Nutrition plays a key role in the structure and function of the brain, so what we eat can therefore influence how effectively our brains operate.
Not only can a highly-processed, poor quality diet increase the likelihood of mental health disorders including anxiety and depression, but a diet high in whole foods that are minimally processed can actually have a protective effect on mental health.
COVID-19 has had significant and devastating impacts for many athletes, from major competitions being postponed or cancelled to restricted access to normal training routines while at home. These changes can lead to increased stress, anxiety and/or reduced mood, and not just for those with pre-existing mental illness.
Nutrition can be used to help not just physical but also mental performance. Below are some tips for healthy eating to demonstrate the impact nutrition can have towards optimising mental health in the current climate.
Below are some key nutrients involved in optimal mental health.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines), walnuts, flaxseeds
Yoghurt, kefir, sourdough bread, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi
Egg yolk, fatty fish, mushrooms
B vitamins (inc. folate)
Whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables (kale, baby spinach)
Fruit (dark berries), vegetables (artichoke, cabbage), herbs (thyme, parsley), spices (turmeric, pepper), dark chocolate
6 tips for including more mood food in your diet
- Eat fatty fish three-four times per week. This could include smoked salmon with your eggs at breakfast, tinned tuna on Vita-Weats as a snack or a salmon fillet with roast vegetables at dinner
- Eat a fermented food at least once a day. This could be yoghurt with your breakfast cereal, sourdough bread for your sandwich at lunch, or sauerkraut in your salad at dinner
- Choose wholegrain carbohydrate options – grainy bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice and quinoa
- Flavour meals with herbs and spices – bake your vegetables with some oregano or thyme sprinkled on top, or add cinnamon to your porridge
- Aim for three or more different vegetables at lunch and dinner – cucumber, tomato and spinach on a sandwich for lunch, and stir-fry with zucchini, capsicum and carrot at dinner
- If you enjoy eating chocolate, consider choosing dark chocolate as a dessert option every now and then
Finally, enjoying the occasional discretionary food item in moderation because you enjoy it is not going to destroy your physical and/or mental health. If you enjoy eating them, you should definitely do so without guilt. The key is to ensure that these foods only make up a minority of your diet and aren’t replacing an opportunity to eat whole nutrition foods.