If your brain fog has outlasted the holiday season, some of the answers may be on your plate.
Less than 10% of Australian adults eat the recommended amount of vegetables every day.
Health research is beginning to show an association between our diets and improvements in our mental health.
It’s even more reason to consider how we fuel ourselves.
Food for our mood
What we put on our plate may do more than fill our stomach or satisfy a craving.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, our brains account for up to 20% of our total daily energy requirements.
Research has found good nutrition to be associated with better mental health and wellbeing.
Nutritionist Nicole Dynan, Director of The Good Nutrition Company said eating plenty of plants and getting good amounts of fibre are good places to start.
“Eating a diet rich in plants and fibre feeds your gut microbiome, supporting physical and mental health,” Nicole said.
Meanwhile poor diet is associated with a greater risk of depression and anxiety. These outcomes have been found to be consistent in adult and younger people.
The impact of poor nutrition:
- Poor concentration and tiredness, which could affect productivity
- Increased susceptibility to stress and changes in mood
- Reduced immune system function
- Iron deficiency, which may impact learning and memory
Maintaining good brain health begins on our plate
Just like work and life, Nicole said good nutrition is about balance.
“A balanced diet, rich in a wide variety of plants such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds, together with lean meats, oily fish and fermented dairy products like yoghurt, provide our bodies with important nutrients and fibre.
“These can help to feed the trillions of microbes in our intestines, which in turn support our physical and mental health.”
Nicole added the impact of caffeine and alcohol should not be overlooked when discussing mental health and nutrition.
“Choosing water as your main drink and limiting caffeine and alcohol can ensure your body is well hydrated and thinking and performing at its best. It may even help to improve the quality of your sleep.
“Aiming for seven to nine hours’ sleep each night can help support better appetite control and healthy food choices, improved mood and higher levels of concentration.” Nicole added.
“It’s never too late to make a start.”
Reach for better choices at work
When we are stressed, we can turn to less nutritious foods, so it’s good to develop coping strategies not related to food such as exercise or mindfulness.
When making a start on any new habit, begin by making small changes that are easy to stick to.
If you’re feeling low and having a tough time, it’s important to put healthy habits in place – to give yourself a better chance of coping with life’s ups and downs.
Considering we spend so many hours a week at our workstation or workplace, implementing healthier habits at work can make a big difference.
Five ways to support your team’s nutrition
- Replace the sweets or biscuits jar at work with a bowl of fresh fruit
- Share recipes for healthier cooking
- Host a wellness or nutrition themed speaker or event
- Try a workplace challenge or healthy eating challenge for charity
- When catering for office events, opt for more fresh food options like salad sandwiches, fresh fruit, yoghurts in place of processed meats, cakes and sweets
On top of healthier eating, staying active, sleeping well, and spending time with people you love also play an important role in maintaining good mental health.
Quick tips for healthier snacking
- Swap processed afternoon snacks for nutritious ones, like fruit and yoghurt, fruit and nuts
- Don’t be too hard on yourself, remember some habits can take a few goes before
- they become a natural choice
- Link new habits to old ones to help embed them faster, such as have a glass of water each time you have a tea or coffee
- Make sure your diet includes a variety of colourful and nutritious fresh foods in place of processed and packaged choices
If you find yourself needing support to get started reach out to your EAP provider for professional advice.
If your organisation is registered with Assure for employee health and wellbeing support, you get access to expert dieticians. Find out more at assureprograms.com.au.