Diet and mental health

Diet and mental health

What we eat has a direct impact on our mental well-being as well as our physical well-being.  We can reduce the risk of not only physical illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and heart problems through what we eat; but also reduce depression, anxiety and other mental illness.

We all know about calories, fats, sugar etc and their impact on our health but foods that are “bad” for us just taste so good, don’t they?  They can be comfort foods when we feel down – anxious, stressed, depressed, unhappy.  Yummy takeaways, donuts, pizzas from the freezer that you just need to heat up, chocolate and other sweet treats. 

Did you know that these foods actually have a negative impact on our mental wellbeing, not just our waistline?  Unfortunately, they it can be difficult to refuse them!  We might crave them but they do not help us – in effect, they can become an addiction.

There is now research that proves that a diet high in processed foods actually causes mental health problems – including depression and stress/anxiety. There is also a direct correlation between a diet high in processed foods and physical illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart problems. The problem is that highly processed foods do not contain the micronutrients that are essential to our brains and bodies.

Think of it like a car – our brain is like the engine.  It keeps things running smoothly.  The engine, just like our brain, needs the appropriate fuel.  The engine might still run on the wrong fuel, but not well and it might even do some serious damage.  Unlike an engine in a car you cannot simply replace your brain though.

Did you know that every minute, one whole litre of blood passes through your brain?  Why?  So that the blood can deliver the fuel to keep your brain doing all its jobs.  Your brain lets you see, hear, taste, feel, remember, walk, learn, process information, create and so much more!  What fuel does your brain need?  Oxygen and micro-nutrients - that is, vitamins and minerals.  Without adequate amounts are brains struggle.

Our gut is another key part of what keeps as mentally and physically healthy.  It too needs micro-nutrients to keep us well.  Ever wondered about those sayings – ‘feel it in my gut’, ‘sick to the stomach’, ‘gut reaction’?  We often feel sick when we are stressed or angry.  Your stomach and brain work closely together. 

Think about it this way, if your diet does not contain very much ‘healthy stuff’, your stomach and brain can still keep you alive but there is nothing left over to fuel your immune system for example.  Micro-nutrients are converted by your body to fight toxins – be they viruses, bacteria or things like pollutants.  So, if you don’t have any available, in effect you are leaving yourself vulnerable to attack.

So, what can you do to help your gut and brain do their jobs?  Eat whole foods.  That is all you need to do.  Vegetables, fruit, fish when you can, dairy, eggs.  See what is in season – or get frozen veggies – they still have the vitamins and minerals you need!  Make soups or stews, salads are great.  Eat apples, kiwifruit, pears – whatever fruit is available.  You can still have the processed food but see if you can cut it down – set yourself some goals!

You may want to keep a food diary for a week or two.  Keep a record of everything you eat and drink.  Each day reflect on your emotions, stress levels and sleep patterns as well as any events during the day that might have influenced your diet choices.  At the end of a week , go back and reflect on what you see.

Posted: Thursday 26 August 2021