The following article has been written by the Food and Nutrition Society and Becky Thomas
The Food and Nutrition Society are lovers of all things food and drink. With a passion for balanced diets, they help member realise the importance of healthy food for our mental health, our brainpower and our bodies.
How does food affect our mental health?
There is a diverse range of factors that can contribute to the development of a mental health problem. Poor diets with high amounts of saturated fat, refined sugars and processed foods has been linked to poor mental health in young people. Eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and healthy fats is associated with feelings of wellbeing because having an increased intake of fruit and vegetables will help with keeping a healthy immune system which in turn will create a stronger immune system and decrease the risk of infections. Many people believe that food only impacts your physical health by improving muscle mass or attaining weight loss or weight gain. But… when keeping to a diet of foods associated with good health you tend to have fewer mood fluctuations an overall happier outlook and improved ability to focus. This is because having a nutritionally balanced diet reduces the risk of developing many chronic illnesses, ensures that the fat content of food is low, increases blood circulation and oxygen circulation throughout the body improving physical and mental wellbeing.
Right now in your younger years, a well-balanced diet has been linked to academic success. Seems too good to be true right? Well… scientists have proven that with a healthier diet you are less likely to have poor physical health and better sleep so you don’t get sick as often and have to take time off from studying to recover. The more lectures and study that you are able to do, the more likely that you are able to achieve the grades that you wish. When you get older the foods that you eat also start to have a protective effect on your brain and food that are high in good fats help with prevention of age decline and memory loss.
^ UPSU Food Market, 2019
So what can be done to ensure an optimally functioning brain?
Firstly, ensure the brain is maintained in good condition by choosing healthy fats and consuming around 2 litres of water a day. Healthy fats can be found in oils such as rapeseed and olive and in fish such as mackerel and salmon.
Secondly, ensure the brain is given the nutrients it needs to complete its work. Enjoying a range of fruit and vegetables guarantees adequate vitamin and mineral supplies. Also choosing whole-grain options, rather than refined ‘white’ options, provides vitamins and minerals again.
Thirdly, consuming wholegrain/complex carbohydrates at mealtimes, especially breakfast, assures the brain has the energy supply to complete its work.
Lastly, some nutrients, such as alcohol, damage the brain. Alcohol dehydrates the brain and prevents the absorption of many vitamins and minerals. Alcohol should be consumed within guidelines of 3 drinks per week.
When you are a student you may be living with limited funds so you may think that it is difficult to buy healthy foods. As low income is associated with mental health decline because foods that are typically more affordable are processed foods that are cheaper and last longer than fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. It is understandable that students fit into this sub group as you are only able to sometimes afford the basic necessities and this means that you will buy foods that are processed and easier to store away in a cool dry place instead of fresh foods to go in your fridge as you have limited fridge and freezer space (especially in halls of residence).
There are ways to combat this issue these include:
Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season (these typically cost less)
Buying frozen fruit and vegetables (just as yummy and nutritious)
Doing little and often shops for fresh foods so that food doesn’t get wasted
Shopping at larger food stores as convenience stores tend to have higher prices
In summary, your brain is built from the nutrients provided in your diet and sends signals using the nutrients provided in your diet. Therefore a poor diet prevents your brain from performing well and can lead to mental health problems. Following national healthy eating guidance can prevent this
^ UPSU Food Market, 2019
Here are some links about nutrition information on physical and mental wellbeing:
"Eating a balanced diet helps me feel more focused and have a clearer mind, I find it easier to concentrate and I find I am more productive as a result. It also helps if I drink enough water too."
Tanisha, 2nd year Dietetics Student.
"Having a healthy and balanced diet provides a structure to meal times resulting in a positive outlook on life which improve motivation in turn improving mental and physical health"
Niamh, 2nd year Dietetics Student.
"Eating a healthy well balanced meal, encourages my mental health to feel positive and vibrant in comparison to the feeling of eating an unhealthy meal..."
Samantha, 2nd year Dietetics Student.
Director of Student Services, Oli Horne’s ideal breakfast dish:
Societies and Activities Coordinator, Becky Thomas’ go-to lunch:
Moroccan Chicken & Couscous Salad
Jack Williamson, our Societies Manager has tried out this simple healthy taco recipe:
Chargrilled Vegetable Tacos & Smoky Salsa