A healthy, nutrient rich diet full of mood supportive foods, paired with regular movement are two key factors in supporting a healthy mood. Unfortunately too few of us, piece this together and overlook how diet and lifestyle practices can really help our mood, especially during times of stress and adversity.
With the current anxiety being felt around the globe, there is no better time than now, to start taking care of your mental health.
Here I share with you a few key foods and practices, to integrate into your daily diet, to support mental health.
Omega-3 essential fats are not only helpful to immunity but also for mood. This is because, our brain is 60-70% fat and essential fats are critical for the proper functioning of the chemical messengers in our brain, controlling mood and emotion. Aim to eat fatty fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel 2 x per week and on the other days, have 1-2 tbsp. hemp seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts or flaxseed oil. If you don’t enjoy fish, bump up your daily intake of the plant-based omega-3 sources.
Zinc, magnesium and selenium are 3 important minerals when it comes to mental health. A deficiency of either 3 has been linked to poor mental health because each play a role in the working of our nervous system, production of neurotransmitters and also supply antioxidants to protect the brain. Aim to eat a wide variety of food rich in each mineral daily including:
Magnesium: almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts, soymilk, black beans, edamame beans and leafy greens.
Zinc: oysters, beef, crab, pork, pumpkin seeds, yoghurt, chickpeas and swiss cheese.
Selenium: brazil nuts, tuna, sardines, prawns, chicken, cottage cheese, brown rice, eggs and oatmeal.
Eat at regular intervals
Now this will be different for everybody, some people feel best when eating every 3 hours, yet others prefer just 3 square meals daily. One is not better than the other, base how often you eat on your hunger and whether you feel energised. If we leave it too long in-between meals and snacks and start to become shaky, hangry or just outright starving, these symptoms can mimic anxiety, irritability and low mood. This means it’s really important to make sure you are eating regularly throughout the day and keeping blood sugar balanced. If you are feeling too anxious or overwhelmed to eat, try having small snack sized meals such as a smoothie which can be kept in the fridge and sipped throughout the day, scrambled eggs, fruit with nut butter, wholegrain toast with avocado or some roasted veggies topped with a can of salmon/tuna.
Protein, Protein, Protein!
Protein is an important macronutrient when it comes to mental health and mood because protein rich foods contain amino acids, which are needed for neurotransmitter synthesis. Neurotransmitters act as chemical messengers within the brain and are responsible for mood. Aim to include a source of protein at each meal and snack, such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, tofu, nuts/seeds or protein powder. When sitting down to a meal or snack, as yourself, have I got protein?
Foods to limit
There are a few foods and drinks to limit which can have a negative impact on mental health, including:
- Excess refined sugar – can spike blood sugar and lead to a crash followed by the symptoms mentioned above. You don’t have to avoid refined sugar like it’s the devil. Instead, it’s all about quantity and eating it as part of an overall healthy balanced diet.
- Alcohol – it goes without saying, alcohol can wreak havoc on mental health and really impact how we feel the next day. If you are already stressed, avoid turning to alcohol for relief, find more effective and healthy coping strategies such as exercise, calling a friend or engaging in a hobby.
- Caffeine – for some, caffeine is not a problem and they can happily drink a cup or two of coffee and not feel any negative affects. On the other hand, those sensitive to caffeine can get feelings of anxiety. If you are already feeling this way, it may be time to be honest with yourself and ask whether caffeine is the right fit for your life at the moment? If you love the ritual of drinking coffee or black tea, replace it with a turmeric latte, rooibos tea or other caffeine free tea variety.
How you eat counts
The mood we are in when eating can impact how we digest food. For example, have you ever eaten on the go feeling stressed only to end up with a bellyache and running to the bathroom? When in fight or flight mode, blood circulation is diverted from the stomach, which can impair digestion. This in turn can result in not only unpleasant feelings but can impair nutrient absorption. Take time out of your day to eat food in a stress free, relaxed environment – it’s a necessary act of self-care and do not feel guilty for doing it!
Exercise has always been my antidote for feeling down, stressed or anxious. I cannot stress enough the benefit of being active and moving to not only release endorphins but to help clear the mind and shift focus away from the news and current events. If your gym has closed, it would be a detriment to use this as an excuse to not exercise. Keeping up with exercise is incredibly important and is a tool we can all use to better support our mental health. If confined to your home, there are plenty of online workouts or try setting up a circuit in your back yard. Whatever you choose to do, try to be consistent and make exercise part of your daily routine.