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Food healthy and mental health

Some studies suggest that what we eat and drink can affect how we feel. But it can be difficult to know what to eat, especially when healthier foods can be more expensive.

And it can be hard to think about our diet when we’re struggling with our mental wellbeing.

How can food and drink affect how I feel?
We all react differently to the things in our diet. But there are some foods and drinks that may affect how we feel, in different ways.

This section talks about food and drink that might affect how you feel, and has some ideas for how to manage this.

These tips may help some of us think about what to eat and drink. But they are only a guide. Some of us may find them less helpful or achievable, especially when we’re feeling unwell – and that’s ok.

Blood sugar levels
If your blood sugar is lower than usual, you might feel tired, irritable or depressed.

Eating regularly, and eating foods that release energy slowly, can help to keep your sugar levels steady.

Different people may have different reactions to the same foods. But generally, foods that release energy more slowly include:

Wholegrain bread and cereal
Nuts and seeds
Brown pasta
Brown rice
This is compared to foods like white bread, crisps, white pasta and white rice, which release energy less slowly.

Drinking fluids
If you live with a mental health problem, you may not have the energy or motivation to drink lots of fluids. But if you become dehydrated, this can make it harder to concentrate or think clearly.

Water, tea, coffee, juices and smoothies can all help you feel hydrated. But some of these may also contain caffeine or sugar, which could affect how you feel for different reasons.

It may help to try and track your fluid intake. You could try writing it down or using a reminder on your phone.

Fruits and vegetables
Eating different fruits and vegetables can add a good range of nutrients to your diet. These nutrients help to keep us mentally and physically healthy.

Fresh fruit and vegetables can sometimes be expensive and more difficult to prepare. Frozen, tinned, dried and juiced fruits and vegetables all count towards your 5 a day too, if you want a cheaper or easier alternative.

Healthy fats
Your brain needs certain fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, to keep it working well. You can find these healthy fats in:

Nuts and seeds
Avocados
Oily fish, such as sardines and mackerel (these are often cheaper if you buy them tinned)
We know that some of these healthier fats can be more expensive. And that it can be challenging to eat well when you’re feeling low. So if these changes don’t feel possible right now, that’s ok.

Foods for good gut health
Sometimes your gut can reflect your mood. If you’re stressed or anxious this can make your gut slow down or speed up.

This can lead to problems with digestion, such as feeling bloated or constipated. Or you may not feel as hungry as usual.

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what is a healthy, balanced diet for diabetes?

There is no specific diet for diabetes. But the foods you eat not only make a difference to how you manage your diabetes, but also to how well you feel and how much energy you have.

For example carbohydrates you eat and drink are broken down into glucose. The type, and amount, you consume can make a difference to your blood glucose levels and diabetes management.

Eating from the main food groups

How much you need to eat and drink is based on your age, gender, how active you are and the goals you’re aiming for. But no single food contains all the essential nutrients your body needs.

That’s why a healthy diet is all about variety and choosing different foods from each of the main food groups every day.

And when we say balanced, we mean eating more of certain foods and less of others. But portion sizes have grown in recent years, as the plates and bowls we use have got bigger. And larger portions can make it more difficult for you to manage your weight.

We’ve got more information for you about managing a healthy weight.

We’ve highlighted the benefits of each food group below – some help protect your heart and some affect your blood sugar levels more slowly – all really important for you to know. Get to know them and how healthy choices can help you reduce your risk of diabetes complications.

You can learn more about a healthy diet for diabetes with our Food Hacks section in Learning Zone.

Fruit and vegetables
Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t have fruit. Fruit and veg are naturally low in calories and packed full of vitamins, minerals and fibre. They also add flavour and variety to every meal.

Fresh, frozen, dried and canned – they all count. Go for a rainbow of colours to get as wide a range of vitamins and minerals as possible. Try to avoid fruit juices and smoothies as they don’t have as much fibre.

If you’re trying to limit the amount of carbs you eat, you might be tempted to avoid fruit and veg. But it’s so important to include them in your diet every day. There are lower carb options you can try and we also have a low carb meal plan you can try.

