As we enter the New Year we find ourselves in a familiar situation to which we spent the majority of 2020. With the uncertainty surrounding the national lockdown and the prolonged time being spent indoors, it is all the more important to look after ourselves – even more so than usual!
Exams and deadlines
As if January is not difficult enough with exams and coursework deadlines pending, the increased burden of lockdown only adds to the pressure and anxiety. During lengthy study sessions, many of us resort to unhealthy, convenient snack foods in order to cram in as much revision as possible. In addition, in times of low moods, an increased consumption of comfort foods and binge eating is natural in human behaviour. This is because the intake of carbohydrate-rich foods stimulates the production of serotonin, which is a hormone that improves mood and how we feel. Hence, the combined effect of exams, coursework, and lockdown could give rise to unhealthy eating behaviours, such as excess binge eating, which we need to be aware of. Some clinical studies suggest that prolonged exposure to highly refined carbohydrates and sugars can have a negative impact on mood due to the extreme fluctuations in blood sugar. So, it is important that we do not totally neglect our nutrition during lockdown and achieve a healthy balance in our dietary intake to be kind to ourselves.
Food and mood
It is no secret that food is mood. We get grumpy when we are hungry and get enjoyment from chocolate and other comfort foods. So, a healthy diet is a healthy mind, right? Numerous studies have been published in recent years that highlight the link between mental health and nutrition. Following healthy dietary patterns can lead to a reduction in anxiety and depression which is vastly beneficial during these times of social restrictions and isolation. Such patterns include a high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, a moderate consumption of poultry, eggs and dairy, and an infrequent intake of red meats.
When our bodies are deficient in key nutrients we can become more lethargic, easily irritable, and tired; all resulting in an overall reduced mood. Therefore, to boost mental health we should aim to consume as many vitamins and minerals as possible, particularly from our diet. Common deficient vitamins and minerals include iron, all B-vitamins, folate, and selenium which can all be ingested through wholegrain cereals, animal proteins, leafy vegetables, nuts, and dairy products. Most importantly, stay hydrated! Sufficient fluid consumption will help to concentrate on daily tasks and think clearly. General guidelines recommend between 6-8 glasses of liquid per day and can be consumed through water, tea, coffee and/or fruit juices.
- Snack foods can improve mental health, but do not over-indulge and form poor behaviours.
- Healthy foods can decrease anxious feelings – fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats.
- Ensure you get all vitamins and minerals – leafy, green vegetables, dairy, cereals.
- Stay hydrated!
Stir-fry with broccoli and brown rice recipe
2 servings (436 kcal, 11 g fat, 2 g saturates, 58 g carbohydrates, 16 g sugars, 6 g fibre, 24 g protein, 2 g salt per serving)
200g trimmed broccoli florets (approximately 6) halved
150g chicken breasts diced (or similar vegetarian product)
15g ginger, cut into shreds
2 garlic cloves, cut into shreds
1 red onion, sliced
1 roasted red pepper, cut into cubes
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp mild chilli powder
1 tbsp reduced-salt soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
250g pack cooked brown rice
In a pan, pour boiling water over the broccoli and boil for 4 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a non-stick wok and stir-fry the ginger, garlic, and onion for 2 minutes.
Add the mild chilli powder and stir briefly.
Add the chicken (or equivalent) and stir-fry for 2 more minutes.
Drain the broccoli and reserve the water.
Tip the broccoli into the wok with the soy sauce, honey, red pepper, and 4 tbsp broccoli water, then cook until heated through.
Meanwhile, heat the rice following the pack instructions and serve alongside stir-fry when cooked.