Nutrition To Improve Mental Health

Nutrition To Improve Mental Health

Balanced nutrition is beneficial for the body’s physiology and reducing the risk of many health conditions. A well balanced diet assists in lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart related conditions and reducing the risk of many types of cancer. For sport, nutrition can benefit the body by providing the necessary energy for intense workouts or prolonged periods of physical activity. Certain nutrients will help improve recovery in the muscles post exercise. Equally, balanced nutrition for the mind is essential for a positive mental wellbeing which will also help to promote physical wellbeing. A balanced diet, one which includes essential fats, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins in particular B-vitamins (B6) and minerals can assist in reducing the risk of depression, insomnia, anxiety and thus improve mental health and a positive mental outlook on life.  

Nutrition is key to promote a positive impact on mental wellbeing. This has been proven in many studies exploring the effects of nutrition on reducing the risk of a wide range of mental health illnesses. Where possible it is recommended to use food as ‘medicine’ rather than being prescribed medication to improve mental wellbeing, however always seek medical advice from your GP if symptoms persist.

Banishing Menstrual Blues: 

It is a common for females to experience symptoms of menstruation such as: bloating, fatigue, mood swings, insomnia, weight gain (due to water retention and also an excess of calories consumed). To assist with improving these symptoms, certain foods need to be regularly eaten prior to menstruation and during menstruation, specifically wholegrain foods: wholemeal bread, porridge, oatcakes, brown pasta and brown rice. These foods will ensure that the glucose is released slowly due to the high fibre content found in these foods which will result in blood glucose levels being in balance. In contrast, when simple sugars eg white bread, white pasta, biscuits, jam, confectionary are consumed, this causes a surge of glucose to be released into the blood followed by a dip in the blood sugar levels, this is due to these foods having a low fibre content. 

The B vitamin B6 also helps to stabilise blood glucose as this vitamin releases glucose slowly from carbohydrates. Many wholegrain foods contain B6 which shows the benefits of increasing these foods in the diet to improve many health conditions which have been mentioned earlier.    

Slow releasing carbohydrates (wholegrain foods) combined with some protein at each meal will provide the necessary energy required by the body and will promote satiety (feeling of fullness). Satiety will reduce the risk of overindulging on additional calories which may cause unnecessary weight gain, providing there is a balance between calories consumed and activity levels. Examples of balanced meals providing both carbohydrates and protein include: wholegrain pasta, grilled chicken or salmon with vegetable stir fry, brown rice with tofu and tomato & basil sauce with mixed vegetables or whole wheat fajitas with stir fry turkey or tofu with salsa and mixed salad. 

Improving Mood and the Promotion of Sleep:

Tryptophan has been proven to improve mood and induce sleep. Tryptophan stimulates the release of serotonin, a chemical which is released in the brain, this chemical aids mood and also promotes sleep. Some examples of foods which contain tryptophan include: porridge with milk and walnuts, wholemeal toast with 2 eggs scrambled or baked potato and tuna with side salad or tofu with stir fry vegetables and wholegrain rice or chicken breast, sweet potato mash, broccoli and carrots. A combination of these foods can be consumed to add variety to the diet.  

Omega 3 fats has been shown to improve serotonin levels as omega 3 fats help to build the receptors necessary for serotonin allowing these chemicals to be transported into the blood. To increase levels of omega 3 fats in the body, a diet rich in omega 3 fats is recommended, foods containing these healthy fats include: linseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, oily fish (mackerel, sardines, salmon, tuna). It is recommended that nuts (for those who do not have an allergy to nuts) and seeds are eaten on a daily basis and can be added to salads, breakfast cereals or eaten as a snack. Oily fish consumption is advised twice a week.  

Stimulants Can Lead to Sleep Deprivation:

Caffeine found in tea, coffee, chocolate, energy drinks should be avoided late at night as these stimulants can have an impact on sleep and in extreme cases, can cause insomnia in some individuals. To promote better sleep patterns, avoiding caffeine 3-4 hours prior to bedtime, it is recommended to drink a glass of milk or herbal tea to relax the mind and body and induce sleep.

Alcohol is another stimulant which mimics the same effect as caffeine and again, should be avoided or consumed in limited amounts. It is recommended that the body is without alcohol for a prolonged period of time to assist in improving physical and mental health.

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