Struggling to get your 5-a-day? Want to crack your cravings? Let Zest’s nutritionist Rebecca Amey arm you with the nutritional know-how

“Low moods may be down to a lack of folic acid and vitamin b12. eat more leafy greens and meat”

‘I often feel low, so my doctor suggested changing my diet. I’m a little overweight and eat rubbish when I’m stressed, upset or tired. I also drink a lot of coffee because I don’t have much energy. What can I eat that will naturally boost my mood, give me more energy and provide a little comfort on those down days?’ Sarah, 33, Cheshire

REBACCA SAYS Breaking your coffee habit is a great place to start. A strong coffee is a fantastic instant pick-me-up but relying on caffeine to keep your energy up all day, every day, isn’t healthy. It can make you jittery, preventing relaxation and interfering with your sleep. Far from being energised, you’ll end up feeling anxious and emotional. Also, it over-stimulates your heart and increases your metabolism, putting stress on your body.

Rather than going cold turkey, switch to decaf in the afternoons, then gradually cut down. Avoid caffeine completely in the evening, including decaf coffee and green tea, which also contain some caffeine.

To wake up naturally perky, eat foods that will help you sleep. The amino acid tryptophan increases the amount of serotonin, a natural sedative, in your brain. It also helps regulate your appetite and lift your mood. Combining foods containing trytophan with carbohydrates will get the best results, as the sugars in carbs help the process along. Think hot milk with honey (milk for the tryptophan, honey for sugar). Other tryptophan-rich foods include poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.

You also need to pack some B vitamins into your diet. Vitamin B6 boosts serotonin production – so have a banana after the hot milk and honey. Research has shown that people who are prone to low mood and lacking in energy are often deficient in folic acid and vitamin B12. Boost your folic acid intake by eating more green leafy veg, eggs, asparagus, fortified breakfast cereals, orange juice, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds, and bolster vitamin B12 levels with meat and fish.

In terms of guilt-free comfort foods, you’ll be pleased to hear that chocolate contains a natural antidepressant (phenylethylamine) that boosts ‘feel-good’ endorphins. Limit yourself to a couple of squares of dark (at least 70% cocoa solids when you’re feeling low. Having cut the caffeine and upped your mood-boosting foods, those low feelings should begin to disappear.

Tip from the nutritionist’s table

Why fat free is anything but

Stop right there! You think those ‘diet’ foods are angelic but they can actually make you fatter. How? The tongue tastes something sweet or fatty, so your body expects sugar or fat to follow. When it doesn’t, you body then craves the fatty, calorific foods it was expecting – and you give in. instead, snack on naturally low-fat and low-cal foods, like popcorn or edamame, or eat non-diet foods in moderation

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