Fruit and vegetables can help protect against stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers – and when you have diabetes, you’re more at risk of developing these conditions.

Benefits
Help to keep your digestive system working well
Help protect the body from heart disease, stroke and some cancers
How often?
Everyone should aim to eat at least five portions a day. A portion is roughly what fits in the palm of your hand.

Examples of what to try
sliced melon or grapefruit topped with unsweetened yogurt, or a handful of berries, or fresh dates, apricots or prunes for breakfast
mix carrots, peas and green beans into your pasta bake
add an extra handful of peas to rice, spinach to lamb or onions to chicken
try mushrooms, cucumber, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, celery and lettuce for lower carb vegetable options
try avocados, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, plums, peaches and watermelon for lower carb fruit options

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Food and mental health

Some studies suggest that what we eat and drink can affect how we feel. But it can be difficult to know what to eat, especially when healthier foods can be more expensive. And it can be hard to think about our diet when we’re struggling with our mental wellbeing.

How can food and drink affect how I feel?
We all react differently to the things in our diet. But there are some foods and drinks that may affect how we feel, in different ways. This section talks about food and drink that might affect how you feel, and has some ideas for how to manage this.

These tips may help some of us think about what to eat and drink. But they are only a guide. Some of us may find them less helpful or achievable, especially when we’re feeling unwell – and that’s ok.

Blood sugar levels
If your blood sugar is lower than usual, you might feel tired, irritable or depressed. Eating regularly, and eating foods that release energy slowly, can help to keep your sugar levels steady.

Different people may have different reactions to the same foods. But generally, foods that release energy more slowly include:

Wholegrain bread and cereal
Nuts and seeds
Brown pasta
Brown rice
This is compared to foods like white bread, crisps, white pasta and white rice, which release energy less slowly.

Drinking fluids
If you live with a mental health problem, you may not have the energy or motivation to drink lots of fluids. But if you become dehydrated, this can make it harder to concentrate or think clearly.

Water, tea, coffee, juices and smoothies can all help you feel hydrated. But some of these may also contain caffeine or sugar, which could affect how you feel for different reasons.

It may help to try and track your fluid intake. You could try writing it down or using a reminder on your phone.

Fruits and vegetables
Eating different fruits and vegetables can add a good range of nutrients to your diet. These nutrients help to keep us mentally and physically healthy.

Fresh fruit and vegetables can sometimes be expensive and more difficult to prepare. Frozen, tinned, dried and juiced fruits and vegetables all count towards your 5 a day too, if you want a cheaper or easier alternative.

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If You Don’t Eat Sweet Potatoes Every Day, This Might Convince You to Start

Sweet potatoes are just as versatile as white potatoes but pack even more of a nutritional punch. So what are the sweet, sweet benefits of sweet potatoes?

There’s no veggie quite as versatile as the humble spud. Whether you love your potatoes baked, mashed, as hash browns or french fries (best air-fryer recipes for the win!),

there’s no shortage of ways to put them to delicious use. Sweet potatoes can be enjoyed in all the same ways as white potatoes—and the nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes bring even more to the table.

Even if you’re chock-full of food facts and can rattle off the benefits of bananas, the benefits of yogurt and the benefits of blueberries without consulting Google, there’s a good chance you don’t know all the benefits of sweet potatoes.

If they’re not already part of your best recipes, learning about their benefits straight from dietitians just might convince you to integrate them into your diet. Keep reading to find out why nutrition experts love sweet potatoes so much—and learn the most delicious ways to cook them!

What are the benefits of eating sweet potatoes?
There’s a reason sweet potatoes have garnered a glowing health halo. Below, you’ll find just a few of the highlights.

A healthier gut
“One sweet potato has 15% of the daily value of fiber, making them good for gut health,” explains registered dietitian Natalie Rizzo, author of Planted Performance and the founder of Greenletes. That fiber aids digestion and helps prevent constipation.

