Mental health has come to the forefront of personal well being much more in recent years.
More people than ever before are being diagnosed with mental health disorders, and the ones that seem to be on the rise the most are anxiety and depression.
There is a whole host of reasons as to why more people are suffering with anxiety and depression, but that is the subject for another article.
As mental health is being more openly discussed, it is also becoming more understood by medical teams and the general population alike.
There are many things that are known to alleviate symptoms of medical health disorders, such as exercise and medication, but there are some indicators that eating better can also help you achieve better mental health.
Let’s take a deeper look at this.
Why Should You Eat Healthily?
We are told all the time that we should be eating more healthy for a multitude of reasons, but this is usually geared towards our physical health.
We know that eating well reduces our risk factor for many illnesses including heart disease and type two diabetes, but eating a healthy diet can also help you mental health.
A healthy diet is usually considered one that is high in fruit and vegetable, some ‘good’ fats and protein. It should be low in processed food, like processed meats, and refined sugar. A healthy diet should also be low in alcohol, and moderate caffeine intake.
Eating healthily will also help to control your weight, you neither want to be underweight, nor obese, as these two extremes will mkae you more vulnerable to other illnesses.
Eating a healthy diet that is nutrient rich will make you less likely to catch bugs like the common cold, and give you more energy during day to day activities.
How Can You Improve Your Diet?
If you are considering improving your diet, it can be helpful to keep a food diary for a few weeks beforehand, so you can see exactly what you are eating and when, and what improvements you can make. Be completely honest in this diary, the more honest you are, the more you can see where you are making unhealthy choices, and improve it.
Making your diet more healthy can have physical benefits, such as weight loss, improved skin tone, but it will also have a positive effect on your mental health.
A better diet can help you have more energy, sleep better, improve your general mood and help your concentration.
You don’t have to make drastic changes to start improving your diet, you can start with small steps, like changing out a sugary, calorie laden breakfast cereal, for a lower sugar, slow release breakfast like porridge.
Start eating more regularly, instead of at different times each day. If you start a more regular routine, you may notice your mood improves. This is because if there is a long period of time between meals, it can really affect your mood, leading to being snappy and irritable, and you will become tired much more quickly.
Along with other treatments recommended by your doctor, improving your diet can help you to start beating depression.
Many of us don’t drink enough water every day. The current recommendations are to drink between 1.5 – 2 litres of water a day.
Any non-alcoholic drink counts towards your water intake, but just be aware of what you are consuming, as some drinks contain high amounts of sugar, which will not be healthy, and caffeine can sometimes make people feel ‘jittery’ and anxious, especially if consumed in the evening or at night.
Drinking water every day can help you feel fuller- which can stop snacking in between meals, and stop the craving for sugary foods.
If you are properly hydrated, you will also find that your weight stabilises, you can concentrate better and sleep better.
If you are drinking plenty of water, you may also find that you can exercise easier, and for longer, meaning you can get even more of those feel-good endorphins going.
Foods That May Help Improve Mental Health
There are so many different pieces of advice out there, about what you should, and should not, be eating. If you are changing your diet, it may be worth consulting a nutritionist to help you with a plan.
Omega 3 fatty acids are well known for their positive effect on brain health. There are also some studies which show that people with a higher intake of this vitamin have less incidence of depression. Omega 3 can mainly be found in oily fish, such as salmon.
Walnuts, cashew nuts and hazelnuts are also a good source of Omega 3, and nuts are also low on the glycaemic index scale, meaning they release their energy slowly leading to you feeling fuller for longer.
Fruit and vegetables are, of course, very good for us. We all know we should be getting our five – nine portions of fruit and veg a day. They are full of vitamins and minerals that we struggle to find in other foodstuffs, and add to our general overall health and wellbeing.
Protein such as that from lean, non-processed meats will also help to keep you fuller for longer, therefore avoiding snacking and that blood sugar crash that comes a couple of hours after eating something very sugary.
Foods That May Have An Adverse Effect On Mental Health
What we consider ‘comfort foods’ are those that we turn to when we are having a bad day, or feeling low in general. They are termed comfort food because they do just that, make us feel comforted. However that comfort rarely lasts long, and these foods are normally not actually doing us any good.
Foods high in sugar can make you feel slightly better whilst you’re eating them, but they lead to a blood sugar spike, and then crash a few hours later which can make you feel worse in the long run.
Caffeine is often something we rely on to get us going in the morning, but limit your caffeine intake, if you take in too much, you can become anxious, tired and irritable.
Alcohol should be avoided if you are having mental health problems, although it may be tempting to reach for a glass of wine at the end of the day, alcohol is a depressant, and will usually male you feel worse.
So, as you can see, improving your diet will have a positive impact on both your mental and physical health. Start with small steps, and discuss with your doctor or nutritionist before making any big changes.