C6 Tuesday, May 20, 2014
FITNESS & WELL-BEING A healthy diet can do more than just slim your waistline – eating the right foods can improve your mood and help fight depression, writes Kate Whitehead
t’s no secret that eating certain foods will make you feel good, while others may leave you in a slump. So if being happy is on your agenda, think about what you put on your plate. It helps to understand a little of the science behind food and mood. It is all to do with neurotransmitters, the chemicals that send and receive information around the brain and body. You have most probably heard of serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline. “Half the population is somewhat depressed and a lot of it is manifested not through emotional factors but the inability to have good neurotransmitter levels,” says Chris Manton, a nutritional biochemist at Dr Lauren Bramley & Partners. As with most things, there are shortcuts. For a quick feelgood buzz, chocolate will do the trick. Its effect is strong and almost immediate. Other foods have a more subtle and long-lasting impact. But if you want to feel good most of the time – rather than in short bursts – then you need to build up your neurotransmitter levels in your brain. One of the best ways of doing this is to
ensure that you have enough folate in your diet. A diet with plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, Brussels sprouts, endives, spinach and silver beet provides plenty of folate. Folate is killed by heat, so it’s important that the vegetables aren’t cooked too much. Raw is best. To improve your overall mood, you need to work on improving your serotonin levels. Anyone affected by seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, will be low on serotonin. Smoking and drinking also deplete it, as does stress. When we don’t have enough of this hormone, we sleep poorly. “The way to make serotonin is through an amino acid called tryptophan. You can get tryptophan by
All mood is actually created through these chemical effects CHRIS MANTON
eating high protein foods like turkey, eggs and nuts,” says Manton. Walnuts are especially good. Not only are they high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B6, but they are also high in tryptophan and folate to help fight depression. In order for tryptophan to be made into serotonin in the brain, you need to have a little bit of carbohydrate taken with the protein at the same time, says Manton. So if you are having turkey, eat it with a little brown rice. Walnuts, which contain both protein and carbohydrate, are a one-stop happy snack, Manton says. Lentils are another winner. Just three dessert spoons are enough to get a serotonin hit because they contain the trio of tryptophan, protein and carbohydrate. Also high on the list for happiness is fish – and salmon in particular. Salmon is packed with vitamins D and B12 as well as omega-3 fatty acids. And it is also good for boosting your serotonin levels, helping to fight off depression and lift your mood. Another surprising “happy food” is bananas. Eating bananas boosts the dopamine levels in your brain, which reduces depression. They are also high in vitamin B6 and magnesium. “Foods high in magnesium and B6 help you make GABA, the neurotransmitter that calms
people down. People who don’t have enough GABA are anxious,” says Manton. It has been recognised for some time that dark chocolate is good for you – in moderation (think 20 to 30 grams). It elevates moods too, as it contains phenylethylamine, which is a pre-cursor to aid the production of dopamine and noradrenaline. “There’s an endorphin-like molecule in chocolate called anandamide and this is one of the things in chocolate that gives rise to the bliss effect,” says Manton. “All mood is actually created through these chemical effects.” Blueberries and strawberries are also on the feel-good food list because they are high in antioxidants that stimulate dopamine production. For double happiness – and a classic Valentine’s treat – dip them in dark chocolate. “Strawberries dipped in chocolate means that you are mixing the bliss effect from the anandamide with the love feeling you get from phenylethylamine,” says Manton. Oysters are another Valentine’s classic that’s sure to put a smile on your face. These are high in vitamin B12 which is essential for the production of serotonin and dopamine.
“Vitamin B12 is really only found in significant amounts in animal protein foods, so this is why vegetarians are more at risk from depression due to the lack of B12 in their diet. Vegetarians should be encouraged to take vitamin B12 supplements to avoid this problem,” says Manton. And while technically not a food, krill oil is worth mentioning because it has been getting a lot of positive attention recently. A study by Norway’s University of Bergen showed the oil, which comes from tiny shrimp-like animals, had an antidepressant effect on rats. Another trial was done recently on humans, but the findings haven’t been released yet. “Krill oil is the new kid on the block. It’s much better absorbed by the body than what people know as fish oil and has all these healthy fats,” says Manton.
