Basseterre, St. Kitts, June 1, 2023 (Ministry of Health) – Caribbean Nutrition Awareness Month is observed every year starting on the 1st of June followed by a week of activities. The theme for this year is “Let’s Nourish to Flourish…Mental Health Matters.”
From a young age, we’re taught that eating well helps us look and feel our physical best. What we’re not always told is that good nutrition significantly affects our mental health, too. A healthy, well-balanced diet can help us think clearly and feel more alert. It can also improve concentration and attention span. Conversely, an inadequate diet can lead to fatigue, impaired decision-making, and can slow down reaction time. In fact, a poor diet can actually aggravate, and may even lead to stress and depression.
Mental health is more typically thought of as strictly biochemical-based or emotionally rooted. On the contrary, nutrition can play a key role in the onset as well as severity and duration of mental health. Many of the easily noticeable food patterns that precede mental health are the same as those that occur during depression. These may include poor appetite, skipping meals, and a dominant desire for sweet foods. Nutritional neuroscience is an emerging discipline shedding light on the fact that nutritional factors are intertwined with human cognition, behavior, and emotions.
The most common mental disorders prevalent in many countries are depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The dietary intake pattern of the general population in many countries reflects that they are often deficient in many nutrients, especially essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. A notable feature of the diets of patients suffering from mental disorders is the severity of deficiency in these nutrients. Studies have indicated that daily supplements of vital nutrients are often effective in reducing patients’ symptoms.
Research shows a link between what we eat and how we feel. Eating well can help you feel better. You do not have to make substantial changes to your diet but see if you can try some of these tips.
- Eat regularly. This can stop your blood sugar level from dropping, which can make you feel tired and bad-tempered.
- Stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration can affect your mood, energy level and ability to concentrate.
- Eat the right balance of fats. Your brain needs healthy fats to keep working well. They are found in things such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocados, milk, and eggs. Avoid trans fats – often found in processed or packaged foods – as they can be bad for your mood and your heart health.
- Include more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet. They contain the vitamins and minerals your brain and body need to stay well.
- Include some protein with every meal. It contains an amino acid that your brain uses to help regulate your mood.
- Look after your gut health. Your gut can reflect how you are feeling: it can speed up or slow down if you are stressed. Healthy food for your gut includes fruit, vegetables, beans, and probiotics.
- Be aware of how caffeine can affect your mood. It can cause sleep problems, especially if you drink it close to bedtime, and some people find it makes them irritable and anxious too. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks and chocolate.
- The key here is prioritizing minimally processed foods. That is not to say that you cannot have any snack foods in your diet. The bottom line is to have most of your diet consist of a wide variety of whole foods. This is not only important for your physical health but can also significantly reduce your risk for or the severity of mental health concerns.
At the same time, it is important to remember that the causes of mental illness are many and varied, and they will often present and persist independently of nutrition and diet. Thus, the increased understanding of potential connections between food and mental well-being should never be used to support automatic assumptions, or stigmatization, about an individual’s dietary choices and mental health. Indeed, such stigmatization could itself be a casual pathway to increasing the risk of poorer mental health. Nonetheless, a promising message for public health and clinical settings is emerging from the ongoing research. This message supports the idea that creating environments and developing measures that promote healthy, nutritious diets, while decreasing the consumption of highly processed and refined “junk” foods may provide benefits even beyond the well-known effects on physical health, including improved psychological well-being.