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How nutrition can impact on your mental health


By Marilena Andreou – October 2021

Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist




Evidence suggests that there is a link between nutrition and mental health. Your diet can be a contributing factor to developing specific mental health problems such as depression. You may have heard of the saying ‘you are what you eat’, this is particularly apparent when exploring the association of poor diet and mental health.


It should be noted that mental health problems do not develop just as a result of poor diet; there are so many other factors that contribute.


As we know, nutrition plays a significant role in our physical health and therefore it can have an impact on the way one feels and behaves. The food that we consume can affect our energy levels, motivation and ability to focus on day-to-day tasks. Therefore this could lead to reduced activity levels and diminished mood.


For those that have depression, they are far more likely to make poorer food choices and select foods that could contribute to their depression perhaps ‘convenience foods’.


A healthy diet can improve our physical health and our mental health. It is very important to look after ourselves, but how do how do we know what symptoms to watch out for?

Vitamin/ mineral deficiency

Impact on mood

Foods that can improve the way you feel

Iron

Extreme tiredness, lethargy and feeling weak.

Increase iron intake either by taking supplements or include more red meat, poultry and fish in diet.

Thiamin B1, Niacin B3, B12.

Tiredness, irritability and depression.

Wholegrain cereals, meat, fish, eggs and dairy.

Folate

Depression.

Green vegetables, citrus fruits, beans and fortified cereals.

Selenium

Depression and anxiety.

Brazil nuts, fish, seeds and wholemeal bread.


Improving your diet can help to;

  • improve your general mood

  • provide you with more energy

  • improve your concentration


Tips to improve your diet;

  • Eat regularly - when blood sugar drops, it can make you feel very tired, lethargic, irritable and depressed. Slow-release energy foods can help to maintain steady sugar levels throughout the day. These can include: pasta, oats, rice, nuts wholegrain bread, cereals and seeds,

  • Stay hydrated - ensure you are drinking enough liquid everyday especially water.

  • Protein - ensure you include enough protein in your diet as this can also make you feel fuller for longer. Good sources are: lean meat, fish, eggs, soya products and nuts and seeds.

  • Caffeine - watch your caffeine intake. Caffeine is a stimulant so it gives you quick bursts of energy but then it can contribute to anxiety, depression and disturbed sleep. Reduce or limit your caffeine intake if you need to and now there are many decaffeinated options.

  • Limit alcohol intake- excessive drinking alters a persons mood, behaviour and neuropsychological functioning. An overuse of alcohol can contribute to the worsening symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

In conclusion, there are many things that you can do to improve the association between mental health and nutrition. It is important to look after yourself both physically and mentally.