Food and your mood
When you think of improving your mental health, you may not think about changing the food you eat. But there is a strong link between what we eat and how we feel!
We know that eating an unbalanced diet can make us feel sluggish and flat. But now we are seeing eating a balanced diet (with a variety of fruit, veggies, nuts and wholegrains) might actually improve our mental health. This is a pretty new and exciting area of research.
Here’s how eating well can improve your headspace. It can:
- help you get a better night’s sleep
- give you more energy
- improve your concentration, this can help with things like work and study
- make you less likely to crave foods with high sugar, salt or fat.
Ask an expert: How can I eat for a healthier headspace?
Professor Felice Jacka is Director of the Food and Mood Centre. Here are her tips to eating a well-balanced, nutritional diet for your mental health.
- Often we turn to snacks that aren't nutritious when we are stressed. So it’s good to develop coping strategies that are not related to food - like exercise or mindfulness.
- We know that some foods are very good for a healthy mind. Make sure your diet includes things like fruits and vegetables, foods high in fibre (wholegrain cereals and bread, beans, chickpeas, lentils and nuts), fermented foods like unsweetened yogurt, olive oil, and fish (tinned is fine).
- Make small changes that are easy to stick to. Start by swapping processed afternoon snacks for nutritious ones, like fruit.
- You don’t have to be perfect, and don't be too hard on yourself. A burger or a chocolate bar are fine every now and then (say, once on the weekend). But it's important to make sure your diet includes a variety of nutritious foods, most of the time!
- Try to avoid too much red meat – a little bit is fine but keep it to 3-4 times per week.
‘I've found that when I eat things that fuel my body, it helps my mind. I know sometimes it can be tricky to make food choices that are more nutritious, but less immediately satisfying when your mood is low, but every little bit helps!
One tip is to team up with a couple of friends and make big batches of meals to share. This takes the pressure off you to make a meal every day, plus you get to try your friends' yummy dishes.
Making choices to eat well can be overwhelming, so start with something small (like choosing nuts instead of chips as a snack) and then keep making little changes. You're more likely to stick with it! Don't forget to treat yourself. Part of eating well is eating in moderation.’
If you’re feeling low and having a tough time, it’s important to put healthy habits in place – to give yourself a better chance of coping with life’s challenges.
Eating well is one of these healthy habits, but it’s not the only one. Things like staying active, sleeping well, and spending time with people you love also play an important role in good mental health.
The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.
Last reviewed 21 September 2021