It is a timeworn cliché that “you are what you eat.”
But like most clichés, there is a kernel of truth, and recent studies are showing that diet can alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. Further, this same research is beginning to show that healthy eating habits can actually prevent mental illness.
Before going into specifics, I’ll mention the biggest barrier to the benefits of a wholesome diet: economy. Folks living with a mental illness or mood disorder tend to be poor.
A healthy diet can be more expensive. Fish, fruit and vegetables can be particularly pricey. However, by cutting down on pop, energy drinks, salty snacks and take-out foods, you can save money so you can buy healthier foods
Take care to buy only as much as you know you can use within the next few days, to reduce waste. You can also cut your costs by taking advantage of special promotions and sales, which are regularly advertised in the Coast Reporter
If you live alone you could save money by splitting purchases with friends (buying bulk is usually cheaper) or by cooking several portions of a dish and freezing some of them. This also saves energy and saves you the effort of preparing meals every day
Frozen fruit and vegetables are often cheaper than fresh produce and are usually just as good nutritionally (with no wastage). Fresh fruit and vegetables are usually cheapest when they are in season. Beans, lentils and soy proteins are also cheaper than meat and just as nutritious
To give yourself the best chance to maintain a happy mood, ensure that you are adequately hydrated, as studies have shown a strong link between mood and hydration. In this pursuit, avoid alcohol – which is a depressant as will as a diuretic – and caffeine
As mentioned above, try to eat fewer high-sugar foods and more wholegrain cereals, nuts, beans, lentils, fruit and vegetables. These contain complex carbohydrates that are absorbed relatively slowly into the bloodstream.
In contrast, foods that are highly refined or processed often contain unexpectedly high levels of sugar, which enters the bloodstream rapidly. This causes and initial high, followed by a crash as more insulin is produced. This causes the classic “sugar blues.”
There are other good reasons to included lots of complex carbs in your diet.
One is that they are filling; meaning one does not have to eat so often. Another is that some of these foods – particularly whole grains, nuts, beans, and lentils – contain thiamin (B1), a vitamin that has been associated with control of mood, and folate and zinc.
The science is still evolving, but increasingly studies show that people living with symptoms of depression find their mood improves after taking supplements of these compounds.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the biggest barrier to the benefits of a healthy diet is not knowledge; it is affordability.
Here on the Coast, there are plenty of ways to become involved in a food co-op. There are plenty around and bulk buying with several others can significantly reduce your food costs.
As well, buy joining (or forming) a food group, you will discover folks have all sorts of creative ideas in their mental pantry, just waiting to be shared.