He also recommends including fermented foods in your diet to make sure that you have plenty of good bacteria in your intestine, which improves mood balance and alleviates anxiety. His personal favourite is coconut milk yogurt, which is high in protein and a dairy-free way of getting enzymes and probiotics into your diet. Another alternative is sauerkraut, also known as
fermented cabbage, preferably home-made without preservatives or added sugar. For happiness, it’s just as important to avoid certain foods. Wheat can be a real downer as it suppresses the production of the happy hormone serotonin. Another party pooper, which has come in for a lot of criticism in recent months, is sugar. “It affects this so-called brain-derived neurotrophic factor,” says Manton, referring to the brain chemical that is responsible for the development of new brain tissue. The bottom line for a happy diet? “Eat plenty of fish, eggs, nuts and turkey and make sure you’re having some carbs with those foods,” says Manton. “Expose yourself to light as much as you can, and avoid wheat and sugar and too much alcohol.” email@example.com
Chris Manton’s smoothie Blend together: 300ml unsweetened almond yogurt 100-150ml coconut milk yogurt ½ cup blueberries ½ cup strawberries 1 teaspoon chia seeds
FIT & FAB: SIMON TASKER
Shake up your mindset ................................................ Rachel Jacqueline firstname.lastname@example.org Life is too short not to do what you love. Or, if you ask Simon Tasker, not to do what inspires you to get you out of bed every morning. It’s a mantra that has driven his recent decision to set up an online health and supplements store with his brother Andrew, equipping everyone from rugby players to bankers with their fix of protein shakes and other health supplements. Supplements HK started a little over a year ago to sell the products that the siblings have tried and liked. “I realised you’ve got to have passion for what you do, and it’s the passion for sport and a healthy lifestyle that keeps me going when it’s a struggle to balance everything,” says Tasker, 31, born in England but raised in Hong Kong. Growing up in Discovery Bay, he’s led a sporty life for as long as he can remember, dabbling in everything from rugby (he played for the Hong Kong national team) to dragon boating to white collar boxing. He began taking protein supplements to aid his gym training at Loughborough University in Britain. But back in Hong Kong, he and his brother became frustrated with their options for buying quality products. “Until now, there really hasn’t been much in terms of Hong Kong-based supplement e-commerce websites. And it’s a pain to go online to get a tub of protein delivered in three or four weeks for some overinflated price. We just felt there needed to be an alternative,” he says. In addition to managing a recruitment business and new health venture, playing and coaching rugby, the Tasker brothers organised Hong Kong’s first “Couple’s Fitness Challenge” that was held at the weekend at Discovery Bay. It involved running, swimming and exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups. Couples worked together to get to the finish. “They say a couple that sweats together stays together,” says Tasker. “Hong Kong has a lot of
running and adventure races, but I think people can be put off by the level of fitness required. We’ve designed something that is going to push people, but is still achievable, and is something people can do together.” What are the benefits of partnering in business and in sport? Camaraderie and team spirit, I find, always help to push you that little bit further. You have to have that thought that you can’t let your teammate down, and trust they won’t let you down either. I enjoyed boxing, but I found it harder in a way than rugby. Those two to three minutes on your own in the ring feel like an eternity compared to 80 minutes on the pitch. It’s the same in business: we’ve got each other’s back. What’s it like working with your brother? It can be a bit tricky working with family because you say and do things that you would probably never say to a colleague in the office. But at the same time I’m working with somebody who’s got a similar attitude and ideas to me, and we’re driving towards a common goal. Where do you find the time to fit in all your pursuits? I believe there’s a lot of time in the day, more than we realise. It’s a mindset. No matter how late you come home from work, you can always go to the gym for an hour or put on your running shoes and go for a jog around
the block. No excuses. It’s about good planning, and not giving in when it seems that little bit hard. You’ve been a resident of Discovery Bay for around 15 years. What is it about the place that keeps you living there? It’s the only place I’ve been to in Hong Kong that has a real sense of community. If you want anonymity and don’t want to be recognised walking down the road, then Discovery Bay is not for you. I enjoy seeing people that I coach and train with. Discovery Bay is also cool because you’ve got the space to do the sports you want to do: you’ve got the beach down the road, the mountains behind you, the clubs and the gym. It definitely promotes a healthy lifestyle. And the ferry gives my life a schedule. What would you like to see change in Hong Kong in terms of health and fitness in the future? Hong Kong’s work-life balance is a little skewed; people tend to work longer hours here. But I have noticed a shift towards focusing on health and fitness. It can be a hard slog at times convincing people that protein supplements will help them achieve their goals rather than turn them into a hulking beast, but we’re getting there. I think I’d like to see a greater overall awareness that it doesn’t have to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep fit. It doesn’t always have to be radical changes. It starts small – just by eating better and moving more. email@example.com
Andrew Tasker (left) and brother Simon are on a mission to improve people’s fitness. Photo: Jonathan Wong