Dr Carrie Ruxton, Dietitian and Board member, Quality Meat Scotland.
If Christmas songs are to be believed, this time of year is all about being merry and bright with a bit of ho-ho-ho thrown in for good measure. But that’s not always easy when Christmas food prepping is never-ending, the in-laws are due, and the cat has pulled down the decorations again.
A survey by YouGov found that almost a third of adults start getting stressed about Christmas in early December, with choosing and affording gifts being the biggest worry. So, is there anything we can eat to keep our mood on a more even keel during the Yuletide season? Remarkably, studies show that certain nutrients are proven to support our brains and cognitive health, and good sources of these can be found in our kitchens at this time of year.
B vitamins are essential for a balanced mood as they’re involved in regulating neurotransmitters – chemicals which carry messages between brain cells and the rest of the body.
A study by Australian scientists found that stress symptoms were 20 per cent less likely in people given extra B vitamins compared those on control diets. One B vitamin, called niacin, also helps to reduce tiredness and fatigue – surely essential for getting through all those Christmas films?!
The best sources of B vitamins are meat, fish and eggs. Specially Selected Pork is rich in four types of B vitamin, including niacin, so makes an excellent choice for a quick supper. Adding a little ginger to your pork dish can also help calm the digestive system and alleviate the symptoms of winter colds.
“Everything but the Kitchen zinc”
If brain fog descends while you’re playing the annual game of Trivial Pursuit, perhaps you need a dose of zinc. Known for its role in normal cognitive function, zinc can be found in shellfish, red meat, dairy foods and wholegrain cereals. Around a fifth of teenagers and one in ten older adults don’t get enough zinc in their diets.
Iron is another important mineral for the brain, especially for learning and cognitive development in children. Low iron intakes, common in women and girls, can influence mental focus and even levels on anxiety according to a report in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.
You can find iron in spinach and kale but very little of it is absorbed by the body. A more reliable source is Scotch Beef which makes a tasty alternative to turkey on Christmas day or for festive family get-togethers.
The excitement of Christmas can be overwhelming at times, but help is at hand for managing blood pressure. A useful mineral, called potassium, is vital for keeping blood vessels healthy, as is taking the batteries out of the noisy robot toy when the kids aren’t looking!
Potassium may also help influence mood. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that people eating plenty of potassium-rich foods had a more positive mood and felt more energetic.
Fruit and vegetables contain potassium, and Scotch Lamb is also a rich source and can be an excellent comfort food for long winter evenings.
Why not also consider adding mood boosting spices to your dishes like cardamom and cinnamon, which may help balance blood sugars according to studies.
For a healthy balanced diet, our box of mood foods wouldn’t be complete without some healthy oily fish – like mackerel, tuna and salmon – which contain vitamin D and special fats, called omega-3s. These nutrients are important for brain function and studies find that regular fish eaters have a lower risk of depression.
Shake it all about
Whether you’re planning a quiet or full-on Christmas, make sure you’re eating well and helping to support your mood by eating a healthy and varied diet and enjoying the wonderful range of natural foods that Scotland provides over the festive season.