Could your diet be affecting your mental wellbeing?

17 July 2020

Source: BBC Food

Does when you eat affect your mental wellbeing?

By eating regularly, you will keep your blood sugar levels consistent. So why is this a good thing? When blood sugar drops, it leads to tiredness and irritability, and inconsistent blood-sugar levels have even been linked to mood disorders including depression and anxiety. If your blood sugar spikes, this will be followed by a dip and you’ll be hit by these issues. So eating erratically might be doing more harm than just leaving you with a rumbly tummy.

Nutritionist Sonal Shah explains, “If you get hungry often in the day and this affects your mood, concentration and energy levels, then eating at regular intervals is important. Eating every three to four hours is fine to prevent one’s energy levels dropping as a result of blood-sugar levels dipping”.

But the Nutritionist Resource member warns this doesn’t mean you should eat all the time: “It’s not ideal to continuously snack on foods throughout the day, as this grazing doesn’t allow the appetite and insulin hormones to regulate optimally”.

What if you don’t drink enough fluids?

Dehydration can impact your mental wellbeing by making it harder for you to think clearly and focus.

Shah says: “Dehydration is seen by the body as a stressor, leading to symptoms of low energy, poor focus, confusion and irritation. The brain cells require water just as the body does, and this explains why individuals who are dehydrated are more susceptible to mental stress. Water helps blood flow, so if there isn’t enough water to help clear the toxins out of the body, this leaves one feeling weak.

“Dehydration can also lead to cravings for unhealthy food like crisps, and refined carbohydrates and drinks containing alcohol and caffeine, which have diuretic effects on the body. Alcohol reduces cognitive function by dehydrating the body as it requires water to expel the alcohol from the bloodstream and this leads to the hangover symptoms the next morning. Fizzy drinks containing sugar may give a quick energy high, which mentally alerts you, but this is followed by sugar dip which leads to an energy low and mental tiredness”.

How important is a balanced diet for mental wellbeing?

Felice Jacka, Professor of Nutritional Psychiatry and Director of the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University, focuses on links between diet, gut health and mental and brain health.

She explains: “Extensive and consistent research tells us that healthier diets protect against depression. Given that depression is the leading cause of global disability, this is critical to understand.

“Indeed, these links are seen after taking into account important factors that can affect both diet and mental health, such as education and income, other health behaviours and body weight. More recently, evidence from randomised controlled trials tells us that helping people with depression to improve the quality of their diets can have a substantial benefit to their mental health and functioning. In these trials, the diet that had the major benefit was one designed to mimic a traditional Mediterranean diet, high in wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, fish and olive oil.”

Shah adds: “A balanced diet feeds the brain, providing it with the nutrients it needs to support a positive mood, and improve signalling pathways between brain cells for optimal brain function. The nutrients required to support a healthy mind and brain are so vast and it’s important to consume a varied diet and supplement nutrients that are low or missing in the diet.”

Read the full article at BBC