Winter is a tough time of year. The cold, wet weather makes it harder to get out and about and the darker nights can make staying in and watching Netflix with a takeaway seem very appealing. On top of that, we have lockdown to contend with. It’s no surprise then, that many of us are struggling to cope at the moment.

The good news is, there is lots of help put there and plenty of ways that you can take charge of boosting your mojo – through the food and drink you put in your body. As members of a unit in the armed forces, your colleagues will be relying on you to be prepared for whatever happens in the field. This means that we need to be battle fit, not just physically – but mentally too.

At Evolve Military College, we’re passionate about preparing our learners for a career the armed forces both physically and mentally, so we’ve produced a guide to getting the most out of your meals to boost your mood.

Eat regular meals.
Your brain needs to be fed regularly with the right mix of nutrients for it to function properly. Your body’s central control centre, if your blood sugar drops through lack of food you might feel tired, irritable and depressed. Eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly will help to keep your sugar levels steady. Top tips include:

• Breakfast is crucial for a great start to the day
• Rather than tucking in to a massive lunch and dinner, try eating smaller portions spaced out more regularly throughout the day.
• Avoid foods which make your blood sugar rise and fall rapidly, such as sweets, biscuits, sugary drinks, and alcohol.
• Drink plenty: If you don’t drink enough fluid, you may find it difficult to concentrate or think clearly. You could also start to feel constipated, which, let’s face it, puts no one in a good mood!

Eating the right fats
Yes, your read that correctly – but the word “right” is crucial here! Your brain needs fatty acids (such as omega-3 and -6) to keep it in top working order – but that doesn’t mean reaching for the fast food! Foods rich in omeg-3 and -6 are essential here for great brain function, and can be found in oily fish, poultry, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), olive and sunflower oils, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin), avocados, milk, yoghurt, cheese and eggs. Top tips include:

• Avoid Trans fats, typically found in processed and packaged foods such as processed meats, ready meals, pre-packed cakes and biscuits. Instead try to use fresh foods and ingredients whenever you can.
• If you are feeling like you need a sugary boost, remember the wrong fats will make you feel worse in the long run
• Instead of reaching for a chocolate bar grab a handful of healthy seeds and nuts

Drink enough fluid
Your brain is like a sponge, and if you don’t keep it regulally hydrated it will quickly dry out, leaving you tired, bring on headaches and low in mood. A brain contains up to 78% water so keep it topped up with six to eight glasses (about 1.5 – two litres) fluid per day. Top tips include:

• By the time you register you are thirsty you are already dehydrated – so avoid getting to that stage
• Water and fruit teas are the best hydrators
• Caffeine can affect your mood so try to limit your intake
• Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it will give you a quick burst of energy, but then may make you feel anxious and depressed, disturb your sleep (especially if you have it before bed), or give you withdrawal symptoms if you stop suddenly.
• Drinks such as coffee, cola, energy drinks, tea and chocolate all contain caffeine and should be limited.
• Drinking too much alcohol can cause dehydration and can lead to B vitamin deficiencies, which may make you more depressed or anxious. Remember, if you are under the age of 18 you should not be having an alcohol whatsoever

Getting your 5 a day
We all know that vegetables and fruit contain a lot of the minerals, vitamins and fibre we need to keep us physically and mentally healthy. We’re also all familiar with the “five a day” message – but the World Health Organisation suggests that up to 8 a day is best for optimum health.
Eating a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables every day means you’ll get a good range of nutrients – so remember to “eat the rainbow”. Top tips include:

• Add fruit and veg to every meal – berries and a glass of orange juice with breakfast, a banana mid morning, salad and an apple with your lunch, a fruit box mid afternoon and at least two portions of vegetables with your dinner quickly add up
• Fresh, frozen, tinned, dried and juiced (one glass) fruits and vegetables all count towards your 5 a day.
• As a general rule, one portion is about a handful, small bowl or a small glass.

Switch to wholegrain
Who doesn’t love a steaming bowl of pasta or a pile of rice with their curry? These carbohydrates also contain high amounts of sugar, which after the initial high can leave you feeling tired and irritable so a wholegrain version is the best option. Try brown rice and pasta for a change – not only is it healthier, it will make you feel fuller for longer, and help your brain and ultimately your mood function far more effectively. Top tips include:

• If you are not sure about making the switch, try mixing white and brown rice or pasta initially
• Go for a 50/50 bread to get the bets of both worlds
• Remember wholegrain foods are rich in range of vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function well. They are also digested slowly, helping to control the rate of glucose supply