Eating Well for Good Mental Health
Gone are the days when mental illness wasn’t talked about outside the family. A subject that was once taboo and beyond public debate has come out into the open. Thank heaven for that. We’ve all known someone who has suffered with their mental health - or we have suffered ourselves in some way. From mild anxieties and lack confidence, to panic attacks and full-blown depression, to name a few symptoms, mental illness takes many forms.
SAD – SEASONALLY AFFECTIVE DISORDER
For many, this time of year can be filled with doom and gloom. While some people love cosy nights in by the fire with a good book or a boxed set, there are others who dread the onset of winter. These are the sufferers of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to Mental Health Ireland, one in fifteen people suffers from this disorder between September and April, with December being the worst month.
As the days grow shorter and the nights get longer, SAD sufferers experience feelings ranging from low moods and mild anxiety, to hypersensitivity, sociability issues and major depression. Physical symptoms include tiredness, lethargy, lack of sleep or oversleep and cravings for high carbohydrate/sugar foods, which in turn can cause weight gain. This makes the sufferer feel low in self confidence, to add to all the other symptoms.
SAD often kicks in as the clocks go back at the end of this month, and things don’t start to look better till early spring. It’s like a mental mood clock which switches on and can completely change the personality and outlook of the sufferer. Symptoms may start mildly, and progress to very serious as winter moves on. We may all have the odd days when we don’t feel quite 100 per cent. But if you find yourself having extended periods of feeling low and losing interest in the things you normally do every day, or stopping activities you usually enjoy, it may be time to seek help. For those affected badly by SAD, medical treatments like light therapy and other alternatives can sometimes provide a solution.
PRACTICAL THINGS THAT CAN HELP
Mental Health Ireland has a few recommendations which can help SAD sufferers. These include:
• Maximising your exposure to daylight this time of year. Make your home brighter by trimming away any greenery overhanging the windows. Use brightly coloured décor, throws and cushions in the interior.
• Get up early to make the most of the natural daylight while it lasts.
• Sit near the window at work if possible.
• Continue with activities you enjoy and spend time with family and friends.
• Limit caffeine (coffee) and alcohol intake.
• Eat healthily.
DIET AND MENTAL HEALTH
With much open discussion now on mental illness, diet has been shown to play its part in helping to boost brain function. The winter is a particularly important time of year for all of us to eat well and make sure our diet is nutritionally supportive for all our needs, mental and physical.
Below are some ideas you can include in your diet on a daily basis to boost brain health and nervous system function as the days get shorter.
• Fresh fruit and vegetables are essential all year round, but can play a significant role in improving mental health in winter. Mental Health Ireland says two thirds of people who don’t report mental health issues eat plenty of fruit and veg. Unhealthy alternatives like chips, crisps and sweets are often included in the diets of those who do report mental health problems.
• Replace white bread with wholemeal or granary and rye which all have highter nutritional values.
Even better, try to get your bread from a reputable real baker who bakes fresh bread daily and doesn’t use additives or improvers. Have a look through our bakeries for a baker near you.
• Change to brown rice and pasta which have better complex carbohydrate values than their white versions.
• Try to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day, which can include a glass of fresh fruit juice.
• Eating more fruit and veg daily is easy, if you start getting creative with your salads. Sweet winter carrots, crisp Irish apples and new season cabbages grate beautifully for winter slaws.
• Oily fish are really good for Omega 3 and fatty acids, which help brain health and heart health. This time of year, cold waters produce great organic salmon. You may also find catches of wild mackerel and herring. All good sources of Omega fatty acids.
• Nuts and seeds provide plant proteins and brain supporting nutrients. Incorporate them in your diet by sprinkling over salads or having a snack box of nuts and seeds to munch on when you feel peckish.
• It’s particularly important to eat regularly, according to Mental Health Ireland. Missing breakfast can cause low moods and irritability before you start. So stick to your three regular meals a day, to keep those low moods at bay.
• Reduce your intake of refined foods and sugar loaded foods. Eating a bar of chocolate to fill a snack gap can be satisfying. But it gives you a quick high which soon wears off and can then leave you feelingl lower and more tired than before you ate it.