Join the dots: nutrition & mental health

  • Researchers have found that people who followed a Mediterranean style menu closest were 50% less likely to develop depression than those that didn’t follow the diet.

  • Drinking 2 cans of Coke a day may increase your risk of anxiety by 23%. This over-consumption of sugar triggers imbalances in certain brain chemicals, increasing the risk of experiencing depression and anxiety.

  • Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function – as well as worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.

Is the vending machine hurting your mental health?

Exhaustion often corresponds with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. To decrease cortisol, your brain will often seek out a hit of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. An easy way to access serotonin is by ingesting comfort food full of carbs, sugar and fat. Hence the trips to the vending machine!

You can take charge by having four or five sensible ‘mini meals’ per day. This helps most people prevent cravings and also beat fatigue. Your meals should consist of 30% vegetables, 20% fruit, 25% whole grains, and 25% lean protein.


Don’t forget to water your brain!

Lack of water to the brain can cause problems with focus, memory, brain fatigue and brain fog, as well as headaches, sleep issues, anger, depression and many other issues.


How does sleep influence your food choices and mental health?

When we don’t get enough sleep or we sleep poorly, Leptin levels drop, resulting in a feeling of dissatisfaction after we eat. Cravings for high sugar and carbohydrate (high energy) foods increase. At the same time lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise. This hormone stimulates our appetite, so we want more food.

Get proactive about mental health. Start with these 5 nutrition-related tips.

1. Research has shown that countries with high rates of depression consume lower amounts of fish. Let’s look at some simple ways to add a few serves of fish to your diet each week:

Salmon. Steam with mixed herbs, bay leaf, lemon wedge and sliced red onion. Serve with a crunchy salad and boiled potatoes. – Trevalla. Place your grilled fish on a wholegrain bun, complete with salad. – Flathead. Steam with ginger, garlic, shallots and a little sesame oil. – Sardines. Mash in a bowl with a little vinegar, serve on toast with sliced tomato and cracked pepper.


2. Skip the refined sugars. A high intake has been shown to impact an area of the brain important for mood regulation. Aim for unprocessed food options to avoid added sugars.


3. Put beans on your shopping list. Full of fibre and antioxidants, beans and legumes keep you fuller for longer and stabilise your blood sugar. This helps steady your mood as well as elicit feelings of happiness.


4. Grab a couple of pieces of fruit to take with you to work each day. A high intake of fresh fruit and veg is linked to lower depressive symptoms.

5. Cut back your take-away meals. Those who eat take-away foods more than 3 times a week are over 50% more likely to develop depression than those who eat little to no fast food.

Health by Design is here to help you navigate employee wellness and to help you work out what initiatives would be the best fit for your workforce. Contact us today to start the conversation and to take the first step towards a healthier, happier, more productive workforce.