You'll have heard the phrase 'you are what you eat'. It basically breaks down into this simple rule-of-thumb. If you eat 'crap', chances are you'll feel like 'crap'. Eating a diet with a high proportion of processed foods or those with a high-fat and high-sugar content will impact your health, both physically and mentally. It has too. If you accept that rule, then the opposite must also be true. If you eat better, you'll feel better. Agreed? Good. Let's move on.
Making a conscious decision to eat better can have a positive impact on your life, including your mental health. Not only can it give you more energy, it can also calm your moods, give you positive feelings and help you think clearer.
Nutrition has a cumulative effect, meaning that both the benefits it gives, and the harm it does, occur over time, not necessarily immediately. You won't automatically feel 100% better and fully energised just by eating an apple, nor will you put on a stone in weight and feel lousy by eating one cheeseburger. Mmmm cheeseburgers.
So, now we all agree that food and drink plays an important part in improving your mental health (we did right?), the effect it will play on your health varies on the food you eat. Before you change your diet too severely, you need to be aware that certain psychiatric medications can make some food you eat dangerous. If you're in any doubt, please check with your doctor before embarking on a change in your eating regimes.
Got that? Good. So here are a few tips to help you eat better and feel better for longer.
If you're in the UK, USA and Germany, you'll be familiar with the 5-a-day promotion, encouraging everyone to eat at least 5 portions of fruit or vegetables every day. This figure varies around the world, but the thinking behind it is the same.
Now don't be fooled into thinking, despite what the packaging might say, that things like a tin of baked beans constitutes one of them. It doesn't. Nor does anything else that has added sugar, salt or preservatives. To help your mood you need to be eating more fresh fresh and vegetables in their natural forms. If you want more than 5, go for it!
Having a diet that contains a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, seeds and grains means that you will have a better chance of getting the full range of nutrients they offer. Tomatoes, bananas and mushrooms, for example, are high in potassium, which helps your whole nervous system, including the grey matter in your head. If you can't work out what that is, you need to eat more bananas.
Rather than having a large meal for lunch or dinner, try having smaller, regular meals spread through the day. If you have too long between meals, your blood sugar can drop. If that happens, then you will begin to feel tired, irritable and depressed. That's not a great combination for anyone, least of all those living with mental illness.
Always try and start your day with breakfast (your mum was right, it IS the most important meal of the day) and it will get you off to a great start. After breakfast, go for foods that will give you energy throughout the day (not suddenly spike it like sugary drinks or snacks). Foods that are high in protein like nuts, seeds, oats and grains are a great way to accomplish this.
Protein contains amino acids, which is crucial for your brain to regulate your thoughts and feelings. It also helps control your blood sugar levels. Protein levels are high in things like lean meat, fish, eggs, peas, lentils and beans (providing they're not covered in a tomato sauce and come out of a tin!).
Drink you say? Great, mine's a pint! But wait for it, that isn't an excuse to go running to the pub, unless you're going to drink water, in which case, fill yer boots!
Drinking lovely cool H2O will help you in a number of ways. Staying hydrated will help with your concentration and clarity of thought. Drink clear, think clear - see what we did there! It will also help you stay...shall we say...'regular'.
You should aim to drink around 2 litres of water a day, although some of that will be part of the food you eat. If you become dehydrated, you can also become constipated, and that's never going to end well! Also, don't try and be sneaky and think the water in tea or coffee will help your daily total.
The caffeine in those drinks acts are diuretic, which means that it increases the amount of urine you produce. The more you wee, the more water comes out of you, which defeats the whole object of the exercise.
If you're not a massive fan of plain-ole water, then you can try drinking diluted fruit juice (yes, it's got more water in it!) or green tea (or many other varieties of herbal tea).
Declaring a Fatwa (Sorry, WE mean 'Fat War')
Fat is often seen as the bad guy when it comes to nutrition, but it's not as clear cut as that. There are good fats and bad fats, the trick is knowing the difference.
In any form, fat is a source of energy. and is made up of building blocks called fatty acids. These fatty acids can be categorised as (you might need to put your teeth in for this next bit) saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Some these fats are essential parts of any diet, others can be detrimental, especially if you have too much of them. Regardless of the type of fat, they all have the same number of calories, so even the good ones need to be eaten in moderation or you'll put on weight. If you're planning on wearing a pair of budgie smugglers on the beach this summer, that won't be pretty for anyone! If you only wear them in the comfort of your own home, go for it regardless.
So which are 'good' and which are 'bad'? When it comes to 'Fatter Christmas', on the naughty list are saturated fats. These include fatty meats, full-fat dairy products (milk, cheese, butter, etc) and many processed foods.
On the nice list are the two unsaturated fats; mono and poly. These can help maintain a healthy heart and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. They are often found in vegetable oils such as olive, rapeseed and sunflower and also avocados, nuts and seeds.
One group of polyunsaturated fatty acids are known as Omega 3. These are found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines but also comes in flax, linseed oil and walnuts. You should try and eat one portion of this per week. It has been shown in many studies to help stabilise mood and relieve depressive symptoms.
One (or rather two) things to avoid are 'trans fats' and 'partially hydrogenated oils'. If you see these in the list of ingredients on food packaging, give them a wide berth. They are common in shop-bought cakes and biscuits. When you're feeling down, it can be easy to dive into the biscuit tin for some sweet comfort food to improve your mood, but this type of fat can negatively affect your mood and your overall physical health in the long run.
Last but not least, we have juicing. This is a firm favourite of the team at Men Tell Towers and we swear by it. It's f*%£ing great!
Juicing is a fairly new phenomenon which involves extracting the juice from raw fruit and vegetables into a...well... juice. The juice replaces all your meals; breakfast, 2nd breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, tea, late dinner and supper (we all have those right?). It might sound extreme, but the positive affect it can have on your health is incredible, and we say that from experience. It helps you lose weight, feel energised and actually keeps you feeling full.
If you want to know more about it, check out these websites; The Natural Juice Junkie or Reboot With Joe. If you have a chance to check out Joe's movies, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (and the sequel - they're both on Netflix), we would heartily recommend them.
We also have a great blog written by the Natural Juice Junkie himself, right here on the site. Go take a look at the Men Tell Their Stories section.
If you have any experience about how any nutrition has helped you and you'd like to share it with our community, please take a look at our 'Men Tell' section.