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Optimistic May!

At last May is here and so too is the prospect of warmer weather, lighter nights and alfresco dining. Or as my friend would have it, more time to spend in his local beer garden!

Named after Maia the Greek goddess of fertility, May is an optimistic month where nature blooms into colour and the sights; smells and sounds that surround us filter into our senses. Alongside our national, if not slightly optimistic obsession, towards the possibility of rising temperatures, 1 in 5 of us will also be keeping a watchful eye on the all-important pollen count, as we wrestle with the daily irritation of the dreaded hay fever. Yes summer is finally on its way and we can put away our winter coats and boots, peel off those layers and enjoy the prospect of open toe sandals and brighter, lighter clothing.

Alongside alterations to our wardrobe, May is the month we start to make changes to our diets. No need for those winter warming soups and stews now, it’s time for salads and colourful Mediterranean style dishes, as we take advantage of the availability of seasonal fruit and vegetables at their very best, such as strawberries, peaches, blueberries, asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli to name but a few.

Most of us already appreciate that eating the recommended daily 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables is not only are good for us, but they provide essential vitamins and minerals to optimise our health, including folate, vitamin C and potassium, as well as offering us an excellent source of dietary fibre, which helps to maintain a healthy gut and avoid digestion problems, not to mention helping to reduce our risk of heart disease and some cancers. But did you know that the food we eat could also play a major role in our mental health and wellbeing too?

Recently, scientists have improved our understanding of the gut and its relationship with the rest of our body. Not only is it responsible for producing a large proportion of our neurotransmitters, the chemicals that communicate information throughout the body and the brain, but these essential chemical messengers, which are responsible for our happiness, are also predominately made in our gut! Surprisingly as much as 90% of serotonin and around 50% of dopamine in fact! It would appear that there is a degree of truth to good old Hippocrates and his claim two millennia ago that ‘all disease begins in the gut.’

Ongoing research at King’s College Hospital in London is suggesting a strong link between gut microbiota and anxiety related behaviours. Apparently there is a correlation between chronic inflammatory conditions of the gut, such as irritable bowel syndrome (a common condition that affects 1 in 5 of us in the UK) and a link with depression. The theory suggests that if we can cultivate a healthier gut by making some simple changes to our diets, we can benefit our mood. Who’d have thought the term ‘comfort food’ could mean something all together different from reaching out for the Haagen Daaz?!

Ok, so what do we need to do to increase our chances of better mood through our food?

Having listened to a live stream on this very subject a couple of weeks ago I summarised the salient points for a friend of mine, who like me is also interested in the holistic approach to healthy mind and body.

To save you wading through the detail, here are the headliners:

* Include 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables in our daily diets. For reasons mentioned earlier and also because they contain important antioxidant health enhancing properties.

* Try to eat 4 portions per week of oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies and tuna, these contain essential omega oils responsible for improving our mood, particularly important is omega 3 as it is an effective anti depressant.

* Eat nuts and seeds including flaxseed and linseed in our daily diet. Some seeds are also a good source of tryptophan, the amino acid that is the building block for our friend serotonin.

* Include a daily probotic to help improve our gut health in the form of a yogurt-based drink or eat a decent yogurt containing a high proportion of ‘healthy bacteria’ such as Activia.

Statistically, anxiety and depression are the top two issues affecting our mental health and wellbeing. Perhaps by making some small changes to our diet, we will see a positive effect to the way we feel, but as we all need time off for good behaviour, I would also recommend that we adopt an 80:20 balance, allowing ourselves a few treats. So for that reason I’m off to meet my friend in the local beer garden for some much needed alfresco living. Cheers!

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