Mental Health and Nutrition: The Surprising Links You Might Not Know

By Active Blackpool

It is no secret that eating and drinking well does wonders for our health. We’ve all been raised on the ethos of ‘8 glasses of water a day’ or the ‘5-a-day’ approach to fruit and vegetables. But did you know this can also have a positive impact on your mental health too?

In recent years, society has become more and more aware of mental health in general, whether this is in the media from medical experts, knowing someone who is struggling personally, or finding that extra support we all need from time to time. National campaigns, positive trends and awareness days such as International Day of Happiness (March 20th), International Mental Health Awareness Day (October 10th) and ‘Mental Health Awareness Week (9-15th May) are also now commonplace in our daily lives.

We’re becoming much more aware of mental health in general, but do we know the steps we can take to look after our own?

In her 2021 ‘Love British Food’ blog, ambassador and nutritionist Katharine Tate shared her knowledge of ‘Good Mood Food’. She wrote: “The food we eat is often seen as fuel to keep our body functioning. Howeverthe power of food can also be transformative for our mental health”. By making daily decisions around nutrition, like these ones suggested by the mental health charity Mind below, you can begin to use the food you put into your body to improve your mental wellbeing.

1 – Eat Regularly

By planning in regular mealtimes and ensuring you don’t go too long without eating, you can maintain your blood sugar levels. A drop in blood sugar can make you feel tired and irritable, affecting your interactions and decision-making ability. So, if you think your regular eating times may be affected, it’s wise to keep some healthy snacks to hand to ensure your energy levels are maintained.

2 – Stay Hydrated 

Those 6-8 glasses of water we mentioned earlier really do make a difference to your brain’s function and alertness during the day. Other drinks also count towards this such as juice or hot drinks but remember that caffeine can cause dehydration so everything in moderation (see point 3)!

3 – Moderate Your Caffeine Intake

Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, cola and even chocolate! As a stimulant, caffeine gives us a quick burst of energy when we need one but it can make some people feel anxious, disturb sleep or cause withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking it.

Limiting caffeine products to the morning and switching to decaf in the afternoon can help alleviate the side effects and help you get that all-important good night’s sleep!

4 – Eat The Right Foods

The key to good nutrition is balance and the majority of our diets should be filled with nutritious, vitamin-rich foods that help our bodies to function in a healthy way. Protein helps you feel fuller for longer and contains amino acids, which help your brain regulate your overall mood. Try to increase the amount of protein you consume from products like lean meat, eggs, fish, cheese, nuts and seeds to reap the benefits.

The Benefits of Eating Meals with Other People

The Mental Health Foundation also highlights the benefits of eating meals with other people.

“Doing this give us a sense of rhythm and regularity in our lives, a chance to reflect on the day and feel connected to others. Biologically-speaking, eating in upright chairs around a dining table also helps with our digestion. Talking and listening also slows our eating down, which supports healthy digestion.”

Mental health foundation

Could you set aside at least one day a week to eat with family and friends this week?

The foundation recommends choosing a meal that’s easy to prepare and “sharing responsibility between the group: doing the shopping, setting the table, cooking or washing up, for example.” And don’t forget, when you do sit down to eat, keep the devices switched off and away from the table so you can fully enjoy those conversations with your loved ones!

As with any changes, the best advice is to start slowly. Try the changes above incrementally and over time, they will become positive, daily practices. It’s worth noting, these aren’t ‘overnight fixes’ and that it may take a few weeks or even months for you to truly notice a difference, but give it a go, and both your mind and body will be thanking you for years to come!

The Active Blackpool team from Blackpool Council are one of the many programme partners of Business Health Matters, covering the Blackpool and Fylde Coast area.

Further reading / referenced articles:

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