Food and Diet: How does it affect our Mental Health?
August 28, 2023
Food is one of the few things in this world that unites us. We all have different experiences of the world, our health and our mental health, but one thing that we all need, though, is to eat. Eating forms a big part of the way that our days flow. Whether that’s having lunch with friends or dinner with family later in the day, eating provides a break, vital energy and often time spent together with people that we love. Despite eating being a thing that we all need to do to survive, how we approach the food that we eat will change drastically depending on who we are, where we are and, sometimes, how we feel.
Diet and Mental Health
For some, getting healthy food will be incredibly easy if they live in wealthier areas and have access to more money to get higher quality produce. Others will be limited by a lack of money and fewer healthy products. Depending on our mental health too, we might at times want to eat much more than is recommended, or much less. Diets have changed drastically in the past decades, creating a global movement away from complex carbohydrates and fibre towards processed foods, saturated fats, and refined sugar. These changes have been linked in part to experiences of mental health issues, more specifically to depression.
Looking closer at this link between mental health and diet, there is a link between eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and better mental well-being. The study found that higher intake [of fruits and vegetables] is associated with better mental well-being among secondary school pupils and nutritious breakfast and lunch is linked to emotional well-being in pupils across all ages. They also found that young people who only had an energy drink for their breakfast will experience lower levels of mental and emotional well-being scores. How we eat will also have an impact, particularly if meal times are social, with friends and family there to enjoy food together. For a person who feels isolated or lonely, this can be an incredibly important part of the day as it allows you to socialise and feel connected to people, especially if you’re cooking together as well as eating together.
Eating well will form part of a much bigger picture of a person’s overall well-being. How much time they spend outdoors, whether or not they’re physically active and enjoy exercise, how much they are open about their emotions or practice things like mindfulness will have an effect on their overall experience of their mental health. It’s important also to recognise where this might be difficult for people. Different types of eating disorders will massively affect people’s relationship to food, which can mean that maintaining a healthy diet will become much more difficult. In those cases, it’s important to seek help from professionals to support you or someone else with diagnosis and treatments.
The British Nutrition Foundation recommends many healthy dietary habits in their Eatwell guide. This includes things like:
- Increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables you eat
- Choosing wholemeal bread and oats to give you the energy that is released slowly throughout the day
- Getting fibre through foods like beans, lentils and other legumes.
- Ensuring you eat enough protein and healthy fats found in things like fish or olive oil
- Make sure you stay hydrated and drink water throughout the day
Links between healthy eating and depression suggest that eating well and developing healthier habits with our food can help maintain our well-being, as well as improve depression. There is still lots of research to be done, and eating well is part of a much bigger picture of how to improve feelings of depression and overall well-being.
For anyone seeking help with depression, lifestyle changes can have a big impact but it’s also important to seek help too and you can do this by booking a free initial consultation with one of our qualified mental health professionals at Mindsum.