Blood-sugar stability
As a complex carb, a sweet potato takes more time to digest than simple carbs (ultra-processed foods with little nutritional value), notes Jessica Lehmann, a registered dietitian and associate teaching professor at Arizona State University. That means a sweet potato won’t raise your blood sugar levels as quickly, helping to keep your mood and energy levels steady. Plus, adds Rizzo, slower digestion means sweet potatoes will keep you fuller longer than other carbs.

Reduced inflammation
You can also add sweet potatoes to your anti-inflammatory grocery list. The tuber is high in antioxidants—specifically vitamin C, carotenoids and phenylpropanoids—which reduce inflammation in the body and protect against chronic diseases, as well as certain types of cancer.

A healing boost
Sweet potatoes have also been linked to improved vision (due to their beta carotene and vitamin A content), a better immune system (vitamin C and manganese) and strong bones (manganese again). Eating sweet potatoes regularly is even good for your skin. “Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, so it helps to reverse damage from the sun,” Lehmann explains. “It also improves wrinkling and sagging of the skin.”

Improved mental health
According to Lehmann, sweet potatoes are good for mental health because they’re high in vitamin B6, which is needed to synthesize serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood. We’re in favor of any food that calms anxiety!

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Top 10 Foods for Health

1. Water
Drink 8 to 12 cups of water daily.

2. Dark green vegetables
Eat dark green vegetables at least three to four times a week. Good options include broccoli, peppers, brussel sprouts and leafy greens like kale and spinach.

3. Whole grains
Eat whole grains sat least two or three times daily. Look for whole wheat flour, rye, oatmeal, barley, amaranth, quinoa or a multigrain. A good source of fiber has 3 to 4 grams of fiber per serving. A great source has 5 or more grams of fiber per serving.

4. Beans and lentils
Try to eat a bean-based meal at least once a week. Try to add legumes, including beans and lentils, to soups, stews, casseroles, salads and dips or eat them plain.

5. Fish
Try to eat two to three serving of fish a week. A serving consists of 3 to 4 ounces of cooked fish. Good choices are salmon, trout, herring, bluefish, sardines and tuna.

6. Berries
Include two to four servings of fruit in your diet each day. Try to eat berries such as raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries.

7. Winter squash
Eat butternut and acorn squash as well as other richly pigmented dark orange and green colored vegetables like sweet potato, cantaloupe and mango.

8. Soy
25 grams of soy protein a day is recommended as part of a low-fat diet to help lower cholesterol levels. Try tofu, soy milk, edamame soybeans, tempeh and texturized vegetable protein (TVP).

9. Flaxseed, nuts and seeds
Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed or other seeds to food each day or include a moderate amount of nuts – 1/4 cup – in your daily diet.

10. Organic yogurt
Men and women between 19 and 50 years of age need 1000 milligrams of calcium a day and 1200 milligrams if 50 or older. Eat calcium-rich foods such as nonfat or low-fat dairy products three to four times a day. Include organic choices.

 

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Students’ Knowledge of Healthy Food and Their Actual Eating Habits: A Case Study on the University of Granada (Spain)

This article focuses on an analysis of the discourses produced during 34 semi-structured interviews (17 men and 17 women) conducted at the University of Granada (Spain) with undergraduate, Master, and Ph.D. students.

The interviewees were between 20 and 44 years old. It was observed that the fact of having a high educational level did not prevent University students from eating unhealthily. There is a gap between the fact that 97.1% of 34 students interviewed (that is,

33 of them) know what healthy food is and their self-perception about whether or not what they are eating is healthy, since in 41.2% of them said self-perception is negative.

This gap narrows as the interviewees’ age increases and their socio-economic and vital situation is stabilizing which favors that their eating habits become more regular and healthier. Thus, all the interviewees aged 27 or over self-perceived that they were eating healthily. But the biggest differences are those that have to do with the gender of interviewees.

