Scientific evidence has recognised the importance of a healthy diet on a person’s recovery, development, management and prevention of mental health illnesses as well as the importance for the physical body.
Ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water is essential for our moods and physical and emotional wellbeing. We need to ensure our bodies are at peak health levels so that we can cope with the physical and mental demands of conceiving, being pregnant, giving birth, breastfeeding andor caring for a baby
♦ Maintain a well balanced diet (wholegrain cereals, nuts, beans, lentils, fruit and vegetables) and drink plenty of healthy fluids. These foods are filling and don’t cause mood swings due to their slow release of sugars, etc.
♦ Coping with a new baby may cause you not to eat proper healthy meals, and a bad diet with sugar and too many simple carbohydrates can make mood swings more pronounced.
♦ Healthy foods, eaten in frequent meals, can provide the nutrition you need to cope with depression and anxiety and give you the energy you need to handle your new role and recover from your illness.
♦ Plan your meals and snacks so you only buy what you need and don’t overeat or waste food. You can find some tips on EUMoms website.
♦ Try and eat 4-5 portions of vegetables a day, green leafy vegetables are the healthiest vegetables to eat. Try and eat 2 portions of fresh fruit a day. Frozen fruit and vegetables are fine to eat but try and avoid canned or jars of vegetables and fruit as they may be classed as a processed food and are not as healthy as fruit and vegetables that don’t contain additives.
♦ Eat regular meals throughout the day to maintain blood sugar levels.
♦ Make sure you eat at least three meals each day. Smaller more regular meals are fine to eat as well especially if you have lost your appetite to eat large meals.
♦ Missing meals, especially breakfast, leads to low blood sugar and this causes low mood, irritability and tiredness.
♦ If you feel hungry between meals you may need to include a healthy snack eg. fruit, nuts and vegetables.
♦ Processed foods are food items that have a list of ingredients such as sweeteners, salts, additives, preservatives, etc. For a healthy diet you should avoid or limit your intake of processed foods.
♦ If you can’t give up salt then try Himalayan salt which is available from supermarkets or health food shops.
♦ Don’t forget to drink plenty of water and other healthy fluids like fruit juices, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing. Dehydration can cause fatigue and headaches. Avoid alcohol as it is a depressant so it will not make you feel better and will make you feel worse especially the next day. Avoid or limit your caffeine intake
♦ Ask your partner, family and friends to cook some healthy meals for you that you freeze and reheat. There are now plenty of places that make healthy tasty takeaway meals like coffee shops, delicatessens, online healthy meal deliveries (not chip shops, pizzas, etc) and healthy restaurants so this is another way of eating well if you have limited support from family and friends.
♦ Now is the time to be building up your strength, so don’t be worrying about your weight. If your weight is upsetting you then limit or cut out very fatty or sweet foods. Eat a healthy diet without fatty and sugary foods and you will see results. You will do more harm if you go on a faddy diet, your metabolism will slow down and you will feel more tired, sluggish and have a lower mood.
♦ Include protein (meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, nuts, beans, lentils (dhal), or a meat substitute such as textured vegetable protein or mycoprotein) at every meal to ensure a continuous supply of the amino acid tryptophan to the brain.
♦ Fresh meat, vegetables and fruit can sometimes be expensive but if you cut out sugary and fattening drinks and snacks, takeaways and alcohol you will save enough not to be worrying about the cost of fresh and healthy foods.
♦ When pregnant one should avoid foods which are high in salmonella, listeria or e-coli bacteria and these would include soft cheeses and cheeses that are mould-ripened, such as brie and camembert, and soft blue-veined cheeses, such as roquefort, pate, coleslaw, raw meats, raw fish and shellfish, raw eggs, liver, unpasteurised milk products or juices etc.
♦ Good quality natural Omega-3 has been proven to help with depression so if you don’t eat fatty, oily fish twice a week take natural supplements. The HSE recommend that you do not eat shark, marlin or swordfish, and that you limit the amount of tuna you eat while you are pregnant or breastfeeding due to possible mercury contamination. Omega-3 is important for brain development of your baby’s brain functions and your body cannot create it on it’s own so you should ensure you are getting Omega-3 either in food or by taking natural supplements. You should avoid cod liver oil when pregnant or breastfeeding.
♦ You should talk to your doctor before taking any supplements when pregnant or breastfeeding.
Nutritionist Elsa Jones has written a great article called “Eat Your Way To Happiness – The Mood Food Connection”, she explains the effect food has on our brain, click here to read it and another great article on healthy snacks called “Healthy Snacks To Keep Your Energy Levels & Metabolism Revved Up”, click here to read it. Elsa’s website also contains some tasty and healthy recipes.
More diet, nutrition & recipe resources:
- Rotunda Antenatal Healthy Eating Advice
- Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute
- Safe Food
- Mental Health Ireland
- Nutrition and Health Foundation
- Bord Bia
- Mental Health Foundation UK
- Royal College of Psychiatrists UK
- Food For Thought (Copyright © National Alliance on Mental Illness US)
- The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion US
- EU Mom Recipes
- Rollarcoaster Recipes
- Weight management program
- The Diabetes Federation of Ireland
- The Coeliac Society
- Bodywhys- support agency for people with eating disorders
Read more on looking after your Mental Health & Emotional Wellbeing.