How are diet and mental health linked?
The relationship between our diet and our mental health is complex. However, research shows a link between what we eat and how we feel.
Our diet can affect our brain. Some foods can help us feel better. A Mediterranean-style diet (one with lots of vegetables, seafood, fresh herbs, garlic, olive oil, cereal and grains) supplemented with fish oil can reduce the symptoms of depression.
On the other hand, there are two groups of foods that have a negative effect on the brain:
- foods that trick the brain into releasing chemicals we may be lacking, temporarily altering our mood (for example, caffeine and chocolate)
- foods that prevent the conversion of other foods into nutrients the brain needs (for example, saturated fat such as butter, lard and palm oil).
What should I eat?
The Eatwell guide on the NHS website has detailed information on how to achieve a healthy, balanced diet. It’s very similar to the Mediterranean diet.
As a basic guide, most adults need about 2 to 2.5 litres of fluid a day. Try keeping a water bottle with you and remember to sip on it throughout the day to help you stay hydrated.
Sharing meals with other people
There are many psychological, social and biological benefits of eating meals with other people. They give us a sense of rhythm and regularity in our lives, a chance to reflect on the day, and feel connected to others. Biologically, eating in upright chairs helps with our digestion. Talking and listening also slows us down so we don’t eat too fast.
Make the most of mealtimes by setting aside at least one day a week to eat with family and friends. Choose a meal that’s easy to prepare so it doesn’t become a chore. Share responsibility so everyone has a different task: doing the shopping, setting the table, cooking or washing up, for example. Keep the television off so you can all talk and share.
If you regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, you should aim to lower your consumption. Realising you have a problem with alcohol is the first big step to getting help. To find guidance and support see our alcohol misuse page
If you feel you’re using food as a negative coping mechanism to deal with emotional pain or as a way to feel in control, you may have an eating disorder. You can see our link to further sources of help and support here on our eating disorders page
Living Well Eating Well
Healthy eating on a budget
NHS Eat Well guide
BUPA guide to staying hydrated
NHS & Healthcare Staff Discounts
NHS & healthcare staff can also get healthy food discounts from some of health food companies