Nutrition and mental health: The basics of a healthy diet

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For your mood and general wellbeing, eat a balance of macronutrients (complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy and your brain’s only source of energy. This energy keeps you thinking clearly and ready to take on your daily routine.

To keep your mood and energy levels stable, try to choose complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, legumes (such as chickpeas or lentils), whole grain products, and some fruits, with their skins on if possible. These foods are also an important source of fibre, which helps you feel full for longer and helps food move through your digestive system regularly.

Candy, juices and other sugary food and drinks are all forms of simple carbohydrates. You can eat them occasionally, but don’t rely on them to give you energy. They can cause your blood sugar to “spike” and then suddenly drop off, leading to energy slumps during the day.

Protein

As a building block for your body, protein helps to build and repair your muscles, organs and bones and helps to maintain a healthy immune system to keep you feeling well. Protein is made up of amino acids that your body needs to function as well as possible. Overall, protein also helps you feel full for longer, which in turn helps you function better.

You can get protein from chicken, beef, fish and other meats as well as from eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt. Plant-based sources of protein include beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu and tempeh.

Fats

Fats play a key role in body and brain development. They also help your body absorb essential micronutrients such as vitamins A, D, E and K.

You might have heard or read that all fat is bad, but there are healthier and less healthy fats. Oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and vegetable oils contain unsaturated fats. When eaten in moderation, these fats help prevent many chronic (long-term) conditions such as high cholesterol, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Less healthy fats, also known as saturated and trans fats, are found in animal products such as high-fat meats and dairy products, including butter. You can still include these foods a balanced diet, but choose leaner options when you can.

Vitamins and minerals

It is important to get a range of vitamins and minerals every day for your general health.

Your brain and mental wellbeing benefit from eating regularly throughout the day, roughly every three hours. Rather than zone in on any trendy ‘super foods’ or supplements, simply try to eat a colourful mix of vegetables and fruits daily. These foods contain lots of vitamins and minerals (also known as micronutrients) and phytochemicals, which may play an important role in brain health.

Iron plays a key role in regulating fatigue. Every day, aim to eat foods rich in iron, such as dark leafy greens, beans, nuts, legumes (such as chickpeas or lentils) and lean meats. Whole grains, low-fat dairy, eggs, nuts, lean meats and legumes are rich in B vitamins. These help your brain and body transform food into energy.

Remember that different foods provide different micronutrients. “Eating the rainbow” (foods of different colours) makes sure you are consuming all the vitamins and minerals your body needs.

Last updated: March 22nd 2019