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Eating well for mental health and wellbeing – Mediterranean diet

A detailed look into how the Mediterranean diet could help you during this lockdown

Eating well for mental health and wellbeing – Mediterranean diet

As we head into our second lockdown of 2020, it is more important than ever to focus not just on our physical health but our mental health too.

Following a strict diet while we are already adhering to government restrictions may lead to reduced mood and could ultimately end in binge eating and feelings of guilt. Instead of creating more restrictions in your diet, think of making some healthier swaps and try to include some of the mood-boosting foods below.

Research has found that following the Mediterranean diet helps to prevent cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes, but scientists have also found a link connecting the Mediterranean diet to improved mental health and brain function. The Mediterranean diet is high in fibre which improves digestive health, helps to control blood sugar and reduces hunger. It is also high in healthy fats which are linked to brain health and mood.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

  • Healthy fats (nuts, fish, olive oil)
  • High fibre (fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, grains)
  • Colourful
  • Reduced red meat and dairy
  • Reduced processed foods

Top tips for eating well during lockdown:

  1. Prioritise eating nutrient-dense foods – Fruit and vegetables are packed full of fibre, vitamins and minerals and will help you to naturally crave less of the energy-dense foods such crisps and chocolate, without creating the feeling that you are restricting yourself.
  2. Cook with other household members – If you are living others then try to cook as a team, trying new recipes at least once a week or take it in turns to cook for each other. Research suggests that those who cooked during the first lockdown felt happier. This could be because it kept them occupied or introduced a variety of nutrients to their diet, or both! If you live alone, find a friend to do a Zoom cook-a-long with!
  3. Eat the rainbow – One easy way to ensure you are including a variety of vitamins and minerals in your diet is to eat as many different colours of the rainbow as possible each day. From leafy greens which contain vitamin C, iron and calcium to deep purple fruits and vegetables containing anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
  4. Stay hydrated – If you are not a fan of water then try infusing water with some fruit such as berries or citrus fruits. You could also switch out your regular caffeinated tea or coffee for more soothing teas such as peppermint, ginger and camomile. If you are feeling anxious then cutting down on your caffeine intake should help improve your symptoms.
  5. Consider frozen or tinned produce – Great for those on a budget or concerned about food waste; frozen fruit and vegetables still contain high levels of nutrients and will often work out much cheaper. If you don’t have access to a freezer consider buying tinned fruit and vegetables but look at options where they are packed in water or their own juices rather than in calorie-dense syrups or with added salt. Some tinned vegetables like chickpeas and lentils are a good source of fibre and protein as well as being cheap and extremely versatile allowing you to create many dishes from salads to curries.
  6. More fish, less red meat – Fish is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and the UK’s Eatwell guide recommends that two portions of fish are consumed per week, one being oily fish such as mackerel, salmon or sardines. If you are not a fan of fish try some milder flavoured fish such as cod and combine with a homemade sauce which you can flavour with your favourite herbs and spices.
  7. Practice mindful eating – This is a topic which could have its own article! If you find yourself binge eating, rushing your meals or eating when you are not hungry, mindful eating is a great exercise to practice to help you to savour food, take your time and make eating more enjoyable. Commonly done with a raisin (but you can pick anything), take your time to look at the food; its colour, shape, imperfections. Then smell it and feel its texture, does it make a noise? Then taste it; slowly and think about all the subtle flavours it produces. Give it a go!

Give some of the tips above a go to promote mental health, as well as physical health. Whilst sugary and salty snacks are associated with emotional eating and negative health effects, it is just as important to think about how you can form healthier eating habits rather than just focusing on dietary restrictions by excluding energy-dense foods.

Example shopping list

  • Variety of colourful fruit
  • Variety of colourful vegetables including green vegetables (broccoli, kale, spinach)
  • Fish
  • Tinned food (Chickpeas, lentils, beans, tomatoes)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Herbs and spices (to add flavour)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Herbal teas

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