When we're feeling sad, stressed or tired, it’s a natural impulse to reach for sweet treats or simple carbs to feel better. But what does this really do to our mood and energy levels?
Eating processed foods such as cakes, chips and lollies may make us feel good for a short time, but a lack of nutrients means they are broken down quickly in the body. This causes a spike in blood sugar levels – making us feel energised initially but then leaving us feeling tired and sluggish.
Feeling good comes from a diet that provides regular amounts of good quality carbohydrates to keep blood glucose levels stable. Carbohydrates include a wide range of foods which are digested into sugar (glucose). These provide energy for the body, which may be why we want to reach for them when feeling tired.
The best choices are slowly digested carbs which provide long lasting energy for the brain, like wholegrain breads, fruit and low fat dairy foods. If you don’t have enough carbohydrates to keep your body fuelled with glucose, you can feel tired and irritable.
Eating breakfast is a good way to kickstart healthy eating each day and reduce the likelihood of ‘sweet binges’ later in the day.
There are now plenty of studies that suggest eating more fruits and vegetables, or following a Mediterranean-style diet, may be beneficial for mental health. Why is this?
Eating healthy, whole foods like fruit and veggies, wholegrains, lean meat and seafood, and dairy foods means we’re more likely to meet our needs for vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre, which impacts our gut and brain health.
The Mediterranean diet emphasises whole foods, is based on the five core food groups and has very little processed foods. As a rule, plenty of fruits and vegetables and wholegrain cereal foods, with some protein foods including oily fish, will support a good supply of nutrients for both good health and good mood – so this can be a useful eating pattern to undertake.
What is the link between gut health and mental wellbeing?
As more information about our gut health emerges, we are learning that our gut bacteria may also play a role in our mental health. Having a healthy gut microbiome and including gut friendly foods in our diet could play a key role in lowering stress and inflammation in the body, and in turn boost overall health. More research is needed on humans to confirm the links, but the signs are looking good.
Our gut bacteria respond according to the different food that we eat. Eat junk food, and you’re more likely to be feeding the bad bacteria in your gut. This may lead to poor health and possibly even chronic conditions that are related to depression.
Eating a diet rich in fermentable fibres (prebiotics) such as vegetables, fruit and whole grains, and fermented foods (probiotics) such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and kefir, will help feed and boost your good gut bacteria. This is more likely to help lower inflammation and the risk of chronic health conditions.