The physical benefits of having a healthy, balanced diet and a well hydrated body are well-documented and widespread, with a strengthened immune system, boosted energy levels and weight loss being just a few that come to mind. But did you know that these benefits aren’t just limited to our body – they extend to our mind and mood too?
Research has shown that our gut acts like a second brain, and the two are so closely linked that we eat can directly impact what we feel. Studies such as the SMILES trial in Australia have proven that regular exercise and an optimised diet can significantly improve the symptoms of people struggling with severe depression, while others suggest the consumption of too much ‘junk’ food can actually cause depression along with other mental health issues. However, with so many different diet options out there, each boasting that they’re ‘the one’ for you, eating well and staying healthy can feel really difficult and overwhelming at times and, for some, the stress of trying to figure it all out can even become a problem in and of itself.
So, in honour of Nutrition and Hydration Week, we’ve trimmed some of the fat (if you’ll pardon the pun) surrounding healthier eating for you and put together some small but effective tweaks you can make to your existing diet right now to help boost your mood and improve your physical health to boot.
- Up your water intake: since being even mildly dehydrated can heighten anxiety and damage your mood, try to make sure you drink around two litres of water a day (or more, if you can manage it). Don’t just wait until you’re thirsty before reaching for your water bottle, though – by that time, you’ll already be pretty dehydrated! Instead, you might want to set yourself a reminder on your phone to drink little and often, and soon you’ll have formed a positive habit to keep your fluids up throughout the day.
- Step away from the sweets: fluctuations in your blood sugar levels are normal, but eating too many high-carb, sugary foods can cause your levels to drop out of optimal range and make you feel quite tired. When this happens, your body will releases hormones to try to bring your blood sugar back up, but these can have a knock-on effect on your mood; namely, irritability and anxiety. To keep your levels steady, try to avoid eating too many processed, sugar-filled foods and instead opt for something healthier such as fruit or a nice trail mix. Not only will your mood become more stable – your energy levels will, too, making this a real win-win.
- Ease up on the caffeine: we discussed the impact caffeine can have on our sleep during last week’s blog post, so it may not surprise you to see it getting a (dis)honourable mention here, too. Consuming too much caffeine not only makes us miserable by interfering with our sleep – it also directly causes irritability and anxiety for some people in its own right, so if you’re a bit of a self-confessed coffee or chocolate addict, you might want to consider cutting back a little.
- Don’t forget protein: a lot of us associate eating protein with exercise and building muscle, but the benefits of including high protein foods such as lean meat, nuts, seeds and dairy in our diet aren’t just physical ones. The amino acids found in protein are used by our brains to regulate our mood and play a key role in supressing cravings for those mood-damaging junk foods we mentioned earlier so, next time you find yourself reaching for a snack, try choosing something high in protein rather than sugar to give your protein intake – and mood – a boost.
We hope the above has given you some ideas to start eating your way to wellness, but try not to stress yourself out by implementing too many changes at once; even just making one of these small changes can make a big difference!
For more advice and information about the nutritional education we can offer, get in touch using the link below and one of our team will be more than happy to help.