Healthy eating for mental health – How food affects mood

Senior Dietitian Caitlin Wilson spoke at the first Employee Wellbeing Forum of the year about the link between the key nutrients our body needs and how they are important for optimising our brain function and emotional regulation.

Caitlin emphasised how foods influence our mood and how to be aware of the foods that can make us feel irritable and low, or happy and active. If taken in excess, foods such as caffeinated drinks, candy and soft drinks, can make us feel irritable, anxious and result in mood swings.

When we are tired and mood is low, we tend to reach for refined sugary foods. Too many of these foods can worsen our emotions and lead to mood swings. This is due to our low mood being followed by a surge of energy, which then falls back into a slump once our body has metabolised the sugar.

Caitlin provided some advice on the types of food we can eat to give our brain the fuel to keep it healthy and happy:

  • Carbohydrates are our brains preferred fuel source, and foods high in carbohydrates and proteins positively affect the serotonin levels in our brain.
  • A balanced approach to sleeping, exercise and work tends to result in a happier mood and a healthier diet.
  • Aim to eat three meals and 1-3 snacks a day.
  • Include lean proteins (e.g. chicken, tofu, lentils) and carbs (e.g. bread, pasta, potatoes), at each meal, and try to throw in some veggies too.
  • Eat plenty of healthy fats such as nuts, seeds and avocado.
  • Stay hydrated.

While it is important to maintain a healthy diet, Caitlin recommended including treats along the way, as the brain loves chocolate!

If you missed Caitlin’s presentation, you can watch it on Vimeo. If you are after more advice on nutrition and lifestyle, you can access the Employee Assistance Program. Be sure to tune into our Thursday Wellbeing Employee Forums for more health and wellbeing content. You can view upcoming events on our COVID-19 website event listings.

Approved by Michael Holman. 

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