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Foods for change and motivation

Medical & health articles 19 Jan 2016
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At this time of year, many of us are looking for ways to strengthen our resolutions and start 2016 on the right foot.

You might be surprised to know that motivation doesn’t only come down to setting the right goals with the right attitude and follow-through: what you eat can also improve your chances of reaching your goals. Luckily the foods that support motivation levels are also very good for you in lots of other ways, so if you want to eat healthier and kick some goals this year, these food and nutrition tips will do the trick:

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Breaking bad habits with Bs

The B group vitamins are essential for motivation, energy levels and brain health. Vitamin B6 in particular can help to break bad habits because it’s needed to produce the chemical dopamine. Dopamine helps to regulate the pleasure centre of the brain and can increase your motivation by sending “feel-good” signals to your brain. Find vitamin B6 in foods such as salmon, tofu, turkey, bananas, avocado, spinach, walnuts and hazelnuts.

Staying on track with meals and snacks

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Your blood sugar levels can dramatically affect your mood, energy levels and the decisions you make. We all know that feeling of being absolutely starving, losing all willpower and gobbling down every sugary snack in sight! It’s much easier to stick to your plan and reach your goals when you’ve got a steady and stable stream of energy.

The best way to keep your blood sugar levels in check is by eating three balanced meals (never skipping breakfast!) and two snacks every day. In general, choose foods as close to their natural form as possible, unprocessed and less refined – they are broken down more slowly in your digestive system and release sustained energy over time. Stick to wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, ensuring you always include a good source of protein with each meal such as fish, nuts, seeds, dairy, legumes or meat. Protein helps to regulate the release of sugar in your system.

If you find your motivation and energy slipping in the dreaded 3:30 afternoon slump, reach for a protein-based snack to see you through until dinner; a handful of nuts and seeds, an apple or banana spread with nut butter or even a boiled egg are all healthy and easy options.

Adapting to a new exercise regime

Some research has found that eating good quality protein within the first hour after exercising can help to build and repair your muscles; any later than this and you have potentially missed your window of opportunity. Other research suggests that protein should be consumed both before and after exercise. Either way, protein is vital for your muscles, as is the mineral magnesium, which is found in dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, silverbeet and swiss chard, as well as wholegrains, beans and nuts.

Check your iron levels

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If you are really struggling to get going, you might want to get your iron levels checked. Iron carries oxygen around our body – if you’re deficient in iron, you’re likely to be lacking in energy and motivation, you may also tire easily when you exercise and feel short of breath. Women can be particularly at risk of having low iron levels if they have heavy periods, or are vegetarian/vegan or pregnant. Good sources of iron include red meat, chicken, seafood, kidney beans, lentils and cashews.

If you suspect you might be low in iron, discuss with your GP the option of having a blood test. Avoid taking an iron supplement without knowing where your levels are at, because high levels of iron can be dangerous too.

A little bit of balance goes a long way

Sticking to a strict diet or a new way of eating can be stressful and oftentimes unsuccessful. Research has found that a daily reward of two pieces of dark chocolate (at least 60% cacao) can help you stay the course. Dark chocolate is also rich in flavanols, which are compounds that can improve and protect your heart health.

Giving yourself small rewards and being kind to yourself can help you through the ups and downs of reaching your goals – remember, it won’t always be a straightforward path, but just by choosing healthier foods, you are well on your way to a healthier and more productive year.

Find more ways to live healthier and make positive lifestyle changes.