From a young age, we’re taught that eating well helps us look and feel our physical best. What we’re not always told is that good nutrition significantly affects our mental health, too. A healthy, well-balanced diet can help us think clearly and feel more alert. It can also improve concentration and attention span.
In order to perform like a top of the line engine, we need to ensure quality fuel for our brain. The relationship between our diet and our mental health is complex; however, research shows a link between what we eat and how we feel.
Eating well can help you feel better, without having to make big changes to your diet. See if you can try some of these tips:
· Stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration can affect your mood, energy level and ability to concentrate.
· Eat the right balance of fats. Your brain needs healthy fats to keep working well. They’re found in things such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocados, milk and eggs. Avoid trans fats – often found in processed or packaged foods – as they can be bad for your mood and your heart health.
· Include more wholegrains, fruits and vegetables in your diet. They contain the vitamins and minerals your brain and body need to stay well.
· Include some protein with every meal. It contains an amino acid that your brain uses to help regulate your mood.
· Look after your gut health. Your gut can reflect how you’re feeling: if you’re stressed, it can speed up or slow down. Healthy food for your gut includes fruit, vegetables, beans and probiotics.
· Be aware of how caffeine can affect your mood. It can cause sleep problems, especially if you drink it close to bedtime, and some people find it makes them irritable and anxious too. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks and chocolate.
· Share meals with other people when possible. There are many psychological, social and biological benefits of eating meals with other people. They give us a sense of rhythm and regularity in our lives, a chance to reflect on the day, and feel connected to others. Biologically, eating in upright chairs helps with our digestion. Talking and listening also slows us down so we don’t eat too fast.
Sugars and your mood:
“Diets high in refined sugars, for example, are harmful to the brain. In addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression,” says Eva Selhub, MD of Harvard Health. The emerging field of nutritional psychiatry is beginning to study these connections more closely. It is important to keep in mind that many factors can influence both eating habits and mental health.
What can you do now to ensure that the “hangry” episodes stay away?
1. Focus on Low Glycemic Foods The index is based on the understanding that not every carbohydrate is created the same.
Foods on the index vary based on how carbohydrates react in the human body. Simple carbs, for instance sugars found in soda and sweet desserts, are broken down faster than more complex carbohydrates found in most vegetables and whole grain foods.
Examples of Low Glycemic Foods
Low Glycemic Foods High Glycemic Foods
Vegetables: peppers, broccoli, tomatoes,
lettuce, eggplant Sugar containing beverages: soda, sweet tea, sports drinks
Fruits: strawberries, apples, pears Some Fruits: watermelon and pineapple
Legumes: chickpeas, beans (dry or boiled) Fast food: cheeseburgers, fried chicken, pizza
Dairy: whole or full fat milk, plain yogurt White rice, mashed potatoes or french fries
Sweets: dark chocolate with more than 70%
cocoa Processed Foods: corn chips, pretzels
Nuts: cashews, peanuts Bakery/grains: doughnuts, white bread, cereals unless whole grain
2. Incorporate Fruits and Veggies
The USDA recommends eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day. That’s a total of both, not of each. An added bonus is the fiber content of vegetables.
Aim for 30 grams of fiber each day. A study published suggests that something as simple as aiming to eat 30 grams of fiber each day can help you lower your blood pressure and improve your body’s response to insulin just as effectively as a more complicated diet.
3. Stay Hydrated
Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to work properly. Water gets rid of wastes through urination, perspiration, and bowel movement, helps keep your body temperature normal, lubricates and
cushions joints. Lack of water can lead to dehydration and even mild dehydration can drain your energy and make you tired. Drinking a glass of water with each meal can help curb your appetite and prevent dehydration.
4. Practice mindful eating behaviors:
· Eat slowly and without distraction – try counting your chewing to tune in
· Listen to physical hunger cues and eat only until comfortably full
· Know how to distinguish between true hunger and non-hunger triggers for eating
· Engage their senses by noticing colors, smells, sounds, textures, and flavors of the food they eat and their surroundings while eating
· Practice portion control: Use smaller plates and bowls
The study of nutrition and how it affects mental health is ongoing. And while more research is needed, current studies suggest that we may have some influence over our mental health through our food choices. Still, we need to keep in mind that diet is just one piece of the much more complex topic that is mental health.
As a result, it is important for anyone who is experiencing depression or anxiety symptoms or has general concerns about their mental wellbeing to work with a trusted healthcare provider to develop a personalized treatment plan.
About the Author:
Martha Hagmaier is our Wellness Program Manager for the IBEW site. She comes to us with over ten years of experience in the Health and Wellness Industry. In her most recent role, she was the Global Wellbeing Senior Manager for Electronic Arts. Her certifications include: Corporate Wellness Specialist, Diversity and Inclusion, Lifestyle and Behaviorial Coaching, and Personal Training.