If you suffer from ups and downs, mood swings, anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, have you taken a look at your diet? Making sure the food that you consume is full of nutrients and well-balanced, this will aid not just your physical health, but your mental state as well.
A great deal of research has been carried out by scientists, nutritionists and specialists in mental health with reference to the complex link between the two. Using clinical trials, there is strong evidence of a relationship between the two elements. Leading mental health organisations put a firm emphasis on this factor.
The big problem is that people who are stressed, anxious and depressed will often turn to foods that they think will have a ‘happy factor’ in them, and tend to overeat for comfort, which is the worst thing possible. It’s most likely that these foods will fall into the ‘bad for you’ category. Cakes, biscuits, sweets – you know the kind of thing. This habit, along with no or very little physical activity, poor sleeping habits, cigarettes and alcohol will not improve your mental state, more than likely, worsen it.
What are the best foods to eat?
Looking at it from a nutritional point of view, a diet based on the following types of food should give you enough to make you feel better, more energetic, less ‘foggy’ brained, and an improved feeling of wellbeing all over. There is no doubt that an element of discipline is needed, but the least you can do is to try. Try at least some of these nutritional ideas:
- Gut health – plenty of fruit, vegetables, beans and probiotics – probiotics such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, pickles (such as gherkins), some cheeses (those that have ‘live or active cultures’ – mozzarella, gouda, some cheddar, cottage cheese).
- Vitamins and minerals in wholegrains, vegetables and fruits are perfect for both body and mind health.
- Protein – also good for brain health as the amino acid therein helps to keep your brain regulated. Meat and fish contain protein with salmon, tuna and halibut having the most. Meat should be lean – turkey and chicken have good quality protein content.
- Healthy, balanced fats. Cook or make sauces and dressings with olive or rapeseed oil, snack on nuts and seeds not sugary sweet things, milk, eggs and of course, avocados. Whichever way you look at it, trans fats are very bad for you – they are always present in processed foods, so try to avoid.
- B vitamins are reported to fight against depression, anxiety or irritability. Foods that are high in these are poultry, liver, red meat, milk, cheese and freshly squeezed orange juice. This vitamin has good potential for helping the brain and regulating moods and emotions.
- Try to avoid excess caffeine – it can give you the ‘jitters’, dehydrate you and potentially make you lose vital sleep. Keeping hydrated is a very important factor and best for you is clear water. If you become dehydrated, you can’t think straight, your energy level will inevitably decrease and your mood will sink. Sip water regularly throughout the day, not in one go.
If you are taking medication
If you are taking medication prescribed by your GP, please do consult them with any change of diet, to ensure that this does not affect what you are taking.
Other good ideas!
There are other elements to improving your mental state that have both social and health benefits. You need to stay connected with family and friends even if you feel you want to be on your own. Eating with them is an excellent idea, as you are more likely, when you become more relaxed, to share your problems. This should also make you feel better in yourself. Socialising in a familiar network with others is far more helpful than being isolated.
If the weather is fine, get out in the open air and breathe. Maybe have a tasty picnic with friends. Overly vigorous exercise is not necessary, even if you are used to it, getting outside and taking in the surroundings can have more of an effect on your mental state.
Should I take supplements?
This may seem the easiest thing to do, but nutritious food that you consume is a much better idea, and longer lasting. Supplements can be a beneficial idea, but they are not a substitute for a well-balanced diet. Speak to your GP to see if you need help on this.
You may have heard of a ‘food and mood’ diary or chart. These are a good idea, to track what you are eating and when you are eating it. It’s a good way of finding out how your body reacts to certain foods and maybe give you a clue what you really shouldn’t have.
If everything you try doesn’t seem to work and you are not improving, do seek professional help. It’s out there and these organisations or qualified therapists are excellent. But try to help yourself first by good and nutritious foods.
Written by Bev Walton, BSc Nutritional Science
I achieved a First-Class Honours degree in BSc Nutritional Science, Nutrition Sciences from the University of Reading and now have over 35 years experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for magazines and websites as well as ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I’m also a proud member of the Guild of Food writers.