Approximately one in four of us will experience a mental health problem each year.
As part of our fight against this, we have a very much underutilised tool – food. Often a poor diet can have an unexpected impact on mental health but the evidence of food’s link to mental states has been growing.
A landmark 2015 article in the prestigious Lancet journal stated that nutrition may be as important to mental health as it is to cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology.
Plus, a small but important interventional Australian study from earlier this year showed that a modified Mediterranean diet significantly helped many patients with severe depression within 12 weeks.
Here are four steps you can do immediately to reep the benefits and improve your mental health through diet;
1. Reduce sugar and processed foods
Sugar, food that contains sugar, or even food that is converted quickly into sugar, such as many breakfast cereals, cause your blood sugar to rapidly rise.
Within two to three hours your sugar levels then start to fall.
At this point, you may not only feel hungry, you can feel “h-angry” as well – hungry and angry.
Low and falling blood sugar levels can cause a rise in your body’s stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.
This can have a negative impact on your mood.
2. Increase your intake of Omega-3 fats
This is an essential nutrient for brain function and may protect against anxiety and other psychiatric disorders.
Foods high in Omega-3 fats include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies), grass-fed meat, seeds and leafy vegetables.
3. Eat more tryptophan-containing foods like pork, chicken, seeds and walnuts
Tryptophan is an amino acid the body converts into serotonin, your feel-good neurotransmitter.
Eat them with a healthy carbohydrate source such as sweet potatoes, which helps to transport more tryptophan into your blood.
4. Feed your gut bugs
Some scientists refer to the trillions of gut bugs that live inside us, the gut microbiota, as the brain’s peacekeepers.
It is thought that having a healthy population of gut bugs can have a significant influence on your mood via the gut-brain axis.
The prebiotic fibre contained in vegetables help your gut bugs to proliferate, so the best way to maintain a healthy population is to increase your intake of vegetables, as well as fermented foods such as sauerkraut.
Best options are leeks, onions, garlic, artichokes and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
[BBC. 2017. How food can improve your mental health. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-39976706. Accessed 22 May 2017.]