Eat well, feel better
Did you know good food is good for your mood? It's not just your body you're feeding - your mind is affected by what you eat, too.
There is increasing evidence of a link between what we eat and how we feel. This is called the ‘food – mood’ connection. How we feel influences what we choose to eat or drink – and a healthy diet can protect our mental health.
How does food affect my mood?
Glucose from the carbohydrate-containing foods we eat provides the brain’s main source of fuel. Without this fuel, we can’t think clearly.
Some carbs are better than others. Sugar, white pasta and biscuits will only give you a short burst of energy. You'll feel tired and grumpy when the sugar high wears off. "Complex carbohydrates", such as wholegrains, beans and vegetables, are a better choice because they give you sustained energy.
If you eat lots of sugary foods, fizzy drinks and stimulants such as coffee, tea or alcohol, your blood sugar levels go up and down. This can make you irritable, anxious, and dizzy, It can also lead to poor concentration and aggressive behaviour.
Proteins found mainly in meat, fish and soya products are broken down in the body to be used as amino acids, which are vital to good mental health. Brain messengers are made in the body from the proteins that we eat.
If we don't get enough amino acids can lead to feelings of depression, apathy, lack of motivation or tension.
Essential fats, found mainly in oily fish, seeds and nuts, cannot be made within the body, so we have to get them from food. Sixty per cent of the brain is made of fat, and the fats we eat directly affect its structure. A lack of omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to various mental health problems, including depression and lack of concentration.
Brain food: Top tips
- Don't skip meals. Eat three meals a day with two ‘healthy’ snacks (for example fruit or yoghurt) in between.
- Eat breakfast within an hour of waking up. Never skip breakfast.
- Try to have at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
- Try to drink 6-8 glasses of water every day.
Eat well on a budget
Good food doesn't have to break the bank. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has these tips for brain food on a budget.
- Avoid ready meals and takeaways. They are usually bad for you and poor value for money.
- Crisps, ice creams and sweets should be kept as an occasional treat.
- Buy fruits and vegetables in season, when they're cheaper. Check what's in season here.
- Buy fresh foods such as fruit, vegetables and meats in small amounts and more often since they go off easily.
- Avoid tinned foods as they're usually more expensive. For example, dried beans and pasta are less expensive than canned beans and processed pasta.
- Avoid fizzy drinks and fruit juices. They are often quite expensive. Use water and fruit instead.
- Compare prices in local shops and supermarkets and take advantage of special offers.
- Use “generic” supermarket brands instead of classic brands. They often contain the same ingredients but are cheaper.
- Cook and eat together with others and share the costs.
- Make a shopping list and plan your food budget every week. If you feel you cannot do this on your own, ask for help.