Thus, while 23.5% of women interviewed perceived that they were not eating healthy, 76.5% of them felt that they were eating healthy. However, among the men interviewed, these percentages were somehow reversed, in such a way that 58.8% of them believed that they were not eating healthy, compared to 41.2% of them who indicated that they were eating healthy.

Therefore, the investigation revealed that women tend to have the best chances of assuming healthy eating habits. Male students living outside the family home

or without female partners exhibited greater feeding problems, while females living under similar conditions tended to display healthier eating habits. This is related to the fact that women have traditionally been in charge of acquiring and preparing food. So,

women’s food education has not been restricted to the mere transmission to them of knowledge about what healthy food is, but from their childhood they were food trained through their active involvement in practical experiences.

Obviously, the solution proposed to this male disadvantage is to not perpetuate macho gender stereotypes that assign women the role of home caregivers, but to seek that both women and men have the opportunity and the duty to experience equally those practical experiences that involve the

tasks of the acquisition and preparation of food. Working to achieve a situation like this, not only promotes progress in gender equality, but also helps to overcome the lower training of men to perform the tasks inherent in their diet.

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Eating Well for Mental Health

From a young age, we’re taught that eating well helps us look and feel our physical best. What we’re not always told is that good nutrition significantly affects our mental health, too. A healthy, well-balanced diet can help us think clearly and feel more alert. It can also improve concentration and attention span.

Conversely, an inadequate diet can lead to fatigue, impaired decision-making, and can slow down reaction time. In fact, a poor diet can actually aggravate, and may even lead to, stress and depression.

One of the biggest health impairments is society’s reliance on processed foods. These foods are high in flours and sugar and train the brain to crave more of them, rather than nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.

A lot of the processed foods we eat are highly addictive and stimulate the dopamine centers in our brain, which are associated with pleasure and reward. In order to stop craving unhealthy foods, you’ve got to stop eating those foods. You actually start to change the physiology in the brain when you pull added sugars and refined carbohydrates from your diet.

Stress and Depression
Sugar and processed foods can lead to inflammation throughout the body and brain, which may contribute to mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. When we’re feeling stressed or depressed, it’s often processed foods we reach for in search of a quick pick-me-up. During busy or difficult periods, a cup of coffee stands in for a complete breakfast and fresh fruits and vegetables are replaced with high-fat, high-calorie fast food. When feeling down, a pint of ice cream becomes dinner (or you skip dinner altogether).

According to the American Dietetic Association, people tend to either eat too much or too little when depressed or under stress. Eat too much and you find yourself dealing with sluggishness and weight gain. Eat too little and the resulting exhaustion makes this a hard habit to break. In either case, poor diet during periods of stress and depression only makes matters worse. This cycle is a vicious one, but it can be overcome.

To boost your mental health, focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables along with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon. Dark green leafy vegetables in particular are brain protective. Nuts, seeds and legumes, such as beans and lentils, are also excellent brain foods.

A Healthy Gut
Researchers continue to prove the old adage that you are what you eat, most recently by exploring the strong connection between our intestines and brain. Our guts and brain are physically linked via the vagus nerve, and the two are able to send messages to one another. While the gut is able to influence emotional behavior in the brain, the brain can also alter the type of bacteria living in the gut.

According to the American Psychological Association, gut bacteria produce an array of neurochemicals that the brain uses for the regulation of physiological and mental processes, including mood. It’s believed 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, a mood stabilizer, is produced by gut bacteria. Stress is thought to suppress beneficial gut bacteria.

Mindful Eating
Paying attention to how you feel when you eat, and what you eat, is one of the first steps in making sure you’re getting well-balanced meals and snacks. Since many of us don’t pay close attention to our eating habits, nutritionists recommend keeping a food journal. Documenting what, where and when you eat is a great way to gain insight into your patterns.

If you find you overeat when stressed, it may be helpful to stop what you’re doing when the urge to eat arises, and to write down your feelings. By doing this, you may discover what’s really bothering you. If you undereat, it may help to schedule five or six smaller meals instead of three large ones.

Learn more about mindful and emotional eating.

