Can A Great Diet Help Your Mental Wellbeing?
It depends on when and what you are eating in a typical day at the moment. If you feel that changes based on the information below may help, then give them a go! You have nothing to lose and your mental wellbeing may well benefit, both in the short and long term.
When You Eat
Eating regularly helps to provide a steady supply of energy and nutrients to your brain, which in turn, contributes to helping mood says explains the British Dietetic Association. If you tend to eat in fits and bursts, it could be worth evening out your intake with three meals spaced evenly over the day.
Having something to eat within a few hours of waking appears to help our brains 'work' better in terms of mental performance. If your brain is firing on all cylinders, it's likely that you'll feel more on top of things and perhaps less prone to stress and anxiety, which can come if tasks and jobs feel hard and concentrating is waning.
Waiting until lunchtime and relying on two rather than three meals a day may, counter intuitively, lead to weight gain. This is the observation scientists from Harvard University made when studying the link between breakfast eaters being less likely to gain weight over time.
The Harvard researchers say this may be down to larger meals leading to more of the hormone insulin being released, which could leave you storing excess calories as fat and feeling hungrier compared to spacing your calories over three more moderately sized meals with an overall lower calorie intake instead.
Drinking regularly to stay hydrated may also help you to feel less stressed and snappy and helping concentration. On this basis, it seems sensible to drink regularly throughout the day to help our mood and mental wellbeing.
What You Eat
No surprises that tucking into large meals and quickly digested carbohydrates like biscuits, cakes, muffins and sweets, appear to reduce our mental performance.
Meanwhile, eating fruits, vegetables and meals that are associated with a slower release of energy throughout the day, have been shown to have a positive affect on our cognitive capabilities – how we remember, process information and focus for example. Meals containing slow release carbohydrates like whole grains combined with moderate servings of protein and vegetables help to release energy slowly.
Wholegrain starchy carbohydrates like wholemeal bread and wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholegrain rice, pasta, noodles, pitta and wraps give us a range of vitamins and minerals, which are vital for the health of our nervous systems, cognition and psychological functioning. For example they provide us with iron and a range of B vitamins to help combat tiredness and fatigue, not to mention fibre, which appears to affect levels of the feel-good nerve transmitter dopamine via the beneficial bacteria in our gut.
Vegetables and fruits also provide us with a rich seam of nutrients that power our brains and can impact on how we feel including vitamin C, the B vitamin folate, potassium, iron, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory super nutrients and again, dietary fibre to feed beneficial gut bacteria.
Olive oil and rape seed oil meanwhile provide a good balance of omega 3 and omega 6 essential fats, needed by healthy brain and nerve cells. Any and all oils, whichever they are, need to be used in moderation.
Diary foods give us iodine (as do some fortified non-diary alternatives), which our nervous systems must have to work well.
Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins, also pack in vital brain foods including B vitamins, omega 3's in fish, tryptophan in fish, poultry and eggs and iron to help beat tiredness and fatigue.
When it comes to hydration, water is a great choice. Coffee and tea count towards keeping fluids topped up but too much caffeine may disturb sleep, which affects both mood and hunger the following day.
What's The Bottom Line? Try to eat and drink regularly and to base moderately sized meals around slow release carbohydrates, lean protein and vegetables and when it comes to snacks, make every mouthful count by reaching for example, for nutrient-rich fruits or small servings of nuts and seeds.