Nutrition and Mental Wellbeing 7 Top Tips

Your nutrition and mental wellbeing are connected, so Donna McGettigan RNutr. has contributed this post on the connection between what we eat and how we feel. Giving us her 7 Top Tips. You might be surprised how easy it is to build a regular routine into your day.

Did you miss the chat we had with Donna about Diet and Menopause?

Never has it been more important than right now to protect and nourish our physical and mental wellbeing. Living through a pandemic has highlighted for us the importance of looking after ourselves and our families.

We know, through our own experiences and through scientific research that Covid-19 and the measures we have had to follow to combat it has had a detrimental impact on the mental health of many people. Fear, isolation and bereavement are pummelling our mental wellbeing. We might be feeling more stressed and anxious, having trouble sleeping and focussing.

There are many factors contributing to these feelings right now that are beyond our control. What we can do however is focus on those things that we can change. Our diet is one part of our lives that we can improve, that we can take joy in, and a particularly important factor in our wellbeing.

1. Eat regularly

We need to think about when we eat as well as what we eat. Having a regular meal pattern helps to keep blood sugar levels steady. Peaks and dips in blood sugar can lead to tiredness, low mood, low energy, and irritability. (Hangry anyone?) A steady supply of energy and nutrients over the course of the day suits most people best.

Working from home and home schooling, it is easy to lose the structure we might be otherwise used to. But it is important to try and create a regular eating routine to improve mood and energy levels.

Tip: Eat 3 small meals and 2-3 snacks spread out over the day

2. Stay hydrated

Dehydration can lead to a low mood, lack of concentration, headaches, and digestive issues. Many of us go through life feeling our energy and focus dip as the day goes on. Often our hydration can be a factor without us realising. This can also contribute to us reaching for a quick fix, like coffee or sugar which might not be the best thing for our body in that moment. Too many caffeinated drinks (4+) over the day can then have a negative impact on our sleep quality so it is important to keep them to the earlier part of the day and replace the later ones with water.

Tip:  Aim for around 1.5L fluids each day swapping late tea and coffee for water

3. Eat more plants

Healthy eating guidelines in Ireland recommend 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables for everyone over the age of 5 every day. I think it is fair to say that we do not all hit this target! Including a wide variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables is important too because the different coloured foods contain different vitamins and minerals that our bodies need.

Plant foods also encompasses wholegrains, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds. Including all these different types of plant foods in our diet has numerous benefits including improved weight management and digestion, reduction in heart disease and cancer risk, and some research has shown an improvement in symptoms of depression.

Tip: Aim for 25 different plant foods every week

4. Include healthy fats

We often see fat being demonised, but fat in out diet is vital to our survival. Where we sometimes go astray is the balance of fats. Many people’s diets would habitually have been higher in saturated fats and lower in unsaturated fats than is ideal.

To try to redress this balance it is recommended to swap out a traditional meat dinner twice a week for a fish option, along with a meat free day or two a week.

Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout contain omega-3 which is an essential fatty acid. Our brain needs it to work at its best and evidence indicates it has a role to play in the improvement of mood disorders and mild depression. Walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are also great sources.

Tip: Eat a portion of oily fish twice a week

5. Proteins for happiness

Protein is an important part of the chemicals our brains need to regulate thoughts and feelings known as neurotransmitters. Serotonin, sometimes known as the happy hormone, is made from a protein called tryptophan. Tryptophan rich foods include milk, turkey, chicken, tuna, cheese, oats, legumes, nuts and seeds. The key is to include a wide variety of these foods in your diet.

Tip: Include a portion of tryptophan rich food at most meals and snacks

6. Mind your gut

There has been a lot of research into gut microbiota in recent years and particularly into the gut-brain axis. Our gut and brain have a delicate communication that impacts every part of our body, including our mental wellbeing.

A healthy gut is related to lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. The manufacture of serotonin begins in the gut and depends on good gut health.

Gut health depends on the probiotics living there, the good bacteria that play a part in our digestion of food. Fermented foods like live natural yoghurt contain probiotics and help to bump up your population. To thrive, these bacteria need a wide variety of plant foods especially fruit, vegetables, and wholegrains.

Tip: Include a portion of plain natural yoghurt most days

7. Eat less ultra-processed foods

These are convenience foods that have been processed to such an extent that they bear extraordinarily little resemblance to any food that may have come out of the ground. The problem with them is they have had most of the nutrients stripped away and often contain extremely high amounts of fat, sugar, and salt. A few examples would be sweets, biscuits, soft drinks, and pastries. Eaten now and again these foods are not going to kill you, but it is not ideal to depend on them as part of your everyday diet. People who eat more of these foods more often have been shown to have increased symptoms of depression and anxiety so to help your mood, step away from the sweeties.

Tip: Swap the afternoon chocolate for a piece of fruit and palmful of nuts

It is important to remember too, that mood affects food just as food affects mood. If we are feeling low, we are more likely to reach for the not so healthy choices. So, it is important to remember the other steps to take to mind our mental wellbeing: limit our news and social media exposure, manage our stress and get enough sleep.

You can contact Donna to find out more about your nutrition or book a consultation.

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