Is it really possible to achieve better mental health by eating the right foods? Research shows that what we eat may affect not just our physical health, but our mental health too.
It’s no secret that poor diet has been linked to diseases such as diabetes and cancer. However, recent evidence also suggests that bad nutrition could lead to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
How food affects your mood
Your brain needs the right mix of nutrients to stay healthy and function well. The wrong foods could lead to feelings of:
- Irritability and fatigue – often caused by low blood sugar as a result of missing meals.
- Low energy – usually caused by sugary foods that give an initial energy surge which wears off and leaves you feeling tired and low.
- Bad moods – studies have shown that regularly eating protein positively impacts mood.
- Loss of concentration – not drinking enough fluid has significant implications for mental health and wellbeing.
- Reduced efficiency in mental tasks – this is also caused by inadequate fluid intake and a lack of protein.
Eat your way to better mental health
The government’s five-a-day campaign was launched in 2003 as a realistic target for people to improve their health. Despite this, adults under 65 are eating around four portions a day on average. Older adults and children even less.
The NHS recommends eating a variety of foods from the five main food groups (fruit and vegetables, starchy foods, dairy products, protein and unsaturated fats) to maintain good physical and mental health. It’s also important to remember to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and keep your brain working well.
Fruits and vegetables
Fitting in those five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is not as tricky as you might think.
Fresh, frozen, tinned, dried and juiced (one glass) fruit and vegetables all count. Try to eat a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables every day. Balanced meals will ensure you get a good range of minerals, vitamins and fibre to keep your body and mind healthy.
Foods such as potatoes, bread, rice or pasta are a good source of energy, which is vital to keep our minds and bodies in top condition. Starchy foods also contain fibre which is needed to keep our digestive system working and prevent us from feeling sluggish.
Cheese and yoghurt are great sources of protein and calcium, but they also contain saturated fats so should be consumed in moderation.
Eating dairy products as part of a balanced diet is thought to achieve better mental health and wellbeing.
Our brain relies on protein, the only food source of amino acids, to create mood-enhancing chemicals. Protein plays an important part in how we feel and our ability to process clear thoughts and feelings. Protein can be found in lean meat, fish, eggs, cheese and yoghurt.
Healthy fats can be found in foods such as oily fish, olive oil, almonds and sunflower seeds.
These fats are needed for optimal brain health and functionality so its important to include them in your diet. Try to avoid saturated fats wherever possible as they can have a huge impact on your mood.
Don’t forget about self-care
Self-care is extremely important, but it often gets forgotten about due to busy, modern lifestyles. Taking the time to listen to your body and mind will help you clear your thoughts and help you to decipher when your body is saying no.
Here are some easy ways to gain better mental health by healthy eating and self-care:
- Eat regularly – your body and brain need energy through food to function properly.
- Stay hydrated – fight fatigue by drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day.
- Choose less high sugar foods and drinks – eating the wrong fats can dramatically affect your mood.
- Eat a variety of foods – this will ensure you get a good range of nutrients.
- Exercise frequently – exercise leads to a release of endorphins (feel good chemicals) that help us to relax and feel happy.
Take control of your health
Remember that if you take the time to look after yourself, you will soon see the benefits of better mental health.