Do you get bad days? Stressed? Upset? Frustrated? Mental health is important at every stage of our life, from childhood right through to adulthood. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also determines how we handle stress, connect with others, and make choices. Throughout our lives, there are multiple factors that cause changes in our thinking, mood and behaviour contributing to mental health problems. These factors may include:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

Mental health problems are becoming increasingly common worldwide, especially in young people- with depression affecting more than 120 million people globally, according to the World Health Organisation. But YOU ARE NOT ALONE! We all have our bad days, maybe even a string of bad days, where we feel stressed, upset or find it difficult to cope. However, we are all different, what affects my mental wellbeing wont necessarily affect yours in the same way. No matter the reason of these periods of low mental wellbeing, you need to remember you deserve to feel good and there are a range of steps and advice you can take to enhance and maintain good mental health.

  1. Build positive relationships with everyone round us, helping us feel a greater sense of belonging and challenging feelings of loneliness.
  2. Take time for yourself- be selfish once, put yourself first once in a while!
  3. Look after your mental health
  4. Look after your physical health: an active lifestyle, a healthy balanced diet and a good sleeping pattern are the essential to making a positive impact on your mental wellbeing.
  5. Set yourself a challenge: take up a hobby, join a class or volunteer your time for something you feel passionate about. Making small goals, can make you feel more positive about yourself.
  6. Ask for help: speak out, talk to health professionals, close friends or family and they will help you get the help you need.

We are now going to focus and go into detail on looking after your physical health. But can your diet really help put you in a good mood? And can avoiding certain food and drinks discourage low mental wellbeing?

Tips to improving mood using food

The key to eating towards happiness is to have enough of the right mood lifting foods, consistent throughout the day and avoiding certain ones potentially may make you feel low. Here are some simple rules to stick to:

Reduce alcohol and coffee in the diet

Alcohol and caffeine both have negative effects on the production of serotonin, commonly known as the happy hormone and reduce levels of tryptophan within the body. This can make you feel anxious and miserable. Reduced levels of these hormones can also disturb your sleep, which is often linked with low mood sometimes leading to depression.

Caffeine is also present in tea, chocolate, cola and other manufactured energy drinks.

Stay hydrated

You need ensure your body is always hydrated, to aid all body functions and reduce any problems, for example poor gut health and cognitive function which is often known to make us feel sluggish and in bad mood. You should aim to drink 2-3 litres of water daily.

Look after your gut

Your gut health can often reflect on your mood, for example if you’re feeling stressed or anxious this can make your gut slow down or speed up.  Your GI tract is responsible for absorbing the nutrients which your organs require to function properly, including your brain. For these roles, your gut relies on healthy intestinal cells and beneficial bacteria, which help manufacture vitamins, absorb minerals, and digest food. 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. The happy hormone, serotonin is made in the gut, not the brain, therefore poor GI health could prevent its production, meaning you’ve got less of those good, happy chemicals in your brain leading to poor mood.

Eat little and often

Eating smaller, more regular meals around 5-6 times a day will help keep your blood sugar at a steady level, which can help maintain good mood and energy levels. 

Avoid too much sugar

Avoiding or reducing foods, such as biscuits, cakes, chocolate and fizzy drinks can be beneficial, as often too much sugar in our diet can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, which can cause a dramatic drop in mood.

Eat the right carbs

The connection between carbohydrates and mood is all about tryptophan, the amino acid they contain. As more tryptophan enters the brain, serotonin levels increase, and improves mood, which is why healthy carbs are an important part of a balanced diet. Swapping white carbs for wholegrains, including wholemeal bread, pasta and rice will provide enough tryptophan, but also avoid blood sugar crashes and mood dips.

Cut back on junk food

Those who eat high-fat foods, processed meals and sugary snacks almost daily are estimated two-thirds more likely to suffer from low mood than those who eat a balanced diet full of fruit, vegetables and fish. Eating a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables every day means you’ll get a good range of nutrients.

Eat good fats

Your brain needs fatty oils – especially omega-3s and 6s – to keep it working well. So rather than avoiding all fats, it’s important to eat the right ones. Oily fish, nuts, seeds and avocado are all great sources of healthy, mood-boosting fats.

Factor in feel-good fitness

Research shows that exercising for just 45 minutes, three to four times per week, releases mood-boosting endorphins in the brain which can be as effective at treating mild to moderate depression as the anti-depressant Prozac. Cycling, swimming or even a brisk walk all work well.

Take home messages

  1. Have a healthy, balanced diet consisting of plenty of whole foods

A diet full of fruit and vegetables, 5 a day

  1. Avoid or limit the depression-promoting stuff

Alcohol, caffeine, sugar and processed foods all have a negative effect on our bodies, worsening anxiety, sleeping difficulties, mood and inflammation. Removing these from the diet would improve our overall general and mental wellbeing.

  1. Nurture your gut health

Keeping your gut bacteria and intestinal cells happy will maintain and improved good mood. You should ensure your diet is full of specific foods, including yogurt, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimichi and pickles, take a probiotic supplement daily. Other ways to improve your gut health would be to limit refined sugars and grains.

  1. Supplement with caution

Supplements such as fish oil, probiotics, B-complex, or a good multivitamin could be helpful for low-mood or depression but be careful and do your research: Choose a brand with studies supporting its effectiveness for mental health. Not all supplements are created equal. A low-quality vitamin might contain too low a dose or be hard to absorb. Just remember real food first!!

  1. Get out and getting moving!

Whether it’s a quick trip to the gym or a Sunday stroll, exercise can improve of maintain good mental wellbeing- exercise reduces stress, increases our happy hormones, improves sleeping patterns, makes us feel more energised… the list of benefits is endless so get out and be happy!