the load and lift the spirit from the gloom, having the radio on is also a really good distraction, as it can often lighten the darkest corners of the mind. sunshine

I totally agree. Being active (I love my weekly ballet class), feeling warm and cosy, and eating balanced meals made with fibre- and nutrient-rich fresh fruit and vegetables, which don’t have to be expensive, is key to a feeling of wellbeing. And a bit of dark chocolate always helps! I like a few squares melted in warm milk as a hot chocolate; much tastier than the sugar-packed instant versions.

JaneClarke Mon 11-Dec-17 12:28:44


I found your article helpful, but was told this week that I have kidney problems plus kidney stones.
I am a vegetarian but have been told I now need to follow a vegan diet, no animal protein, eggs cheese dairy etc so low protein diet but no treatment for low hemoglobin count as medication can damage kidneys? Also low thyroxin levels, So need advice on diet but also still heart broken by my son's death and feel very low anyway.

Dear nellgwin, my huge sympathy for the loss of your son. It must be such a trial to deal with your current health issues when you already suffering so much emotionally. When conditions coincide and possibly interact, as with your kidney problems, low thyroxine levels, bereavement, etc, it can be useful to consult an expert who can look at the overall picture. Could you ask your doctor/consultant to refer you to an NHS dietitian? Or do contact me if you would like to discuss a face-to-face or Skype/Facetime consultation.

JaneClarke Mon 11-Dec-17 12:30:48


Hello, can you suggest foods to help someone with a hiatus hernia. I'm off many things and just got rid of an ulcer( aspirin) they think was the culprit! I try to eat small meals often and not later than 6. I still get reflux but am anti taking the tablets unless really bad! I'm going on a 12 hour plane journey and am worried about the food and sitting and causing reflux! Many thanks.

Hi deaneke. You’re right to think ahead for the journey as plane pressure can aggravate reflux. You’re already eating regular small meals, which is ideal. It’s best to have something small in your stomach every couple of hours, so ideally you should take your own food on to the plane. You may not want to pack a lunchbox along with your luggage, but thankfully there are better places to buy food at most airports these days – Pret, Leon and Eat all have some good options.

Swerve citrus and acidic foods, and don’t drink too much in one go as large volumes of liquid can cause acid to creep back up into the oesophagus, causing heartburn. Fatty foods can cause problems, too, so stick to rice and pasta, or a simple mayo-free sandwich. Or take some crackers and lean proteins, and a few dried fruits and nuts. Avoid alcohol at all costs, as tempting as it is to knock yourself out; it can be the roughest thing on a sensitive gut.

At home, having regular small glasses of milk can help coat the lining of the oesophagus and ease heartburn. If you have mint tea, be careful not to brew it for too long, as it may aggravate the stomach if it’s too strong.

JaneClarke Mon 11-Dec-17 12:33:06


Hi Jane, thanks for coming on again. I find this time of the year particularly bad for sleeping for some reason. I've limited my caffeine to just one coffee and one cup of tea per day and I never have anything after lunchtime. I don't think I'm worrying about anything particularly. Any advice?

Hi granoffour. It’s a good idea to reduce your caffeine intake if you’re having trouble sleeping, so that’s a good start. Before bed, you could also drink a cup of traditional sleep-inducing tea, such as chamomile, valerian, skullcap, blue vervain and hops. And if you enjoy the floral taste of lavender, try my recipe for lavender milk, which I find really soothing. Mindfulness practice may be helpful; I’ve found the book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Dr Mark Williams very helpful.

JaneClarke Mon 11-Dec-17 12:37:51


Hi Jane,

I work in an office in the middle of a large building, and my room has no windows, and with it being winter I'm getting no sunlight outside of work - I'm worried that this is making me depressed. Can you recommend any foods that would help offset this?

Hi connelly63. What we eat can have a big impact on our moods, so a few tweaks to the food you eat at work (and at home) may help to lift your spirits. Try to ensure that you eat enough protein, which is essential for the production of endorphins, our body’s ‘happy hormones’. Some Greek yoghurt with breakfast, an egg sandwich or tuna salad for lunch, and a bean casserole or lovely beef stew are all tasty ideas. Add in some slow-release carbohydrates for consistent energy (think about wholegrain bread, roasted root vegetables and grains). Try not to give in to sweet cravings, as they make us feel great one minute, swiftly followed by a crash as our body deals with the excess sugar.

Don’t overlook drinks, as a mug of your favourite herbal tea or a decent cup of fresh coffee will raise your mood far more than a lousy cup from the work machine. You could also take in a flask of homemade soup, or hot chocolate made with cow’s milk or a non-dairy alternative, with a few squares of good-quality dark chocolate melted into it.

Finally, our body gets most of its vitamin D from sunshine. If your office doesn’t have a window, I suggest you take a vitamin D supplement (it’s one of the few supplements I recommend) and increase your intake of vitamin D-rich foods, such as oily fish, dairy produce and eggs. You might want to ask if your employer could invest in a light-therapy lamp.