Healthy Balanced Diet
The relationship between our diet and our mental health is complex. However, research shows a link between what we eat and how we feel.
Eating well can help you feel better. You don’t have to make big changes to your diet, but see if you can try some of these tips.
Eat regularly. This can stop your blood sugar level from dropping, which can make you feel tired and bad-tempered.
Stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration can affect your mood, energy level and ability to concentrate.
Eat the right balance of fats. Your brain needs healthy fats to keep working well. They’re found in things such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocados, milk and eggs. Avoid trans fats – often found in processed or packaged foods – as they can be bad for your mood and your heart health.
Include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables in your diet. They contain the vitamins and minerals your brain and body need to stay well.
Include some protein with every meal. It contains an amino acid that your brain uses to help regulate your mood.
Look after your gut health. Your gut can reflect how you’re feeling: it can speed up or slow down if you're stressed. Healthy food for your gut includes fruit, vegetables, beans and probiotics.
Be aware of how caffeine can affect your mood. It can cause sleep problems, especially if you drink it close to bedtime, and some people find it makes them irritable and anxious too. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks and chocolate.
What should I eat?
Give me 5
Most of us still are not eating enough fruit and vegetables. They should make up just over a third of the food we eat each day. Aim to eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and veg each day. Choose from fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced. Remember that fruit juice and smoothies should be limited to no more than a combined total of 150ml a day. Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Carbohydrates - Good or Bad?
Starchy food should make up just over a third of the food we eat. Choose higher fibre or wholegrain varieties, such as wholewheat pasta and brown rice, or simply leave the skins on potatoes. There are also higher fibre versions of white bread and pasta. Starchy foods are a good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet.
Fish and Meat
These foods are good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. Pulses, such as beans, peas and lentils, are good alternatives to meat because they're low in fat and they're a good source of fibre and protein, too. Choose lean cuts of meat and mince, and eat less red and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages. Aim for at least 2 portions (2 x 140g) of fish every week, 1 of which should be oily, such as salmon, sardines or mackerel.
Milk, cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais are good sources of protein and some vitamins, and they're also an important source of calcium, which helps keep our bones healthy. Try to go for lower-fat and lower-sugar products where possible, like semi-skimmed, skimmed or 1% fat milk, reduced-fat cheese or plain low-fat yoghurt.
Unsaturated fats are healthier fats and include vegetable, rapeseed, olive and sunflower oils. Remember all types of fat are high in energy and should be eaten in small amounts.
These foods include chocolate, cakes, biscuits, sugary soft drinks, butter, ghee and ice cream. They're not needed in our diet, so should be eaten less often and in smaller amounts.
Water, lower-fat milks, lower-sugar or sugar-free drinks and tea and coffee all count. Fruit juice and smoothies also count towards your fluid consumption, but they contain free sugars that can damage teeth, so limit these drinks to a combined total of 150ml a day.
Controlled Portion Sizes
How Do You Use a Meal Plate? Using a balanced meal plate is pretty easy. You just need to remember the 4 food groups, and how much each food group should consist of in your meals. 50% Fruits & Veggies First off, 50% of your meals should consist of vegetables and fruits. These can be any combination of vegetables and fruits, so long as it makes up half of your plate. 25% carbohydrates Next up would be the carbohydrates. Carbs should only consist of about 25% or 1/4 of your plate. This is because while carbs are important, eating too much can cause your blood sugar to rise, and can cause you to gain weight. 25% Protein The last 25% of your plate should be some form of protein. Ideally, it should be lean meat, but vegetables can also provide you with some protein. You might notice that a healthy meal plate does not include fats. This is because generally speaking, you do not need to eat a lot of fatty foods, and fats should only be eaten in very small amounts.
Alcohol and mental health are closely linked. Drinking too much can affect your well-being. Some people may drink to try to relieve the symptoms of mental ill-health.
People drink for many reasons: to celebrate, socialise, commiserate or drown our sorrows. We may drink to try and change our mood: to feel more relaxed, courageous or confident. However, the effect of alcohol is only temporary. As it wears off, we often feel worse because of how alcohol withdrawal affects our brain and body.
You may feel like alcohol is your coping mechanism: a way to deal with depression, stress, anxiety or other difficult feelings. You might be nervous about what life would be like if you stopped drinking or cut back. But relying on alcohol to manage your mental well-being can become a problem in itself. There’s no shame in asking for help and exploring what a new relationship with alcohol could look like.
Alcohol problems and mental ill health are closely linked.
Research shows that people who drink alcohol are more likely to develop mental health problems. It’s also true that people with severe mental illness are more likely to have alcohol problems. This may be because they ‘self-medicate’, meaning they drink to deal with difficult feelings or symptoms.
In the short-term, drinking too much can lead to alcohol poisoning, sleep problems, an upset stomach, bloating and migraines. It may make you behave recklessly or aggressively, have an accident or become the victim of violence.
Drinking a lot for many years will take its toll on your body. Long-term alcohol misuse increases your risk of serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, liver disease and cancer. It can lead to social problems such as relationship break-ups, unemployment, financial difficulties and homelessness.
Alcohol is a depressant, which can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in your brain and affect your feelings, thoughts and behaviour.
Alcohol affects the part of your brain that controls inhibition, so you may feel relaxed, less anxious, and more confident after a drink. But these effects quickly wear off. The chemical changes in your brain can soon lead to more negative feelings, such as anger, depression or anxiety, regardless of your mood.
Alcohol also slows down how your brain processes information, making it harder to work out what you’re really feeling and the possible consequences of your actions.
In the long-term, alcohol uses up and reduces the number of neurotransmitters in our brains, but we need a certain level to ward off anxiety and depression. This can make you want to drink more to relieve these difficult feelings – which can start a cycle of dependence.
The government advises that both men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units a week. This is the equivalent of six pints of average-strength beer or six medium glasses of wine. If you regularly drink as much of this, it’s best to spread it over three or more days.
If you’re worried about drinking or feel it’s affecting your mental health, a lot of help is available.
A unit of alcohol is 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about:
half a pint of lower to normal-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%)
a single small shot measure (25ml) of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%)
A small glass (125ml, ABV 12%) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.
Al-Anon offers support and understanding to the family and friends of problem drinkers.
Alcohol Change UK campaign for better alcohol policies and improved support for people whose lives are affected by alcohol problems. They offer help and support if you want to change your drinking habits.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) runs free self-help groups for anyone who thinks they have a drink problem.
Drinkaware provides advice, information and tools to help people make better choices about their drinking.
Drinkline is a free, confidential helpline for anyone worried about their drinking or someone else’s. Call 0300 123 1100.
SMART Recovery groups help people build their motivation to change and offer tools and techniques to help with their recovery.
Turning Point offers tailored support to people with drug or alcohol problems. This could be advice, medical treatment, peer support, social activities or help getting back into work, for example.