Stay Healthy, Stay Happy
- Most people are aware that a healthy diet is important to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other physical health problems.
Recent evidence also suggests that good nutrition may be just as important for our mental health and that a number of mental health conditions may be influenced by dietary factors.
While a healthy diet can help recovery, it should sit alongside other treatments recommended by your doctor.
Eat regular meals throughout the day to maintain blood sugar levels.
Make sure you eat at least three meals each day. Missing meals, especially breakfast, leads to low blood sugar and this causes low mood, irritability and fatigue. If you feel hungry between meals you may need to include a healthy snack eg. fruit, nuts and cereals.
Eat fewer high sugar foods and more wholegrain cereals, nuts, beans, lentils, fruit and vegetables.
Sugary foods are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. This may cause an initial ‘high’ or surge of energy that soon wears off as the body increases its insulin production, leaving you feeling tired and low.
Wholegrain cereals, pulses, fruit and vegetables are more filling and, because the sugar in these foods is absorbed more slowly, don’t cause mood swings.
These foods are more nutritious as they contain thiamin (B1), a vitamin that has been associated with control of mood.
• bread – wholemeal
• breakfast cereals – choose high fibre, low sugar types
• rice and pasta -basmati or brown rice
• potatoes – serve boiled potatoes rather than chips
Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day eg. 1 glass of orange juice or ½ grapefruit for breakfast, a banana or apple for a mid morning snack, salad at lunch time and then two types of vegetable (a portion is roughly two serving spoons) and piece of fresh or baked fruit for your evening meal.
Avoid sugar and sugary drinks, cakes, sweets and puddings. These are loaded with calories but have little nutritional value and may trigger mood swings because of their sugar content.
Variety of food
Eat a wide variety of foods to keep your diet interesting and to ensure you obtain all the micronutrients you need.
The more varied your diet, the more likely you are to obtain all the nutrients you need. If you have bread at one meal, try cereal or potatoes, rice or sweet potatoes at the others. Make sure you include at least 2 portions of different fruits and/or vegetables and a protein food at each meal.
Include some red meat and fish, as they are good sources of vitamin B12, another nutrient that seems to be associated with mood..
Fish in your diet
Include fish, especially oily fish, in your diet.
A few studies suggest that omega 3 oil supplements may reduce symptoms in people with depression on antidepressant medications. These studies are small but we know that a proper balance of omega 3 and omega 6 oils in the diet is important.
To get a good balance of mega 3 and 6 oils:
include more omega 3-rich oily fish from sustainable fish stocks – try to include 2–4 portions a week .
Maintain a healthy weight.
Depression affects different people in different ways. Some people lose interest in food or can’t motivate themselves to shop and cook, so they lose weight. Others find they want to eat more and gain weight when they are unhappy.
Both excessive weight loss or weight gain can make your mood worse and should be avoided. Weight loss and lack of good nutrition will deprive the brain of glucose and the other nutrients that control mood – you may need the advice of a dietitian to help you overcome this problem.
Maintain adequate fluid intake.
Not drinking enough fluid has significant implications for mental health. The early effects of even mild dehydration can affect our feelings and behaviour.
Coffee, colas, some energy drinks and tea all contain caffeine, which some people use to boost energy levels. However, in large quantities caffeine can increase blood pressure, anxiety, depressive symptoms and sleep problems.
If you do take drinks with caffeine in them, try to limit yourself to just 3–4 cups per day and drink other fluids such as water, fruit juice and non-stimulant herbal teas at other times. Chocolate also contains caffeine and should be limited to an occasional treat.
Limit your alcohol intake.
Alcohol has a depressant effect on the brain and can result in a rapid worsening of your mood. It is also a toxin that has to be deactivated by the liver.
Because the body uses important nutrients to process alcohol, people who experience depression should consider avoiding alcohol until they have recovered. Even then, because of alcohol’s depressant effects, they should consider drinking only small amounts – no more than once a week.
If you do want to drink alcohol, try not to exceed the recommended safe limits – two units a day for women and three units for men.
1 unit = 1 small glass wine
½ pint beer or lager
1 single measure spirits
1 small glass sherry or port