Mood & Food - How what you eat can affect your mental health

So we know that eating our five a day is good for our physical health, but what do you know about the link between our diet and mental health?

Eating a well-balanced diet full of nutrients and vegetables can improve your sense of wellbeing as well as your mood, so although you may be tempted to reach for the chocolate when you’re not feeling your best, cooking a meal packed full of nutrients may help more you in the long run.

Some research suggests that a Mediterranean-style diet that contains plenty of fresh veg, seafood, olive oil, fresh herbs, cereal and grains can reduce symptoms of depression and our usual comfort foods that can temporarily improve our mood (chocolate, for example) actually have a negative effect on our brains.

What is a well-balanced diet and how can it help?

We say ‘eat a well-balanced diet’, but what do we mean by this exactly? Can you eat a bowl of carrots and expect to cure all symptoms of depression? Certainly not, but eating a mix of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals can help to improve mood, increase energy levels and encourage clearer thinking.

Carbohydrates

Carbs produce blood glucose, which is needed for our bodies to create energy. We need energy to focus, in fact 20% of all the energy in the body is used by the brain. If our brains do not get the energy they need, we can begin to feel tired, weak and unable to think clearly – by ensuring our diets contain enough carbohydrates we can prevent this from happening. Foods such as wholegrain, fruits, vegetables and legumes are sources of carbohydrates, as well as starchy foods like pasta and rice. A recent study found that a Mediterranean-style diet that contains many of these foods, led to a reduction in depression among participants.

A rapid fall and rise of blood glucose can impact your mood by making you feel irritable and low, whilst also occasionally triggering anxiety symptoms.  Keeping blood glucose levels steady by eating slow energy releasing foods like oats, cereals, nuts and seeds spread out in small portions throughout the day can help to combat these moods.

Proteins and fats

Protein contains amino acids, which are chemicals your brain needs to help regulate thoughts and feelings. It is important to get enough protein in your diet, which can be found in lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seed, cheese, soya products and legumes. Our brains also need enough fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, to function properly. These healthy fats can be found in nuts, seeds, oily fish, poultry, avocados, dairy products and eggs.

Vitamins and minerals

A lack of certain vitamins and minerals in our diets is not only bad for our physical health, but can affect our mental health too. Eating a balanced diet is the best way to ensure your body is getting the vitamins and minerals it needs, however it can sometimes be necessary to supplement these too.

There are many deficiencies that can affect your mood. A diet lacking in iron, B vitamins such as B1, B3 and B12, folate and selenium can all contribute to tiredness, low mood and depression. Ways you can include these nutrients into your diet include:

Iron: red meat, poultry, fish, beans and pulses

B vitamins: meat, fish, eggs, dairy and fortifies cereals

Folate: green veg, citrus fruits, liver and beans

Selenium: brazil nuts, seeds, wholemeal bread, meat and fish

Processed foods and poor mental health:

Processed foods have been shown to prevent the necessary conversion of other foods into nutrients the brain requires and therefore causing damage that can affect our moods. One study found that the higher intake of foods with saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and processed foods are linked to poorer mental health in children and adolescents.

Sources:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29215971/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4167107/

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