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How Does Our Diet Influence Our Mental Health and Wellbeing?

1 March 2021

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The mind and body are not separate.  If you find you have difficulty concentrating, have low mood, experience brain fog, and lack of focus, concentration and memory, have you ever considered that you may not be optimally nourished?  All these functions are dependent on the right quality and quantity of nutrients to support these intricate, connected functions from performing effectively.

Eat a Balanced Diet

All foods give our body energy, and that energy helps sustain both our mood, focus and vitality throughout the day and night.  If the food we eat is too high in refined sugar or highly processed, the energy released from this food can be too fast, causing our blood sugar levels to rise rapidly. What goes up must come down, but our blood sugar levels come crashing down causing our energy to slump. If we eat foods that release their energy too quickly not only does our energy spike and crash, but also our moods will go up and down too, like a rollercoaster.  We need to eat food that offers balanced, slow releasing energy in order to feel sustained, energised and level-headed throughout the day.  To achieve this, we need to eat foods containing good quality Protein, Complex Carbohydrates and Healthy Fats.

Protein and Fibre – The more fibre and protein you include in each meal and snack, the slower release of any carbohydrates you eat.  Foods with high fibre and protein naturally have a lower glycaemic load (GL).

· Add seeds and nuts to carbohydrate-based breakfast such porridge oats, Chia puddings, granola.

· Include seeds and nuts when eating fruit – apple dipped in nut butter, Medjool dates stuffed with pistachio, almonds or walnuts.

· When serving chicken, wild salmon or tofu, choose vegetables with brown rice.

· Combine beans, lentils or chickpeas with your pasta sauces, and make sure pasta is wholemeal. Check out lentil pasta.

· Top oatcakes with hummus, smashed avocado, nut butter or mackerel pâté.

· If you want to drink juice, try to make your own or dilute 50/50 with water and steer clear of long life, highly processed juice options.

Choose whole foods and avoid white foods (white rice, white bread, white pasta)

Choose whole grains (brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa), lentils, beans, and a wide variety of fresh whole fruit and vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Kale, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, squash, sweet potato etc)

Aim for 5 portions of Vegetable and 2 portions of Fruit every day. 1 Portion = 80-100g

Feed the Brain – Healthy Fats – Omega 3 & 6 – DHA and EPA

We need a balanced ratio of Omega 3:6. Omega 6 tends to dominate so we need to include more Omega 3 foods that contain the essential EPA and DHA that helps support brain activity, naturally lowers blood pressure, decreases inflammation and helps insulin function.  This balances our blood sugar levels, therefore maintaining level energy and mood.  Omega 3 fats have been shown to improve learning, behavioural problems, Attention Deficit Disorder, Depression and Bipolar.

 

Best Brain foods include:

Omega 3 

  • Flax (linseed)
  • Hemp
  • Pumpkin
  • Walnut

Omega 6

  • Sunflower
  • Sesame
  • Pumpkin
  • Hemp

EPA/DHA

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Tuna
  • Eggs

Eating Window and Meal Spacing

Meals need to be spaced equally throughout the day to allow for balanced energy.  Try not to skip meals as this will also disrupt your blood sugar levels.

· Breakfast – Eaten in first 1-2 hrs. upon waking

· Lunch – Ideally 4-5 hrs. after Breakfast

· Dinner – Ideally 4-5 hrs. after Lunch. Dinner to be eaten 2-3 hrs. min before sleep to allow for rest and digestion.

Staying Well Hydrated

Dehydration can impede your mental health by making it harder to think clearly.  When we become dehydrated our body’s carefully balanced electrolytes become imbalanced, stressing the body and causing feelings of fatigue, lack of focus and concentration.  People tend to drink more fluids in the summer but it’s imperative to drink fluids all year round. Ideal fluids are water, sparkling water and herbal teas.  Approx: 2 litres per day. In moderation, tea and coffee are fine but try to drink before 1pm to avoid the caffeine affecting your sleep and be aware that tea and coffee are diuretics that promote fluid loss, which in turn leads to dehydration.  Alcohol also dehydrates the body as its base is ethanol and therefore needs more water to help the body expel this toxin.  Avoid binge drinking as excess drinking can damage the lining of your gut, which promotes inflammation. Inflammation increases risk of many disease including depression.

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