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The month of May is Mental Health Awareness month, so let’s chat about the those good mood foods and I want to share with you the top 10 foods for your mental health. I really cannot stress enough how important it is to focus on your nutrition as part of your mental health plan. Food n Mood really is a thing, with the way you eat having an impact on your mood. All of us will have either suffered at some point with our own mental health or will know someone who has. It is a complex topic, with no silver bullet, but I believe a big part in finding an answer to mental health questions is your diet.
Good food is Good Mood
Eating a healthy, balanced, diet goes a long way to improving mood. We all need a few healthy habits for mental health, and food should be on your list. To use one of the many mental health slogans and phrases: good food is good mood.
Of course, diet is just one piece of this mental health puzzle. Having a care plan for mental health (which may involve medication, therapy, definitely good sleep patterns and movement) is important. As a Dietitian and Pilates instructor, food and exercise are my thing and I feel passionate about everyone enjoying a healthy, balanced and nutritious, diet along with moving their body in a way that brings joy.
Always seek help
FIRSTLY….If you are suffering from poor mental health, please, please do seek help. There should be no stigma attached to this. Here in the UK your GP is the first port of call and they can help as well as refer you onto other teams. You can also contact Mental Health Matters or visit Every Mind Matters for advice and support. Although you can’t always see mental health problems they are no less important than physical health problems and help should be sought.
So how can diet help? And what about key nutrients for mental health?
Before we look at what it is, let’s have a think about what it is not. There is a surplus of information and views, particularly on the internet and social media. These can often be misleading, incorrect, and even quite harmful to mental health. Calorie-counting, fad diets, cutting out food groups entirely or labeling as “bad”, is not helpful (check out this blog on the downsides of diet and mental health for more). It’s not about focusing on weight-loss, but rather looking to have an all round healthy life-style and diet.
There is lots of evidence you can read up on about the emerging about the impact of diet on mood and plenty of great advice on how to help manage your mood with food. Also if you are a health care professional I have written a whole module on this topic for the Culinary Medicine Course.
Good Mood Foods, foods good for mental health:
Well researched diets such as the Mediterranean or Japanese diet have been shown to decrease the risk of depression by 25-35%. These diets are typically high in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and fish whilst lower amounts of lean meats and dairy. You can read more about the Mediterranean diet in my book “the DASH diet“. They also omit most of the ultra-processed or highly refined foods and sugars that tend to be so popular in “Western” diets. These “culturally traditional” diets are great for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, which is linked to serotonin levels which helps regulate sleep, appetite, mood and pain inhibition.
To help lift your mood through food, try these tips:
- – eat regularly and choose foods that release energy slowly (pasta, rice, oats, wholegrain cereals and breads, buts and seeds)
- – stay hydrated (water is best as it doesn’t contain caffeine or sugars)
- eat plenty of fibre
- – get enough protein rich foods (meat, fish, eggs, beans, pulses, tofu, dairy, nuts, seeds)
- – reduce/manage caffeine (aim for no more than 3-4 cups of caffeinated drinks a day)
- – eat brain and heart healthy fats (oily fish, eggs, lentils and beans, soya, nuts and seeds)
- – get your minimum of 5-a-day fruit and vegtables (for those micronutrients and fibre)
What all this shows it that diet is totally an important factor in maintaining good mental health. We should all be striving for a healthy lifestyle and diet so as to have the healthiest bodies and minds that we can. So eat those greens, those good fats, wholegrains and drink that water. Focus on adding in more nutritious foods and combine it with movement you enjoy and relaxation and sleep time too. Not only will your gut thank you, your mind will too!