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Food and mental health

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By Diana Earnshaw, Volunteer Contributor

Everything we eat determines our health – be it good or otherwise. It really is that simple. Mental health is a part of our health and the physical and psychological cannot be separated in this case. One affects the other. Simplistically, if we care for our physical wellbeing (something we are largely in charge of), mental wellbeing will follow (something we don’t always have charge of). We can all feel sad, stressed and anxious – it’s normal, but these feelings if prolonged make us ill.

Food and mood

Picture courtesty of Mind Charity

The measures outlined in Charlotte’s article are not only helpful if there are established mental health problems, but are preventative too – we need company and interaction with others. To protect our mental health or help treat it, there are many useful dietary measures we can use.

It has been shown that Omega 3 is good for brain health. This is possibly due to its anti-inflammatory property. The body doesn’t like inflammation of any sort and where there is constant inflammation, there will eventually be health issues. The most bio-available Omega 3 is found in oily fish predominantly but it is also contained in the fat of grass fed animals such as beef and lamb. Vegetarians and vegans should supplement with walnuts and other nuts, flax seed oils and/or flax seeds.
B vitamins are important for nerve and brain function. These can be found in liver especially, but also meat and fish in general. Eggs and cheese are good too. Absorbable B12 is only found in these foods. A good array of B vitamins is available in peas and beans, leafy greens and nuts.


Animal fats are essential. The brain’s dry weight is largely made from cholesterol and although the body can make cholesterol, it is as well to ensure it is well-fed!  The fat soluble vitamins maintain the integrity of the brain’s cells.
Limiting refined carbohydrates will help stabilise blood glucose and thus prevent feeling agitated, so cut down on pasta, rice, bread and sweet foods. Having a proper cooked breakfast can stabilise blood sugar for the whole day! Avoid too many stimulants such as coffee and depressants such as alcohol.

It’s not just what we eat, but also when. It is not essential to eat breakfast on rising first thing in the morning, but when you do eat, try to incorporate protein and fat as well as carbohydrate. Breakfast is so often just cereal or toast and these cause dips in the blood sugar during the day, which leads to tiredness and lethargy.

The evening meal should be as early as possible. The worst thing for stress and depression is lack of sleep. Going to bed on a full stomach is never a good idea. The body has to digest food when it should be concentrating on detoxifying us – and that includes the brain.

Recipes to support the brain and health:

Chicken Liver Pate

Winnsboro Bean Rarebit