Food and Mood

16/06/2010

MIND, the organisation for mental health, knows that many people are seeking to take control of their mental health using self-help, and to find approaches they can use alongside, or even instead of, prescribed medication. One self-help strategy is to make changes to what we eat and regulate when we eat it - skipping breakfast is often done but ill-advised. There is a growing interest in how food and nutrition can affect emotional and mental health.

The most vital substance for a healthy mind and body is water. It's easy to overlook drinking the recommended six to eight glasses, per day, which is a low-cost, convenient, self-help measure that can quickly change how we feel, mentally as well as physically. Having a minimum of five portions, daily, of fresh fruit and vegetables (organically grown, if possible) provides a good helping of nutrients,

Positive responses from individuals who have made changes to their diet confirm the importance of food and nutrition for maintaining or improving their emotional and mental health. The foods and drinks that most often cause problems are those containing alcohol, sugar, caffeine, chocolate, wheat (such as bread, biscuits, and cakes), dairy products (such as cheese), certain artificial additives (or E numbers) and hydrogenated fats.

It is best not to skip breakfast, to keep regular meal times, and to choose foods that release energy slowly, such as oats and unrefined wholegrains. It's also important to eat some protein foods, such as meat, fish, beans, eggs, cheese, nuts or seeds, every day.

On their website MIND have published the recipe for The Mind Meal as an example of putting these recommendations into practice. This was launched by MIND to draw attention to the important relationship between food and mood. The Mind meal does not contain artificial additives, added sugar, stimulants such as chocolate or caffeine which can be associated with feelings of anxiety or panic attacks in vulnerable people or wheat or dairy. The Mind meal does contain good mood protein in the form of oil rich fish, nuts and seeds, avocado and dried apricots, protein, and good mood carbohydrates which are concentrated in pasta, oatcakes and fruit.

Significant improvement to a wide range of mental health problems can result from making changes to what we eat. MIND reported improvements in a number of conditions including mood swings, anxiety, panic attacks, irritable or aggressive feelings, concentration and memory difficulties.

The MIND report discusses the idea that how we feel can influence what we choose to eat or drink (mood to food). What is less well known is how what we eat can affect our mental functioning (food to mood). The use of caffeine is one example of what is a complex relationship. Caffeine, found in tea, coffee, cola drinks and chocolate, is probably the most widely used behaviour-modifying drug in the world. We drink it if we are feeling tired and irritable, because it can give us a boost and help us to concentrate. But too much caffeine can cause symptoms, such as anxiety, nervousness and depression.

Any exploration into food and mood needs to take into account this two-way relationship and include the psychological aspect behind what we are choosing to eat