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The Connection Between Diet and Mental Health

In honour of Mental health week have decided to explore the ways in which our diet can affect our mental health and discuss guidance from experts to ensure our bodies and minds are at the happiest and healthiest they can be.  

For some time, society considered mental and physical health to be disassociated from one another however, developments in recent years display just how much of an impact our physical health can have on our mental wellbeing, studies show  30% of individuals that have a long-term physical issue, also struggle with problems related to mental health.  

Where does a healthy diet come into play?  

Food can have a significant impact on our day-to-day life. If you’re eating the wrong foods, it can cause uncomfortable bloating, lack of energy, low immunity, mood swings and serious health risks, so how can we minimise this by having a good diet?  

Hydration 

Hydration plays a key role in our mood, and no, the bottle of Sprite you buy with your meal deal doesn’t count as hydration. We’re talking water and lots of it! It’s recommended that we drink 6-8 glasses of water every day, with Studies showing that those who keep hydrated exhibit higher levels of happiness due to improved concentration and energy.  

If we’re being honest, coffee, juices and smoothies also count towards your daily hydration, but it’s important to be mindful that these are likely to have a high sugar or caffeine content which can cause irritability, headaches and spikes in blood sugar.  

Balancing Blood Sugar  

Have you noticed after big meals you often feel tired 2-3 hours later? That’s due to the intake of food causing an initial spike in your blood sugar level, followed by levels crashing. To better combat this it is recommended to eat regular and consistent meals, avoiding high-sugar processed foods, instead eating lean proteins and legumes that release a steady flow of energy and keep you fuller for longer.

Improving Gut Health 

If you recall having butterflies when you’re nervous or have felt ‘sick at the thought’ it’s due to there being a strong connection between our gut and mind. If your gut health is poor, it has negative consequences on our mental health and vice versa. The function of our gut is reliant on a microbiome (good gut bacteria), where the foods that we eat dictate the variety of bacteria in our gut.  

Generally speaking, a diverse microbiome is considered ‘healthiest’. The best foods you can eat to achieve a healthy gut are fruits and vegetables, specifically beans and legumes due to their high fibre and vitamin content. Fermented foods are also great, most commonly in the UK these are in the form of yoghurts, but rising food trends of Kimchi and Kombucha are also great alternatives.  

But how does all this improve our mental health? A healthy gut reduces uncomfortable bloating, prevents constipation and gives greater resistance to harmful bacteria and viruses through improved immunity, lessening symptoms of health-related anxiety.  

So maybe it’s not such a bad idea to add our whole grains in to the mix and picking up a yoghurt pot for your mid-afternoon snack… 

The Power of Protein 

Here’s where were about to get science based, but we’ll keep it relatively simple for both of our sakes…  

Our brain relays chemical signals from our nervous system to the mind through neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are made up of amino acids, which also happen to the building blocks of protein that we eat in our diet.  

When eating proteins our body breaks up the molecules and can synthesise into a range of amino acids (neurotransmitters) some of which produce dopamine and serotonin, molecules that a responsible for making you feel happy, leading to an improved mood and even enable anti-depressants to work more effectively.  

 A high protein diet keeps you fuller for longer reducing the likelihood of filling up on sugary snacks. Not only does this balance your blood sugar, but research also suggests that diets with a high refined-sugar content are linked with higher levels of depression. This is because sugar inhibits a protein call BDNF which has a key role in the maintenance and growth of various parts of the brain. Therefore, when inhibited the brain cannot function as it typically would.  

Proteins are commonly found in meat and fish, however there are plenty of veggies that have a high content including broccoli, edamame beans and potatoes. To make things easier take a look at our protein power bowl with over 40g per salad! 

All that information is a lot to take in, so here’s our top tips and tricks to achieve a healthy diet for a healthy mind.

  1. A varied diet – Try to eat a variety of different fruits and vegetables every day, at Chop’d we try to make our salads as colourful as possible, that’s how we know we’re getting lots of different nutrients. And remember, healthy fats are good for you so try your best not to rely solely on the calorific value of a dish when choosing your meal.  
  2. Drink plenty, aim for 6-8 cups of water a day! As well as improving your mood and preventing headaches it keeps your skin vibrant and glowing.  
  3. Lots of lean protein – Its good for your gut and great for your brain, lean proteins can be found in beans and legumes, red meats and salmon to name a few.  
  4. Aim for 5 portions of fruits and vegetables a day! It seems like a lot but can be easily done by making small changes to your snacking habits. Lucky for you, you can have as many servings as your desire in a create your own salad.  

It’s certainly not a one size fits all approach when it comes to establishing what work’s best for you, small changes are easier to stick to and can make a huge difference. As long as you are able to establish a dietary pattern that suits your lifestyle, with plenty of healthy foods you are bound to see the benefits.

Kickstart your healthy eating journey today at your nearest Chop’d store. Not in London? Follow our instagram for tips, tricks and inspiration to maintaining a healthy diet.