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Six ways to eat your way to better mental health

Posted 1 Nov 2021.

Six ways to eat your way to better mental health

Mental and physical health go hand in hand. We are beginning to understand more and more about how our mind and body are connected and can impact each other, for better or worse. You can read more about that over here, or, for the practical stuff, read on!

Spoiler alert: there's no single food that we can recommend for good mental health. It's all about eating a range of wholesome foods, most of the time. That phrase ‘most of the time' is important - it's okay to have a piece of cake occasionally! Stressing too much about everything that goes into our mouth can be bad for mental health too. If you feel like food, body weight or body shape is taking up a lot of your mental space, or if it's affecting your ability to do everyday activities or interact and socialise with others, it might be time to seek help. We recommend seeking the help of a trusted GP or getting in contact with the Butterfly Foundation.

Our LiveLighter Team have come up with six ways to eat for better mental health:

1. Follow a ‘traditional' dietary pattern

The Mediterranean diet has the most research behind it but others like the Norwegian or Japanese diet are also showing promise. Research with over 5000 adults in Norway found that a traditional Norwegian diet was associated with reduced depression in women and reduced anxiety in men. Whole foods and minimally processed foods are a cornerstone of all these dietary patterns - because they have been around way longer than ultra-processed foods.

2. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit

Aim for five serves of veg and two serves of fruit each day. Results from a systematic review of individual studies showed that high intakes of fruit, vegetables, fish and whole grains are linked to a reduced risk of depression. Find out how to get more vegies and fruit in your day, or see our top tips to make your vegetables and fruit last longer.

3. Choose wholegrains over highly processed carbs

Choose brown rice instead of white rice, wholegrain or wholemeal bread instead of white bread and swap sugary cereals for wholegrain options. Pro-tip: replace half the white flour with wholemeal flour when baking to give your baked goods an extra boost of fibre.

4. Eat more legumes, nuts and seeds

Legumes include lentils, beans and peas. Legumes are a great source of fibre which as we know keeps our gut happy! Not sure what to do with a lentil? Check out our tasty collection of legume recipes.

5. Aim for 2-3 serves of fish each week

Fish, especially oily varieties like salmon, sardines, and mackerel, contain high amounts of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which may play a role in reducing inflammation. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids include chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil.

6. Swap junk foods for nutritious alternatives

When we are feeling low or stressed we might find ourselves reaching for our "comfort foods" - for many of us that's foods such as chips and chocolate. This is because we are biologically more likely to crave carbs, salt and sugar when we experience these feelings. These foods may help us to feel better in the short-term but can make us feel worse in the long run. Here's a great blog dedicated to making gooey, creamy, satisfying and healthy comfort foods here.

A note on movement and mood

Getting enough physical activity into the day can also have a big influence on our mood. Some studies have even shown exercise to be as effective as anti-depressants for mild depression! Moving your body gets heaps of feel-good brain chemicals pumping like endorphins and serotonin. Exercise can also help us sleep (and we know good quality sleep is also important for mental health). Find an activity that you like (so that you'll want to keep doing it!) and try and work up to at least 30 minutes of movement on most days.

The take home

Looking after our mind is just as important as looking after our body. While it's not possible to fully protect ourselves against mental illness, making small changes to our food and movement habits can reduce our risk of developing mental health issues and can help us to manage the symptoms. To read more on the link between diet and mental health, check out this blog.

It's important to seek support from your GP if you are concerned about your mental health or have ongoing feelings of sadness, anxiety or worrying thoughts that are affecting your ability to go about your daily life. Your GP will be able to talk through your options with you.

This article was originally published on LiveLighter.com.au.

For more information

  • Think Mental Health has some great resources on mental health.
  • We deliver the LiveLighter program, which aims to encourage Australian adults to lead healthier lifestyles - to make changes to what they eat and drink, and to be more active.
  • You can find lots of great tips, resources and information at livelighter.com.au.

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