BLack and white picture of a man with depression and low mood, with his head in his hands

Q & A: How to beat the January blues?

I’m a 45-year-old man with a fairly healthy diet. However, last January I remember feeling quite low in mood with no energy. I also found it difficult to sleep. I am keen to avoid these feelings this January – have you any suggestions?”

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer answers:

I’m sorry to hear about your January, but the good news is there are plenty of foods that can help lift your mood this January. The lack of light, especially during the first month of the year, can lead to low mood because the body tends to produce less serotonin, our happy hormone. The best way to increase levels in the body is to eat foods containing the amino acid tryptophan, which makes serotonin. Eggs, cheese, turkey, oats, nuts, tofu, dairy produce and salmon are especially rich sources.

Serotonin is also needed to produce the sleep hormone melatonin. You may be lacking in this, and it could be contributing to your poor sleep. There is more than a grain of truth in the old wives tale that having a milky drink before bed is a good idea. The reason? Milk is high in tryptophan. If you don’t eat dairy products, then soya milk works just as well. Alternatively, snack on a banana or an oatcake with nut butter about an hour before bedtime.

While serotonin is a brain chemical, it’s actually mainly produced in the gut. It’s therefore important, to have plenty of good bacteria in the digestive tract which helps encourage its production. Live yoghurt and fermented foods such as tofu, sauerkraut and tempeh are great to include in the diet when you can. Drink green tea as much as possible and eat other foods such as Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, onions and leeks, which also feed the friendly gut bacteria. A combination of all these foods can help lift low mood.

Lastly, if you’re having sleep problems, you might also like to try the herb valerian, which has been proven to promote restful sleep without causing any drowsiness the next morning. You need to take it for about a week before noticing an improvement, but it’s well worth persevering.

I hope this will help you feel more like your normal self this January.

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