It’s no secret eating a healthy diet contributes to a healthy body, but what impact do diet and nutrition have on mental health? According to BeyondBlue, food plays a vital role in maintaining mental health. If you do suffer from anxiety or depression, a change in your diet could have a positive impact on your outlook.
Signs your nutrition could be impacting your mental health
A nutritional deficiency can impact your mental health and, in turn, make it hard to eat properly. Getting the right nutrition as we grow older can be particularly difficult.
It might not be obvious but lack of motivation, weight fluctuations, or feeling isolated can all be symptoms of a nutritional deficiency.
The good news is you can help improve you mood and overall mental health by eating a nourishing, balanced diet.
Charm White, Mental Health Recovery Worker at Chorus, says a lot of research is being done in Australia to better understand the connection between the mind and the body, particularly regarding nutrition and exercise.
“The Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University identified that when people have good nutrition, they’re able to make better decisions and they’re able to be clearer in their functioning,” Charm says.
“The research shows that when we eat less sugar and we have more fresh vegetables that we function better.”
The overall food experience helps with mental health
Charm believes the benefits of good nutrition go beyond the physical response from our body. She believes the connection to nutrition and mind is really important, too.
“When we are feeling that well, we are more likely to interact with other people, which makes us feel, in turn, more connected,” Charm says.
“When we feel connected to other people, our mental health is much better.”
The Head to Health website from the Australian government has a lot of information about different aspects of our mental wellness, including a good section on food. Charm says it shows all aspects of food and eating contribute to mental health.
“It’s also about those activities of going to buy food and making food with people,” Charm says.
Walking to the supermarket, doing math in the aisle while working out the best deals, and carrying groceries home all contribute to improved mental health.
“When we’re making food with our friends or family, engaging in that activity to give our bodies wellness, everything links in together.”
What to eat to improve your mental health
Charm stresses that foods are not “good” or “bad” and people get the best outcomes when their nutritional intake covers a variety of food types. Following the Australian Dietary Guidelines, even partially, puts you on a path to wellbeing.
- Eat a wide variety of vegetables, legumes and fruits – fresh, canned and frozen are all packed with valuable nutrients.
- Stick to wholegrains whenever possible, including cereals, breads, rice, pasta and noodles.
- Eat lean meat, fish, poultry or alternatives. If you’re on a budget, consider nutritional options like tinned fish, which is packed with nutrients.
- Include milks, yoghurts, cheeses or dairy alternatives like soy milk.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Limit intake of foods high in saturated fats, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
In addition, planning to eat at regular intervals also contributes to better nutritional outcomes. Try not to skip meals, if you can avoid it.
You can use a handy guide to healthy eating poster for an easy reminder about nutritional balance in your daily diet.
Finding nutritious recipes for any budget
Charm recommends one of the best strategies for improving and maintaining nutrition levels is to find easy recipes to make at home. The LiveLighter website has tasty, economical recipes suitable for any level of cooking experience. She also advises that making a larger batch than you need and freezing part of it helps for those days when you’re busy or cooking feels too hard. Meals like soup, curries and stews can all easily be frozen to eat later.
Chorus Kitchen serves healthy, nutritious meals for people who are eligible for the Community Home Support Program (CHSP) and National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Volunteers deliver delicious 3-course meals directly to your home, which is also one of our mental health services.
Chorus’s recent Nutrition for Body and Soul program extended Chorus Kitchen’s normal meal delivery service to include people and families who were struggling to eat during the COVID-19 restrictions. Many of the participants had been experiencing long-term financial hardship. The overwhelming response from the people who received meals during this period was that they experienced a reduction in anxiety and stress levels and improved mental health.
Feedback from Chorus Kitchen customers
Here are typical quotes from Chorus customers showing the benefits a daily meal packed with nutrition can make on mental health.
“The meals have made a big difference to my mental health – my depression is easing. It has also helped with my diabetes. I loved seeing the volunteers and having a chat each day. I have been isolating, as I’m scared to go out. The volunteers are lovely and friendly.” – Lorraine
“This was very helpful. I feel better because I’m eating well. The kids have been fed healthy meals and enjoyed them.” – Ashton
“I cannot believe how much this has helped. I really appreciate the service – it has taken a lot of pressure off mentally.” – Charlene
“I’m so grateful and can’t believe how much stress it has released. My mental health has improved and things have been going well. The meals were beautiful. I feel more relaxed and have started to set goals and I’m achieving them.” – Tabitha