Sometimes, stress and depression are severe and can’t be managed alone. For some, eating disorders develop. If you find it hard to control your eating habits, whether you’re eating too much or too little, your health may be in jeopardy. If this is the case, you should seek professional counseling. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness or failure, especially in situations too difficult to handle alone.

Brain Food
Your brain and nervous system depend on nutrition to build new proteins, cells and tissues. In order to function effectively, your body requires a variety of carbohydrates, proteins and minerals. To get all the nutrients that improve mental functioning, nutritionists suggest eating meals and snacks that include a variety of foods, instead of eating the same meals each day.

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Street foods that are actually safe and healthy to eat

Street food is so delicious that the mere mention of the words ‘street’ and ‘food’ together can make mouths water. The only drawback of street food is that it falls under the category of what most deem as junk food. It is true that a large part of what constitutes street food is devoid of nutrition and any significant health benefits,

but there are some dishes that may not necessarily fall into the list of foods one must avoid. There are street foods, but they do contain nutrition and may have some health benefits. Here is a list of Indian street foods that are actually safe and healthy to eat.

Hailing from Mumbai Nagariya, contrary to popular belief, bhel puri is actually not bad for health at all. It is made of puffed rice (murmura), which is not only a light snack, but it’s also a good source of fibre, protein, and much needed complex carbs. Added to it are chopped veggies like tomato, onion, coriander, and potato, all of which are nutritious. Topped with lemon and green chutney, there is absolutely no unhealthy ingredient included in this street food.

Staples in South India, both idli and dosa have made their way to the Northern part of India as street foods. Both are made with rice and urad dal, which provides you with protein, wholesomeness, and long lasting energy.

Idli is steamed, so there is no added ingredient, and although dosa is prepared with oil, the quantity is minimal, and they’re so thin that you anyway end up consuming only a little oil. They are both accompanied with sambar and/or coconut chutney, both of which are also healthy and nutritious ingredients.

Potatoes are always wrongfully accused of being unhealthy and leading to weight gain. This is completely false, for potatoes, be it the regular ones or sweet potatoes, are good for health. Sweet potatoes are loaded with a number of nutrients like vitamins A, B, and C, and minerals like manganese, potassium, and iron, along with a good amount of fiber. Topped with lemon and chaat masala, there is nothing wrong with having sweet potato, even on a regular basis.

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Nine foods that improve your brain health

The old adage, you are what you eat, applies to both our body and mind. “There’s no doubt that food and mood are really closely connected,” says Dr Federica Amati, the head nutritionist for Zoe, the nutrition science company set up by Prof Tim Spector.

“For example, we know that food and dietary patterns are really important in helping to prevent mental health disorders, but also in improving their symptoms. We also know they can help with sleep and energy levels, both important markers of mental health.”

There is no silver bullet when it comes to food and brain health according to Sarah Berry, an associate professor in nutritional sciences at King’s College London: “Improving brain health is down to overall dietary patterns, rather than single foods. We need to eat a wide variety of nutritional foods, because a diverse diet contains lots of different chemicals that all work together to improve health.”

A recent study published in Nature Mental Health journal backed this up, and found when it comes to brain health, nothing beats a balanced diet. Dr Wei Cheng, one of the study’s authors at Fudan University in China said,

“People who ate a more balanced diet had better ‘fluid intelligence’ [the ability to problem solve] and better processing speed, memory and executive functions [which include things like organisational skills and attention].”

However, says Dr Berry, “there are some magic ingredients in certain foods that really can help our brains.”

Salmon

Oily fish such as salmon are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which are a type of fat your body can’t produce on its own so you have to get it from your diet. They’re important for your heart and immunity, but also your brain health.

One study from the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research found that omega-3 supplements containing EPA and DHA (two types of omega-3s) improved symptoms of depression and may also help prevent it. Other good sources of omega-3s include herring, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, chia seeds and walnuts.

