Most of us know that a poor diet is bad for our physical health. What is less well known is the negative impact that a poor diet a can have on our mental health. The brain is an organ, just like the heart, lungs, or liver. And like these other organs, the brain needs the right kind of nutrition to keep it healthy.
The role of diet in mental health is far from being fully understood. But there is a growing body of scientific evidence linking particular foods and eating habits to poor mental health. By understanding the link between food and mood further, we can find ways to improve how we feel through our diet.
Improving mood through food
There are many changes that you can make to your diet that may improve your mental health. Here we discuss five.
1. Eat more greens
Most people have heard the advice to five pieces of fruit and vegetables a day. But there is good reason for this advice. Fruit and vegetables contain lots of vitamins, minerals and fibre that help to keep us physically and mentally healthy. Research has shown that people who eat more fruit and vegetables are more likely to report better mental well-being.
Top tip: Eat fruit and vegetables that are in season, to save money on your groceries bill.
2. Stay hydrated
When we’re dehydrated we can feel tired, agitated and low. Our memory and concentration may also take a hit. Try drinking around 2 litres of water a day (equal to 8 small glasses) to help you feel more alert and focussed.
Top tip: A water bottle can be a great investment. They are cheap, easy to refill, you can take them anywhere. Most importantly, they can serve as a useful reminder to drink plenty of water.
3. Eat regularly
Eating can be difficult if you’re feeling anxious or low. Food may be unappealing when your stomach is in knots. But eating healthy, balanced meals throughout the day can help keep your energy levels up and bloody sugar levels steady. In turn, this can help you to feel more energetic and less irritable.
Top tip: Preparing healthy meals in bulk can reduce the time that you spend in the kitchen and increase the likelihood that you will eat good food regularly.
3. Eat the right fats
Many people believe that all fats are bad and should be avoided. But this is only true of “trans fats”; those found in cakes, biscuits and fried foods. These foods are easy to eats lots of, especially if you’re feeling low. But eating foods that contain these fats can lead to low mood and poor memory.
Good fats, on the other hand, are found in foods like nuts, seed, eggs and oily fish. These foods contain fats that are good for brain health, such as omega-3 and omega-6.
5. Cut down on processed foods
Processed foods are those that have been altered in some way during preparation. Examples of processed foods include ready meals, pizza, crisps and pies. Generally these foods are high in salt, sugar, and trans fats.
Diets high in processed foods have been linked to poorer mental health in both adults and children. Instead of processed foods try to eat more whole foods; such as vegetables, seeds, and wholemeal pasta.
Making changes to your diet and eating habits can be difficult. Try to make gradual improvements to your eating habits, rather than lots at the same time. Keeping a food and mood diary can be a useful way of recognising how different foods may be affecting your mood.
Please note: Some foods cannot be taken with anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication. Please check the medication leaflet, or speak to your doctor, if unsure.
· Mental health foundation – Mental Health and Nutrition
· MIND – Food and Mood
· Rethink – Food and your mental health
Writer for Cognitive Practice