Eating for Mental Wellbeing

When choosing which foods to eat, we often spend a lot of time thinking about the effect they’ll have on our bodies. We eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to keep us healthy; when we overload on dessert, we worry about the impact on the scale; when we eat too much junk food we stress about the affect it is having on our cholesterol but have you thought about the food choices that we make can also have an impact on our mood and mental wellbeing.


Is there such a thing as good mood food?

Research has shown that what we eat has an impact on our mood and mental health. One of the most accepted theories in the medical community is the link between deficiency in serotonin and depression. Serotonin has a wide variety of functions in the human body and it is sometimes called the happy chemical, because it contributes to well-being and happiness. This neurotransmitter affects our mood, sleep patterns and appetite.

Serotonin is made from protein. Protein is made up of amino acids, and a specific amino acid called tryptophan converts into serotonin. Almost all foods that contain protein contain tryptophan, but some foods contain more tryptophan than others. Excellent sources are turkey, chicken, sardines, oats, soybeans, tofu, spinach, banana, nuts and seeds.

One of the questions that l consider when working with clients is are they getting enough protein.

On top of eating more tryptophan-rich foods, we need to make sure we’re also getting the other vitamins and minerals we need to be able to process it. Vitamin B6, vitamin C, folic acid and magnesium are all necessary in order for our bodies to process tryptophan and turn it into serotonin.

Start by eating plenty of tryptophan-rich foods to help boost our serotonin levels and improve our mood.

Blood sugar levels can play a role in our mood as well. There have been multiple studies showing hypoglycemia to be common in depressed individuals. What you eat has an impact on your blood sugar, when you eat foods such as refined carbohydrates it spikes your blood glucose levels followed by a sudden drop. These fluctuations in blood glucose can affect a person's mood and mental wellbeing.

It is important that you include foods in your daily diet that contain good sources of protein, fat, fibre and whole foods. Whole foods are plant foods that are refined as little as possible before being consumed. Examples of whole foods include whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. The higher content of fibre and good fat in your meals will help balance your blood sugar.

While coping with stress and mental health requires a comprehensive approach there are many ways diet can help. Certain nutrients have been scientifically shown to support the body during times of stress and anxiety.

Life is about emotion. It's a journey with highs and lows, successes and failures. It is normal to feel sad, even depressed sometimes but if it affects the quality of your life over the long term, step back, determine what new skills you want to require, what nutrients you need, what activities you can try and or reach out to others who can help support you.

There are some individuals who may require medical treatment but it does not always have to be the first step or only step. Some may need a combination of specific medicine, diet and lifestyle changes.

Be gentle with yourself, accept where you are and embrace the journey.

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