Nuts and seeds

“Nuts and seeds are a powerhouse of nutrition and packed with polyphenols and nutrients, which impact brain health,” says Dr Berry. Polyphenols are micronutrients occurring naturally in plants, and growing evidence has linked them to cognitive function and brain wellness.

“Walnuts are particularly good,” says Dr Amati. A 2020 study published in the journal Nutrients found that eating walnuts led to improvements in memory and brain functioning. However, all nuts and seeds have been linked to slower cognitive decline, and a 2021 study found people at risk of cognitive decline, such as a family risk of Alzheimer’s, had better outcomes if they ate more nuts – specifically walnuts.

Kale

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How to make healthier food choices

Eating is one of the quickest ways to comfort ourselves – food can calm, energise and nourish us, after all. And while most people occasionally turn to sweet, salty or fatty treats for a quick hit of comfort, such foods are often low in nutrients and can often leave us wanting more.

By making healthy food choices, you can give yourself both the comfort you’re craving and the daily nourishment your body needs to function at its best.

1. Opt for nutrient dense foods
Notice how certain foods always leave you wanting more? A doughnut for example, is high in calories, but contains hardly any nutrients. It’s also high in sugar and fat which leads to a quick high after eating, as your body is flooded with a dose of simple carbohydrates that shoot glucose into your bloodstream.

Your pancreas responds by releasing insulin to deal with the excess glucose in your blood. Then, when your blood sugar returns to normal, you may be left feeling drained and low, possibly wanting more sweet, salty or fatty snacks.

This cycle may provide quick comfort, but it isn’t giving your body the essential nutrients it needs to stay healthy. Instead you should choose foods that are rich sources of nutrients without being high in fat or calories. These are usually more filling than processed foods, keeping you satisfied for longer in between meals.

2. Eat for immunity
Now, more than ever, it’s important to make healthy food choices that can support your immune system. Recent research shows that you should aim to eat at least 30 different plant foods a week to support good health and immunity. Key nutrients for healthy immune function include, vitamins A, C, D, Zinc and selenium.

3. Choose foods that help your brain make the pleasure chemical
If you’re feeling stressed, worried or bored, it’s easy to turn to food as a source of comfort. Dopamine is one of the brain’s chemical neurotransmitters that stimulates the reward centre of the brain, creating a pleasurable sensation. If dopamine is low, you may be more likely to comfort eat.

To make dopamine, you need to eat foods that contain the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine. Foods rich in these amino acids include proteins such as meat, fish and poultry as well as dried seaweeds, Gruyère cheese, apples, bananas, blueberries, grapes, oranges, papaya, strawberries, prunes and watermelon. Vegetables, nuts and seeds also help with dopamine production.

4. Make healthy food swaps
Know which sugary, fatty or salty foods are sources of temptation for you. Then, prepare healthy alternatives for when cravings arise. Here are some suggestions:

Ice cream. Blend 1 chopped banana and some berries with 200ml almond milk; freeze Crisps. Eat spicy roasted nuts instead. Drizzle nuts with olive oil and sprinkle with chilli or paprika. Roast in a hot oven for 1-2 minutes Red wine. Have red grape, pomegranate or cranberry juice instead Dessert. Slice up a fresh pineapple, sprinkle with cinnamon and bake in the oven for 20 minutes

5. Ask yourself what your body really needs
Sometimes cravings can be your body’s way of signalling that it needs something. Here are some examples:

Salty foods. This may be a sign that you’re dehydrated, which can throw electrolytes out of balance. Electrolytes are chemicals in your blood, urine and sweat that help hydrate the body and regulate muscle and nerve function. So make sure you’re drinking enough water.
Sugary, sweet foods. This suggests your blood sugar levels are low. Eat foods with a low Glycaemic Index (this is an index of how quickly a food affects your blood sugar) such as pulses and wholegrains and include some quality protein at every meal (see examples above). This will keep your blood sugar levels balanced and help reduce cravings.

Chocolate. You may be low in magnesium, also known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’. Rich sources include almonds or leafy greens. You could try taking a magnesium supplement.