Your body is an incredible machine! And in the same way that we put oil and petrol in our cars we need to put the right ingredients into our bodies at the right time to make sure we can run at speed! Putting the right food and drink into your body can not only improve your mood but it can give you energy and help you to think more clearly.
If you are struggling with your mental health taking some time to look at your diet can really help to make you feel better, especially if you combine it with getting good sleep, exercise and mindfulness.
What are the best foods for depression?
Research shows that fruit, vegetables, fish and wholegrains can have a positive impact on mental health. These are all natural foods that contain important minerals, vitamins and fibre that our bodies need to function. Trying to eat a balance of these food types each day or in the case of fish (and meat) a couple of times a week sets your body up to help you feel good.
So what does eating healthy actually look like? Try and make half of your plate fruit and vegetables; the more colourful they are the better! Things like sweet potato, broccoli, spinach and tomatoes are great foods to nourish your body! When eating bread, try to choose wholegrain rather than white bread. When choosing meat try to choose the less fatty cuts.
What food will make me feel worse?
On the flip side, foods that are highly processed or contain a lot of sugar (pizza, burgers, chips, fizzy drinks) can have a negative impact on how you feel.
What is processed food?
Processed food is food that has been altered from its natural state. Let’s take a potato... if you dig it up from your garden, give it a wash and steam it then not much has happened to get that potato from its natural state into your belly! However, imagine if that same potato goes from your garden to a factory where it’s sliced up, covered in sugar and flavouring, boiled in oil, perhaps baked once or twice more, supplemented with chemicals to help the fries last longer and retain their colour and shape before being frozen, arriving at your supermarket at finally being cooked once more by you in your oven! That potato has gone through one heck of a journey! And each stage removes some of the good nutrition and replaces it with not so good chemicals.
Salt is also a key ingredient to manage. Too much salt raises your blood pressure and can put strain on your organs, particularly your heart, arteries, kidney and brain. Salt naturally occurs in food and it is rare that you will need to supplement your food with salt from a nutritional angle. Many of us have become accustomed to adding salt to our food and taking it away can make food taste a little bland for a while but this won’t last and you will soon be appreciating the natural flavour of food!
Sugar can be equally harmful if you eat too much of it. Sugar is found in lots of food, for example fruit, and is a natural part of a healthy diet. Sugar becomes more of a problem when it is processed. So how does sugar affect your mental health? Eating sugar can give you a high or a sudden boost of energy, it can also make us crave it. But it also comes with it’s own downsides.
Now it’s not all bad news and common advice around eating is to try and eat a balance of foods. The problems come when our diets are so focused on certain food types that our bodies are not getting the mix of foods that we need.
It’s not just what we eat but how we eat.
Eating at regular intervals- your body needs regular fuel to keep it going, like a fire! So make sure you don’t leave it too long between meals. Some people find that having more smaller meals throughout the day works better for them than 3 bigger meals but see what makes you feel the best.
Your blood sugar, or glucose is your bodies way of getting energy and it gets that energy from the food we eat. It also provides nutrients to all of your bodies organs. If you blood sugar level drops then so might your mood. If your blood sugar gets too high that can also be harmful too. So the key is to eat at regular intervals.
Let’s quickly talk about water too. Did you know that 60% of your body is made up of water? Drinking lots of water throughout the day keeps you hydrated and lessens the likelihood of you feeling tired, lethargic and having headaches. Again, drinking water in its purest form is the best way to go if you can!
These are just a few reminders to support you to ensure that you are nourishing your body, eating the best foods for depression and mental health and giving yourself the best chance to feel good each day. If you haven’t given the food you eat much thought before why not try keeping a food diary for a week and writing down everything you eat and drink each day, then take a good hard look and see if there are any areas where you can start to make a few changes. It might make more difference than you realise!