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Food and Mood: How to improve how you feel with what you eat

fresh vegetables

Knowing what foods we should be eating can be really confusing, especially when it feels like the advice changes regularly. However, evidence suggests that as well as affecting our physical health, what we eat can affect the way we feel. Now it is more important than ever to ensure your diet is supporting your wellbeing as we adjust to the changes caused by the pandemic.

Improving your diet may help to:

  • improve your mood
  • give you more energy
  • help you think more clearly

Do you get hangry?

If you skip meals your blood sugar drops and you might feel tired, irritable and depressed. Eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly will help to keep your sugar levels steady.

Slow-release energy foods include: pasta, rice, oats, wholegrain bread and cereals, nuts and seeds.

Quick tips:

  • Eat breakfast to get the day off to a good start
  • Instead of eating a large lunch and dinner, try eating smaller portions spaced out more regularly throughout the day
  • Avoid foods which make your blood sugar rise and fall rapidly, such as sweets, biscuits, sugary drinks, and alcohol

Eating the right carbohydrates

Carbohydrates fuel your body and help your brain, blood and nervous system function at their best.

Quick tip:

When choosing carbs try to go for the healthier options like brown or wholemeal bread, pasta and rice, fruits, nuts and seeds.

Staying hydrated

If you do not drink enough fluid, you may find it difficult to concentrate or think clearly. You might also start to feel constipated (which puts no one in a good mood!)

Quick tips:

  • Water is a cheap and healthy option. Try to knock back a few pints of water each day.
  • Tea, coffee, juices and smoothies all count towards your intake (but be aware that these may also contain caffeine or sugar)

Getting your 5 a day

Vegetables and fruit contain a lot of the minerals, vitamins and fibre, which we need to keep us physically and mentally healthy.

Eating a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables every day means you will get a good range of nutrients.

Quick tips:

  • Fresh, frozen, tinned, dried and juiced (one glass) fruits and vegetables all count towards your 5 a day
  • As a general rule, one portion is about a handful, small bowl or a small glass
  • For more ideas on how to get your 5 a day, visit NHS Choices

Looking after your gut

Sometimes your gut can reflect how you are feeling emotionally. If you are stressed or anxious this can make your gut slow down or speed up. For healthy digestion you need to have plenty of fibre, fluid and exercise regularly.

Healthy gut foods include: fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, beans, pulses, live yoghurt and other probiotics.

Quick tips:

  • It might take your gut time to get used to a new eating pattern, so make changes slowly to give yourself time to adjust
  • If you are feeling stressed and you think it is affecting your gut, try some relaxation techniques or breathing exercises

Getting enough protein

Protein contains amino acids, which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings. It also helps keep control your blood sugar levels, build muscle and leaves you feeling fuller for longer.

Protein can be found in: lean meat, fish, eggs, cheese, legumes (peas, beans and lentils), soya products, nuts and seeds.

Quick tip:

Whatever your diet, why not do some research into other foods that contain protein, and find something new to try? For ideas on healthy recipes, visit NHS Choices.

Managing caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it will give you a quick burst of energy, but then may make you feel anxious and depressed, disturb your sleep (especially if you have it before bed), or give you withdrawal symptoms if you stop suddenly.

Caffeine is in: tea, coffee, chocolate, cola and other manufactured energy drinks.

Quick tips:

  • If you drink tea, coffee or cola, try switching to decaffeinated versions
  • You might feel noticeably better quite quickly if you drink less caffeine or avoid it altogether

Eating the right fats

Your brain and heart need fatty acids (such as omega-3 and -6) to keep them working well. So rather than avoiding all fats, it’s important to eat the right ones.

Healthy fats are found in: oily fish, poultry, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), olive and sunflower oils, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin), avocados, milk, yoghurt, cheese and eggs.

Quick tip:

  • Try to avoid anything which lists ‘trans fats’ or ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ in the list of ingredients (such as some shop-bought cakes and biscuits). They can be tempting when you are feeling low, but this kind of fat is not good for your mood or your physical health in the long run

(Source: Mind/ Manchester Mind)


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