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Food and Mood: how diet affects your mental health

Woman grabbing food from the fridge

We often link our diet and what we eat to our physical health, but did you know that it also affects your mental health and wellbeing?

Having a healthy, balanced diet rich in protein, nutrients and vegetables could be the key to raising energy levels, improving your ability to concentrate and focus, bettering digestion and releasing amino acids, the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings.

By incorporating some or all of these tips into your diet, you may find an improvement to your mood, mental health and wellbeing.

Eating regularly

If you’re not eating regularly, you may find your blood sugar level drops. This can cause you to feel tired, irritable and depressed. Eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly, such as pasta, rice and oats, will help to keep your sugar levels steady.

Staying hydrated

If you don’t drink enoiugh fluids, you may find it difficult to concentrate or think clearly. This may also affect your bowels, which puts no one in a good mood. Drink the recommended six to eight glasses of fluids a day. Water is the best option but tea, coffee and smoothies also count as an intake. Be mindful though that these contain caffeine and sugar!

Looking after your gut

Research has shown that your gut reflects how you are feeling emotionally. Your gut slows down or speeds up if you’re stressed or anxious. For healthy digestion, you need to have plenty of fiber and fluid and you need to exercise regularly. Healthy gut foods include fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Managing caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant which means it will give you a big burst of energy but it 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. Try limiting the amount of caffeine you have a day or avoid it altogether and you might find you feel noticeably better.

Getting your five-a-day

Vegetables and fruit contain a lot of the minerals, vitamins and fibre we need to keep us physically and mentally healthy. Eating a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables every day means you’ll get a good range of nutrients. Fresh, frozen, tinned, dried and juiced (one glass) fruits and vegetables all count towards your five-a-day.

Getting enough protein

Protein is important as it contains amino acids which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings. It also helps keep you feeling fuller for longer. You can find protein in lean meat, fish, eggs, cheese and legumes (peas, beans and lentils).

Eating the right fats

Rather than avoiding all fats, it’s important to eat the rights ones. Your brain needs fatty acids such as omega-3 or -6 to keep it working well. You can find healthy fats in oily fish, poultry, avocados and eggs.

There are many ways that foods can affect how we feel, just as how we feel has an influence on what foods we choose. Some of the food/mood effects are due to nutrient content, but a lot of effects are due to existing associations of foods with pleasure and reward (chocolate) or diet and deprivation (plain foods).

This story was originally published in the Winter 2020 Community Living Well magazine. It has been edited for website purposes. Subscribe today to receive mental health and wellbeing tips straight to your inbox, four times a year!

Refer to the Community Living Well service here.

Author: Michelle Jackson
Posted on: 12th March 2020

SMART St Mary Abbots Rehabilitation and Training
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