Nutrition and Mental Wellbeing

There are many factors that can affect our mental wellbeing. The food choices we make are one element that can have an impact on how we feel. Below are some dietary measures that may have a positive effect on mental wellbeing.

Stay Hydrated

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. Dehydration can lead to a low mood, lack of concentration, headaches, and digestive issues.

Irish dietary guidelines recommend at least 8 glasses of fluid every day, mainly water.

Regular Eating

Planning and preparing meals and snacks in advance can really help to manage the foods we eat, and is a big help for those busy days. You can check out the Food Pyramid to help guide you in planning your meals.

It is also important 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.

Plant Foods

Healthy eating guidelines in Ireland recommend 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables for everyone over the age of 5 every day. 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.

Healthy Fats

We often see fat being demonised, but fat in our diet is vital to our health and survival. Omega-3 is a type of unsaturated fat we can get from oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and trout.

It is an essential fatty acid, and evidence indicates it may have a role to play in the improvement of mood disorders and mild depression. Walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds are also good sources.

Gut Health

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 on every part of our body, including our mental wellbeing.

A healthy gut is related to lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. 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.

It is important to remember that how we feel affects our food choices too. 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 protect mental wellbeing: at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day, connect with others, manage stress and get enough sleep.

If you have an innovative idea for a new food product which you feel could have a positive impact on wellbeing, get in touch to see how the research team at MET could support you in researching and developing your idea.

Sources and Further Information

  • AlAmmar, W.A., Albeesh, F.H. and Khattab, R.Y., 2020. Food and Mood: the Corresponsive Effect. Current Nutrition Reports, pp.1-13.
  • Dinan, T.G. and Cryan, J.F., 2017. The microbiome-gut-brain axis in health and disease. Gastroenterology Clinics46(1), pp.77-89.
  • Jacka, F.N., Mykletun, A., Berk, M., Bjelland, I. and Tell, G.S., 2011. The association between habitual diet quality and the common mental disorders in community-dwelling adults: the Hordaland Health study. Psychosomatic medicine73(6), pp.483-490.
  • Jacka, F.N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R., Itsiopoulos, C., Cotton, S., Mohebbi, M., Castle, D., Dash, S., Mihalopoulos, C., Chatterton, M.L. and Brazionis, L., 2017. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’trial). BMC medicine15(1), pp.1-13.
  • Jacka, F.N., Pasco, J.A., Mykletun, A., Williams, L.J., Hodge, A.M., O’Reilly, S.L., Nicholson, G.C., Kotowicz, M.A. and Berk, M., 2010. Association of Western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women. American journal of psychiatry167(3), pp.305-311.
  • Larrieu, T. and Layé, S., 2018. Food for mood: relevance of nutritional omega-3 fatty acids for depression and anxiety. Frontiers in physiology9, p.1047.
  • Larrieu, T. and Layé, S., 2018. Food for mood: relevance of nutritional omega-3 fatty acids for depression and anxiety. Frontiers in physiology9, p.1047.
  • Li, F., Liu, X. and Zhang, D., 2016. Fish consumption and risk of depression: a meta-analysis. J Epidemiol Community Health70(3), pp.299-304.
  • O’Connor, R.C., Wetherall, K., Cleare, S., McClelland, H., Melson, A.J., Niedzwiedz, C.L., O’Carroll, R.E., O’Connor, D.B., Platt, S., Scowcroft, E. and Watson, B., 2020. Mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic: longitudinal analyses of adults in the UK COVID-19 Mental Health & Wellbeing study. The British Journal of Psychiatry, pp.1-8.
  • Sarris, J., Logan, A.C., Akbaraly, T.N., Amminger, G.P., Balanzá-Martínez, V., Freeman, M.P., Hibbeln, J., Matsuoka, Y., Mischoulon, D., Mizoue, T. and Nanri, A., 2015. Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. The Lancet Psychiatry2(3), pp.271-274.
  • World Health Organization. Promoting mental health: concepts, emerging evidence, practice (Summary Report) Geneva: World Health Organization; 2004
  • gov.ie Eat Well
  • HSE Eating healthily to improve mental health

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