As Kiwis head back into lockdown, here's how to stay on top of your diet and cope with the mental health challenges that can arise in times of uncertainty.
You've heard it time and time again - you are what you eat.
But did you know that the same can be said for your mental health as well as your physical health?
According to Nutritionist May Simpkin, depression and anxiety can be a symptom of a poor diet, and medical literature shows a clear link between diet and mental health.
Simpkin told Healthista that food plays a vital role in the root cause of the imbalance that causes depression.
"I believe depression is the symptom of an imbalance in the body and, as such, it is important to get to the root cause of this imbalance and address this imbalance, rather than masking its symptoms.
"Food plays a key role and it is vital to look at the diet and consider whether there are any deficiencies that may be contributing to the development of mood imbalances as well as considering the management of mental health issues or prevention in the first place."
According to the Mental Health Foundation, people who experienced mental health problems also reported a less healthy diet in terms of fresh fruit and vegetables and making home cooked meals instead of takeaways.
Here's how you can eat to better your mental health
1. Pack in the protein
The feel-good neurotransmitters in our body are made up of amino acids, which are better known as proteins.
If you are lacking in certain proteins, your body won't be able to produce enough serotonin and dopamine.
Ensure you have enough protein from meat, fish, quinoa, eggs and beans as they are essential to the production of amino acids.
2. Load up on B vitamins
Simpkin states: "If you are not eating enough B vitamins (or amino acids) you will not produce adequate levels of serotonin and dopamine.
She also added that B vitamins are best when consumed as a complex.
"Foods that are rich in B vitamins tend to provide a good spectrum, especially those in whole grains, spinach, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, salmon, tofu, eggs and pecan nuts."
3. Fuel with fats
Cells in the nervous system are made up of fat, and essential fats need to come from a healthy, balanced diet.
Foods such as salmon, sardines and avocado all include these crucial health fats.
4. Go for gut health
"Digestive health is just as crucial to mood and if your gut is not in optimal health, digestion and absorption of nutrients will not be as efficient," stated Simpkin.
"Around 95 per cent of serotonin is produced in the gut and your gut flora plays an essential role in ensuring a healthy digestive tract."
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, kimchi and pickles will provide your body with this good bacteria and contribute to a healthy digestive system.
5. Don't eat the sweet stuff
Refined sugars are dangerous because they are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and provide a sudden burst of energy.
However, after this, the body's energy levels will dip leaving you feeling tired, lethargic and more anxious.
Simpkin says replacing these items with healthier options can provide an easy fix.
"Opt for complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, sweet potato, and starchy vegetables like sweet potato, carrots, parsnips and butternut squash, and ideally eat them with good quality protein such as fish, chicken, eggs or quinoa to release the sugars more slowly into the bloodstream."
6. Monitor your hormones
"An imbalance of the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone can have an influence on the pathways that antidepressant medications also act upon, affecting the way in which the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and GABA work on the brain," Simpkin states.
Trying to balance these hormones should be the first consideration before taking depression medication, and this can be done with phytoestrogen foods, which are plant-based oestrogen foods.
This includes all vegetables and also pulses and beans.
7. Walk it out
Studies show that inflammation and depression are linked, and according to the Journal of Psychiatric Research established obesity may be the contributing factor to inflammatory profiles in patients with depression.
Reducing your weight can help with moods, depression and many other health issues.
Simply changing out poor quality or unhealthy ingredients for fresh fruits and vegetables can have a big impact.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
: 0800 111 757
: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK?
Call or text 1737
: 0800 726 666
: 0800 376 633 or text 234
There are lots of places to get support for others on the mental health website