A healthy diet is essential for optimal mental health and wellbeing. Nutrition is known to impact on concentration, alertness, focus and attention. However, nutrition can also help with mental health problems such as depression.
Eat at regular intervals throughout the day
You need to feed your brain just like you need to feed your working muscles. Your brain can only use carbohydrate as a fuel source so it’s important you eat nutrient dense sources of carbohydrate at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Eat wholegrains, fruit and vegetables
Oats, wholegrains, beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables are rich in a range of vitamins and minerals. They digest slowly, helping to sustain energy levels throughout the day. Vitamin B and zinc are important in managing depression. Aim to eat 3 portions of fruit and 4-7 portions of vegetables each day to get all the vitamins and minerals you need. Limit your intake of processed foods and empty calories.
Include quality sources of protein with every meal
Tryptophan is an amino acid, the building blocks for proteins, and is found in many foods such as turkey. It has been shown to bring feelings of calm, relaxation, and sleepiness and plays a key role in depression. Meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, cheese, nuts, seeds, lentils and beans are good sources of protein. Eat 1-2 palm sizes portion of protein at every meal – including breakfast.
Include good fats in your diet
Our brains are made up of 40% fat and it is an essential nutrient for our cells to maintain health. Unsaturated fat and a limited amount of saturated fat should be included in your diet. Extra virgin olive oil added to dishes and vegetables after they have been cooked, nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish are all good sources. Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important and may even help reduce depression rates. Include 2-4 portions of oily fish per week.
Decrease the amount of trans fats in your diet. These can be harmful and often replace fresh foods that contain vitamins and minerals. Foods containing trans fats include burgers, sausages, processed meats, ready meals, biscuits and cakes.
Dehydration can affect mood. Aim to drink 2-3 litres of fluid a day. Start the day with a glass of water before eating breakfast or drinking tea or coffee. Limit your caffeine intake to 3 cups of coffee and 5 cups of tea each day. Energy drinks are best avoided altogether and alcohol should be avoided if you’re currently on anti-depressant medication.