Minding what you eat

18th May 2020

Minding what you eat

Devenish highlights role of nutrition in supporting mental health

During Mental Health Awareness Week (18th – 24th May 2020), nutrition specialist Devenish is highlighting the important role of food and nutrition in mood and overall mental health.

Emma McDonald, Devenish Food Innovation Project Manager, has outlined some ways to eat that can contribute positively to mental health.

“It is easy to overlook the fact that what we eat affects our mood,” comments Emma McDonald.

“Particularly during periods of stress, it is tempting to make choices that aren’t great for us either physically or mentally and that is understandable. It is also important not to embark on a new way of eating or make any radical changes to how we eat when we are not feeling at our best. However, there are useful ways we can start to think about food and nutrition to best support our mental wellbeing.

“Like other organs in our bodies, our brains need a blend of nutrients to function normally. There are some habits you can build into your diet that can positively contribute to brain function and in turn, your overall mental health.

“If you are taking any medication or suffer from any underlying conditions or intolerances, it is always worth discussing your specific diet with your doctor or a nutrition professional. 

Good Fats

“Your brain needs fatty acids such as omega-3s, especially DHA, to keep it working well. These healthy fats are found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines or trout and in omega-3 enriched eggs.

Eating a rainbow

“Most people are aware that ‘eating a rainbow’ of colourful foods is good for your physical health. Eating this way is also good for your mental health, providing the brain with a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are specifically used for normal cognitive and psychological function. We should be aiming to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with a portion being around a handful – and these can be fresh, frozen or tinned. We should also opt for at least two portions of fish per week, at least one of which is oily fish and 2-3 portions of red meat each week, all of which have been proven to have health benefits.

Protein

“Protein contains amino acids, which play an important role in producing neurotransmitters – the chemicals that allow your brain cells to communicate. You can up your protein intake through foods like lean meat, fish, eggs, milk and cheese, legumes (peas, beans and lentils), nuts and seeds and soya products.

Hydrating

“Hydration plays a big part in both helping your mind focus and keeping your digestion working well – the recommendation is around 6-8 glasses of fluid a day and this can include water, tea or coffee. It is important to be mindful of your caffeine intake though, as it can leave you feeling on edge or low, if you consume too much.

Listening to your gut

“Your digestion is often affected by mood, with your gut either being slowed down or sped up if you are under stress. Equally if you are suffering from digestive issues, this can have an impact on your mood. As well as staying hydrated, you can try eating plenty of fibre and gut-healthy foods like whole-grain foods, fruit and vegetables, beans, pulses, fermented foods like miso or sauerkraut and live yoghurts to help keep your digestion functioning normally.

Eating regularly

“Something we often forget about is the importance of eating regularly. When blood sugar levels drop, we can become tired and irritable. A good tip is to opt for foods in your meals and snacks that release energy slowly, such as wholegrain pasta, rice, oats, wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts and seeds. Foods that make your blood sugar rise and crash rapidly are those with high refined sugar content like biscuits, sweets, sugary drinks and alcohol – these are not beneficial for our physical or mental wellbeing on a long-term basis so should be consumed in moderation.

“These are some simple ways we can think about how we eat that will positively contribute to cognitive function and mental health. By introducing this approach to eating, you can know you are giving your mental wellbeing a boost.”

Devenish is an agri technology company that specialises in optimising nutrient use throughout the food and farming chain.

Emma McDonald is Project Manager within Devenish’s Food Innovation Team.

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