The foods we eat have a massive influence on how effectively our minds and bodies function, either aiding or inhibiting its efficiency. Research has proven a definitive link between food and mental health.

Food and mental healthBreakfast:

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day and should not be skipped if you can help it. Your first meal of the day gives your body the fuel it needs to function throughout the day as your body has spent the entire night without food and is therefore needed to “jump start” your metabolism. Skipping breakfast may lead to feelings of fatigue and lack of concentration.

Choose healthy meal options for breakfast such as foods that contain protein or fibre, and if you’re pressed for time, grab a fruit or a yoghurt.

Lunch/Dinner:

Food and mental healthTry to stay away from foods that contain sugars or that is of the high-fat dairy or fried variety as they contain little nutritional value. Apart from causing medical issues like obesity and diabetes, foods that are primarily high-fat or sugary can also lead to depression.

Try to follow a diet that consists primarily of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish and unsaturated fats as people who follow diets like these are 30% less likely to develop depression than those who do not follow this kind of diet.

Drinks/beverages:

Sugary and caffeinated drinks should be avoided as much as possible as they contain “empty calories” that destroy tooth enamel over time. Caffeine consumed in excess may cause people who suffer from anxiety disorders to also suffer from panic attacks.

Nutrients and their benefits for your body and mind:

Food and mental healthOmega-3 fatty acids – Helps to reduce inflammation which is the primary cause of conditions such as arthritis and asthma. Omega-3 also helps to keep your heart healthy, reduce cancer and it is said to be helpful in treating depression and stabilise mood. Some scientists believe Omega-3 can help with the effectiveness of conventional antidepressants and appear to help calm ADHD.

Foods that contain high doses of Omega-3 include anchovies, salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines. It is suggested that you should consume these types of foods at least once a week.

Folate – Foods like spinach, nuts, beans, fruit and whole grains all contain high levels of folate. Increased folate levels are associated with lowering depression and is especially recommended for pregnant women as they aid to produce red blood cells. They are also good for your hair, nails, liver and eyes.

Food and mental healthVitamin D – People with Vitamin D deficiencies are said to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder which typically occurs at the start of autumn and subsides in spring and summer months. Sunlight is turned into Vitamin D by our bodies which is why the disorder subsides in sunnier months. Vitamin D is needed to create calcium in our bodies for strong teeth and bones as well as the improvement of our muscles and immune system. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with heart disease and increased heart attacks.

There are not many foods that contain Vitamin D itself, but foods like salmon and tuna contain Vitamin D naturally. Milk, breakfast cereals and orange juice have Vitamin D added to help us maintain the needed dosage. In autumn and winter, Vitamin D supplements can be taken to prevent deficiency thereof.

It is recommended that we spend 5-30 minutes exposed to the sun twice a week. Any time spent above this amount requires you to use sun screen so that your skin is not damaged and reduces the chances of cancer.

Foods like eggs, beans, chicken, turkey, spinach, yoghurt, barley and soy also contain nutrients that are important for maintaining a healthy body and mind.

The link between food and mental health is well-established. Start incorporating these foods into your diet to experience the full health benefits.