Mental health and... diet & nutrition

fruit & veg (cropped)
14-02-2019

You are what you eat, or so the old adage goes. But can your diet really affect your mental health?

Eating a healthy balanced diet is already proven to reduce the risk of serious physical health problems associated with obesity, including heart attacks, stroke and diabetes, as well as some cancers. Nutrition is also thought to contribute to more cosmetic physical aspects such as healthy-looking skin and hair.

So, does what we eat affect our mood, or does our mood affect what we eat? Some people may recognise that their diet affects how they feel, while others have a tendency to use food as psychological comfort. 

But is it possible that changing our diet could help reduce anxiety, improve depression and have a positive impact on many other mental health conditions?

Nutritional psychiatry would certainly suggest that it can. Research published by the Lancet medical journal suggests that although there are many contributing and complex factors to mental ill health, there is enough compelling evidence to suggest diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology. 

Other research has showed following traditional Mediterranean or Japanese diets (both of which are high in vegetables, fruit, unprocessed grains and fish and low in meat and dairy) may lower the risk of depression by 25-35% compared to a typical western diet. (Harvard medical school

Other studies claim diets which regularly include highly processed fried and sugary foods increase the risk of developing depression by as much as 60%, while research  by Harvard Medical School also showed people who took probiotics (supplements containing good bacteria) had reduced anxiety levels, improved perception of stress and mental outlook compared to those who didn’t.

LionHeart mental health ambassador James Crawford says he firmly believes a good diet coupled with exercise has been instrumental in helping him manage his own periods of severe depression.

Previously hospitalised after a serious breakdown, James (left) is now back in the workplace and has found his own coping mechanisms to help manage his symptoms. 

He said: “It’s clear to me that exercise is essential to ensure your body works as well as it can, but this is only one element and needs to be combined with sleep and a good diet.

“I find all these things massively enhances one’s general motivation and drive, which is vital during periods when your mental health is poor and you really need willpower to do anything.“

Tips for keeping a balanced diet

Eat regularly
The key is to avoid peaks and troughs in blood sugar, which can affect mood

Keep hydrated
Aim for 6-8 glasses of fluid a day as even minor dehydration can affect how you feel 

Get your 5 a day
Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables as deficiency in many vitamins and minerals contained in fruit and veg has been found to impact mental health

Eat more Omega-3
This essential nutrient for brain function, found in fish, meat, leafy vegetables and seeds, is thought to reduce anxiety and have a positive effect on other mental health conditions.

Drink alcohol in moderation
While people often use alcohol to reduce stress, anxiety or depression, drinking too much can actually make those feelings worse. People who drink more are also vulnerable to higher levels of mental ill health.  

Cut down on processed, sugary and fatty foods
It’s fine to enjoy a treat in moderation, but it seems your body and mind might thank you for cutting down!

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