How does food affect our mental health?
Nutrition has a key role in mental health. A healthy diet not only protects against depression but mental health struggles may also lead a person to change their diet. Like all our body’s organs, the brain has nutritional needs. What we eat will affect its functioning and therefore our mental health.
Our cells communicate messages about sleep, appetite, and mood through the transmission of chemicals called Neurotransmitters. The food we eat can alter those nerve chemicals, changing our mood, energy levels, food cravings, stress, and sleeping habits.
Tips to improve nutrition
Include ‘feel good’ foods. Some foods have been linked to better mental health and mood. Aim to include things like colourful fruits and vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, legumes (beans, lentils, chick peas), olive oil, fish and fermented foods like yoghurt.
Eat regular meals and snacks. Eating every 3-4 hours helps to regulate appetite, increases energy levels and concentration. Not eating enough or often enough can make us moody, irritated and anxious. By eating regularly, you will be less likely to feel deprived and binge.
Practice mindful eating. Mindfulness is being aware of what is present for you mentally, emotionally and physically in each moment. Eating without distraction can help you tune into your hunger and fullness signals. Mindfulness also helps us tune into our real needs that bingeing or compulsive eating masks.
Go easy on yourself. Change can be a slow process. Take small steps to improve your eating. Some changes you may find easy while others will be harder. Take advantage of days you are feeling well to plan, shop and cook meals.