What we eat is vital to maintaining not only a healthy physical body, but a healthy mind too. In fact, many doctors and nutritionists call the gut our ‘second brain’! A diet of foods that are high in sugar, refined carbs, unhealthy fats and processed food can contribute to memory loss and impaired learning, as well as increase our risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia. This is also extended to our mental health – multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and worsening of symptoms of disorders such as depression.
Whether you’re struggling with healthy eating in lockdown, or simply looking for a new approach to your diet, check out our five top tips for ways you can use food to improve your mood.
1. Eat your greens
Eating green, leafy vegetables is essential for maintaining healthy iron levels. Iron keeps our energy levels up, and a depletion can mean we feel sluggish, tired, and at risk of experiencing anxiety, irritability, depression, and a decrease in cognitive abilities (including poor concentration).
If you want to eat more greens but don’t like the taste, try adding spinach or kale to a sweeter-tasting fruit smoothie. The fructose masks the taste and the high vitamin C content increases iron absorption: win-win!
You can find tasty spinach smoothie recipes here (I recommend no. 15!):
2. Drink water
This may seem like a no-brainer, but even a 1% drop in our total body water content can start to negatively impact our cognitive ability and mood and increase symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, mood swings, and difficulty concentrating.
It can be hard to keep track of how much water you’re drinking throughout the day, but there are plenty of tools out there to help, including hydration bottles with time/volume markers and apps/websites where you can log your water intake.
My Fitness Pal is a great app to use to track your water consumption. Among other features, it also helps you learn how to balance your ratio of fats, carbs, proteins, etc (see Tip 4). Best of all – it’s free to use!
Check it out here: https://www.myfitnesspal.com/
3. Everything in moderation
Nope, it’s not a lecture. Just an observation that humans can at times overindulge in things that have little nutritional value, meaning that the body doesn’t get its essential vitamins and minerals. The majority of us do this to varying degrees; sometimes it’s a couple of extra beers at a friend’s birthday celebration, or a few extra-strong coffees into the night to meet that deadline; sometimes it’s simply because it seems too difficult to resist!
In essence, too much of anything when it comes to food and drink can cause a physiological imbalance, putting us at risk of mental health problems such as addictions, depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, etc.
4. Maintain balanced blood sugar levels
Your body interprets high blood sugar levels as a stressor, which stimulates the release of cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone most commonly associated with fight-or flight states, therefore too much of it can keep you feeling stressed and on-edge.
To balance your blood sugar naturally, make sure you get the right ratio of fats, protein and carbohydrates each day. Also, eating regular, balanced meals that keep you fuller for longer will ultimately stabilise blood sugar levels and keep your hormones working optimally. See the link in Tip 2 for a handy tool to help you keep track of your nutrient ratios.
5. Eat chocolate
Just in case you thought diet tips were boring – here’s one we think you might just be able to stomach! Much evidence supports the fact that chocolate (in moderation – see Tip 3) has many beneficial properties. Yours Truly attended a chocolate workshop last year (purely for research purposes, obviously), and was delighted to learn that dark chocolate is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet. Apparently, cocoa also boosts endorphins, which can help lower pain levels and improve our mood (not that we needed an excuse before).
Whatever format you take your chocolate in (bars, truffles, hot chocolate, etc) there’s one golden rule to remember: more cocoa, less sugar. This is why dark chocolate takes the crown over milk and white chocolate for the best overall health benefits. Happy chomping!
At krysallis our aim is to help as many people as possible who are struggling with their mental health. If you’re experiencing low moods and think your unhealthy diet habits could be a contributing factor, try out some of these tips and let us know how you get on.
If you are impacted by negative mental health, please reach out to someone for help. If you would like to speak to a confidential counsellor online or through our socially-distanced walk and talk sessions, we are here to listen. Contact us on our website: https://krysallis.org.uk/about-us/contact/, by email: email@example.com or by phoning +44 1423 857939.