Taking care of your mind matters: top nutrition and wellbeing advice for better emotional health

Two strawberries and a banana placed to make a smiley face

There’s much coverage in the Press and on social media about the importance of talking openly about mental health, and rightly so: there should be no stigma around the topic. Interestingly, getting your diet right can also be an important contributor to good emotional health.

So how can we help ourselves and look after our mental wellbeing through nutrition? 

This Time to Talk Day, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top nutrition and wellbeing tips for a happier mind.

Ditch the sugar

There is an important link between the gut and brain health. Eating foods, namely sugar, with no nutritional value and which deplete nutrients, should be avoided.  Most importantly, sugar can be something that many people are addicted to.  Like any addictive substance, it has side effects, one of them being low mood.

A pile of sugar with the words 'no sugar' in

Being addicted to fizzy drinks, even the diet kind is not uncommon.  Many people are drinking between five and ten cans daily.  Not only does this deplete nutrients but sugar or sweeteners upset brain chemistry, both of which can cause low mood, irritability and lack of concentration.  They also upset blood sugar balance, leading to low energy levels and weight gain. Yes, even diet drinks can make you put on weight. Sugar, in all its forms, needs to be moderated as much as possible if you want to balance your mood.

Good mood foods

Certain foods can contribute to a much happier mood. Nutrient-dense foods contain key vitamins and minerals needed to produce the brain’s happy hormones and neurotransmitters.  Key to this are the B-vitamins which are also needed for a balanced nervous system.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

The good news is that B-vitamins are widely available in many foods including whole grains, meat, eggs, legumes, seeds and dark leafy vegetables.  Plus, bananas are a really good source of vitamin B6, a great transportable snack.

Protein-rich foods including chicken and turkey, eggs, soya products, as well as oats are also good sources of the amino acid tryptophan which produces our happy hormone, serotonin.  Try to include protein at every mealtime for best effects.

Get more of the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin because it’s made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. However, it is also the sunshine vitamin because it plays an important role in balancing your mood. Whilst vitamin D is essential for bones, teeth and a healthy immune system, deficiency will cause low mood, even depression.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

During the darker, winter months, the only way to get enough is to take a daily supplement: even foods which contain Vitamin D deliver very little. Public Health England recommends a minimum supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily for everyone. Taking a vitamin D supplement daily is a really easy way of boosting mood naturally.

Get talking

We are all becoming more aware of the increased prevalence of emotional wellbeing issues and the fact it’s being more widely talked in general about can make a real difference to people suffering.  It’s always good to try and talk to a family member or close friend if you are feeling low or anxious. And it’s always good to talk to someone you know who you think may be having challenges.

Two women talking about mental health

Whilst many people bottle up their feelings, this can often make matters worse.  Putting on a ‘brave face’ and keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’ might have been the norm years ago, but it can certainly cause more problems than it solves.

Getting outside professional help from a counsellor or psychotherapist can provide much-needed support.  Most will offer a free initial session because it’s important to feel comfortable: it’s well worth investing the time to find the right person to help you.

Try some happy herbs

As we know, Traditional Herbal Remedies (or licensed herbal medicines) can be incredibly powerful and make a real improvement to many health complaints.  Top of the list for low mood is St John’s Wort which helps raise serotonin levels.  It can be bought in pharmacies and health food shops but always look out for Licensed Medicinal Herbs with the ‘THR’ symbol.

Close up of a St John's Wort Flower with blue sky background

Herbs don’t work as quickly as pharmaceutical drugs, so you may need to wait two to three weeks before noticing improvements, but it’s certainly worth trying the natural approach.

Additionally, the herb passionflower is incredibly calming.  Anxiety often accompanies low mood, and the two herbs work very well together.  Passionflower tends to work faster and can also be used before a stressful event as well as for longer term.

So, make looking after your emotional wellbeing a top priority during 2020.

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