Mental health awareness is becoming more and more important.
With 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health condition each year it’s essential that we start to approach mental health with a 360˚ view. Whilst drugs can be highly effective, we also now understand the importance of a healthy diet and key nutrients to support overall mental wellbeing, reducing stress and anxiety and improving general mood.
Mental health covers all areas from clinically diagnosable conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder etc to feeling low from time to time, not dealing with stress very well or experiencing bouts of anxiety. You don’t need to have a clinically diagnosable condition to support and work on your mental wellbeing.
One of the key associations which occurs when it comes to nutrition and mental health is nutrition in relation to stress. This is often reported as a very noticeable relationship. For some people they revert to food as a way to help them manage their stress and for others they’re appetite completely disappears. The reasons why are very interesting although that’s not what we’re going into today. Although it is important to ensure that you’re nutritionally replete during times of stress as your body requires more nutrients during the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
As a result, we have put together our top tips for ensuring you’re nutrient replete to support not only stress but mental health and mood in general.
- Omega-3 – it has been suggested that this healthy fat play a key role in reducing inflammation in the brain in individuals with poor mental health. It’s essential that you’re consuming the active forms of omega-3 (EPA and DHA) which are found in oily fish. Salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring (think SMASH) are all sources of omega-3. Plant sources of omega-3 come in the form of ALA which is an inactive form. ALA must be converted into DHA and EPA before it can be utilised. As a result you may need to consume more plant sources such as nuts, flaxseeds and seaweed. Otherwise opt for 1-2 portions of oily fish per week.
- Fibre – here’s a surprise! Fibre is vital in supporting a healthy gut and more recently we have come to understand the effects of a healthy gut on maintaining good mental health. Aim for 30g of fibre per day through the consumption of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses. Simply start by adding one portion into your daily diet until you hit your 30g target.
- Phytonutrients – research has shown a inverse association with fruit and vegetable consumption with depressive symptoms. Aside from the fibre this may be due to the polyphenols (chemicals found naturally in plants) which have potent anti-inflammatory effects.
- Get your magnesium fix. Magnesium is vital for the production of cortisol amongst over 300 other processed in the body. It also helps with muscle and nerve relaxation and to calm the mind in preparation for sleep too. Nuts and seeds are a great source of magnesium as is cocoa so try switching your milk chocolate for dark chocolate for an added magnesium fix.
- Optimise your vitamin D levels. Low levels of vitamin D has been associated with low mood. Try getting out in the sun for 30 minutes each day without suncream. For those of you living in the UK this can be more challenging (due to the infamous weather) therefore it is recommended to supplement with 10µg.d as achieving optimal status from diet alone is incredibly challenging.
There you have our top tips for supporting your mental health. In October we’re celebrating mental health awareness month to try and raise awareness of how you can support your overall mental health. We’d love to hear what you do to look after yourselves so please do get in touch to let us know your top tips too!