The link between healthy eating and mental wellbeing lies in consuming enough nourishing foods. Alternatively, consuming foods high in solid fats, sugar or caffeine can make you feel tired and lethargic, which produces further negative effects on your mood and self-esteem. You don’t need to stop consuming these completely, but you might want to try and cut down on the ones you are eating or drinking a lot of.
What foods do I need to eat?
Firstly, the most important aspect of healthy eating and mental wellbeing is to eat regularly and secondly include meals that contain good mood protein, carbohydrates, essential fats, and valuable vitamins and minerals.
Good mood proteins consist of essential amino acids; these provide the chemicals that your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings. They also help to control your blood glucose levels. One such amino acid is Tryptophan. This amino acid helps the body to make serotonin, which is known to regulate mood, emotion, sleep and appetite. Rich sources of tryptophan are found in bananas, brown rice, cheese, chicken, eggs, oily fish, sunflower seeds and walnuts.
Unlike the rest of our body organs, the brains’ preferred energy source is not fat or protein, but glucose. Carbohydrates such as cereals, lentils, pasta, sweet potato and wholegrain bread are good sources of glucose and are classed as low to medium glycemic foods, which means they can supply a slow release of energy into the bloodstream and to the brain. Regular eating patterns are ideal for keeping you alert throughout the day. Failing to eat regular meals means your blood glucose drops and you might feel tired, irritable and depressed. An additional bonus of eating carbohydrates is that they have also been identified as helping with the absorption of tryptophan, and you know the benefits of tryptophan.
Fruit and vegetables can contribute towards positive mental wellbeing, as they contain a rich balance of vitamins and minerals, which can boost memory, cognitive function and mental agility. Good mood fruit and vegetables include avocado, bananas, cabbage, carrots, green leafy vegetables and pineapple.
Folate, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc and B vitamins are all vital nutrients for mental wellbeing.
Low levels of B vitamins can cause fatigue, depression or feeling irritable. This is because these vitamins assist in the process of converting energy from carbohydrates and improving mood and metal functioning. In particular vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) plays a critical role as it a co-factor (helper nutrient) in helping your body produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin. These brain chemicals transmit signals from one nerve cell to another and influence the way we think and feel. Vitamin B6 is also necessary for the absorption of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the production of red blood cells, which carry iron, oxygen and nutrients throughout your body.
- Low levels of iron making you feel lethargic
- Low levels of folate and selenium increase your risk of being depressed.
Foods that are rich in B-vitamins include whole-grains (such as wheat and oats), fish and seafood, poultry and meats, eggs, milk, leafy green vegetables, beans and peas.
Low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids may contribute towards poor mental wellbeing. Regular eating of Omega 3 acids (essential or polyunsaturated fats) foods is thought to have a positive effect on our overall wellbeing and how well our nerve and brain cells function and communicate, with each other and the rest of the body. Essential fats can only be obtained through the food we eat. Consuming foods such as pumpkin seeds, mackerel, walnuts, flaxseed oil and salmon can provide a healthy source of essential fats.
A few examples of some good mood-boosting foods:
- Bananas provide a prolonged energy release and are packed with vitamins and tryptophan. They are also packed with potassium, levels of which can be depleted by stress.
- Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and water crass are excellent sources of folate, a lack of which has been linked to a depressed mood.
- Oatmeal is a rich source of soluble fibre, which helps to level out blood glucose levels by slowing the absorption of sugar into the blood.
- Lentils are an excellent source of B vitamins and contain good mood proteins.
- Sweet Potatoes are full of B vitamins that can help to alleviate premenstrual symptoms and depression. They also help to keep blood sugar levels steady and therefore help to prevent mood swings and sugar cravings.
Being dehydrated can have a profound effect on the way you feel. Headaches, lethargy mood changes, poor concentration and slower responses can be due to dehydration. This is because the body requires about 8 glasses (extra required on a hot day or after exercising) of water every day to replace lost fluids. Furthermore, drinking fluids can help to speed up your digestion of and therefore, optimism absorption of nutrients.
- Eat regularly to prevent blood glucose levels dropping
- Try to eat foods which are low to medium on the Glycemic Index and good mood proteins
- Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables to make sure you get enough essential vitamins and minerals
- Drink plenty of fluids
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