Staying Balanced: Which Foods Are Affecting Your Mental Health?
We are what we eat.
It sounds like a cliche but it’s true. Often though, when we consider this saying, it’s in the context of our weight, gut and even, skin. But what if, what we really need to pay attention to is how it affects our brains, our thinking and inevitably, our quality of life?
Since early childhood, I’ve struggled with my mental health. I’m prone to lows, highs and the occasional, temper tantrum. This has led to my obligatory development of self-awareness tactics to help me stay balanced and content. One of these tactics is food.
According to the UK Mental Health Foundation, nutrition plays a critical role in the maintenance of good mental health. The brain requires a balance of essential fatty acids—including omega-6 and omega-3—to function properly. An imbalance in these crucial nutrients has been linked to a number of mental health issues.
When considering our diet and what we need to introduce, it’s important to consider what we’re already intaking. This will mean we can adapt and replace as opposed to over-complicating our diet or stressing ourselves out.
Some foods to consider cutting down on (or out) which are quite obvious but need to be highlighted are below.
Super-size me is a movie that changed many people’s mindsets on eating fast food such as Mc Donalds. Strangely, doctors couldn’t believe (and made it clear) to Morgan Spurlock at the start of his 30 day ‘Mc Donalds only diet experiment’ that, there wouldn’t be a huge difference on his health. Fast forward to day 5 and there he was, feeling bloated, disgusting and DEPRESSED. Junk food, its contents and chemicals have a shocking effect on your overall health. Additionally, the trans fats found in fast food items displace omega fatty acids, thereby negatively affecting brain health and impacting mental well-being.
The internet is rampant with healthy replacements for fast food meals known as ‘fake aways’, whatever the type. SO, there’s no need to miss out.
When I say sugar, I mean processed sugar. The only food item that has zero nutritional or other benefit to your health are processed sugars. They affect your brain, make you hyper, give you a high, put you on a downer and make you feel unwell. I’m not being a hypocrite here, I do enjoy the occasional (or regular) cream egg however I know on certain days when my head is overly active or I feel particularly rubbish, I need to try to leave at least a couple of chocolates in the box and reach for something more beneficial to my health.
Instead of having a bar of milk chocolate, an alternative I’ve been trying lately is dark chocolate (at least 70%) broken up and mixed with some fruit and yoghurt. It satisfies my sweet tooth and is a much lower sugar intake than I would otherwise have.
I’ve read loads of articles lately that suggest caffeine is actually good for you. Speaking from personal experience, on a day I’m feeling anxious or am super busy, coffee tips me over the edge. Aside from this, it is addictive which has its own effects on mental health. Dependency on a substance, even caffeine can affect mood as one suffers withdrawals and anxiety when it’s not available (learn more from ‘Live Science’ here). This is why I’ve cut it out. Instead, I have decaf coffees, calming teas and avoid pain-killers that contain it.
Whatever the case, I ensure that what’s going into my body serves a benefit and makes me feel good in a real way.