It is understandable that many of us will feel anxious or upset about the COVID-19 outbreak and the impact it is having on our lives. This is a stressful time and looking after our mental as well as physical health is important. During this time you may also feel bored, frustrated or lonely. At times like these, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy eating behaviour patterns which in turn can make you feel worse. You can help look after your body and your mind through your dietary choices.
Feeling good comes from a diet that provides adequate amounts of all nutrients. Plenty of fruits and vegetables (fresh, canned or frozen) and wholegrain cereals, with some protein including oily fish, will provide a good supply of nutrients for both good health and good mood. The Eatwell Guide provides information on what is a balanced diet
Carbohydrates in your diet provide energy and fuel to your body, especially your brain. A healthy choice carbohydrate at regular times will keep blood sugar levels stable. If you have ever felt ‘hangry’ then it’s probably because your blood sugar levels were low. Healthier sources of carbohydrates include wholegrains, fruit and veg, legumes (peas, beans and lentils). To keep blood sugar levels stable try the following tips:
- Eating breakfast which includes carbohydrates and protein gets the day off to a good start. Egg with wholemeal toast or unsweetened muesli with low fat yoghurt are great choices. If your routine has currently changed this may be a good opportunity to get into the habit of sitting down to have breakfast.
- Instead of eating a large lunch and dinner, try eating smaller portions spaced out more regularly throughout the day. This may help you stop snacking if feeling bored or ‘comfort’ eating.
- Avoid foods which make blood sugar levels rise and fall rapidly, such as sweets, biscuits, sugary drinks, and alcohol.
A heathy diet should also contain a variety of protein to support the body’s functions. Protein contains amino acids, which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings. It also helps keep you feeling fuller for longer. Protein is found in lean meat, fish, eggs, cheese, legumes, soya products, nuts and seeds.
Your brain needs fats (such as omega 3 and 6) to keep it working well. Rather than avoiding all fats, it’s important to eat the right ones. Healthy fats are found in oily fish, poultry, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), olive and sunflower oils, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin), avocados and eggs.
When you don’t eat enough nutrient-rich foods, your body may lack vital vitamins and minerals, affecting your energy, mood and brain function. Aim to get your vitamins and minerals from a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Sunshine is the main source of vitamin D; Public Health England advise that we should all consider taking a 10μg (microgram) vitamin D supplement throughout spring and summer while the lockdown continues, not just during the winter months.
If you’re stressed or anxious this can make your gut slow down or speed up. For healthy digestion you need to have plenty of fibre, fluid and try to exercise regularly. Healthy gut foods include fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, beans, pulses, live yoghurt and fermented foods.
If you are struggling with your mood you could try keeping a food diary. Write down what you eat and make notes about how you’re feeling. Over time you might work out if particular foods:
- make you feel worse, or better
- keep you awake
- help you sleep
If you find yourself reaching for unhealthy foods to try and make yourself feel better perhaps try other distractions such as going out for a walk, reading a favourite book, having a relaxing bath or doing something creative. Be kind to yourself, don’t scold yourself for eating the ‘wrong thing’, just acknowledge it was a bad day/time and go back to eating a healthier balanced diet.
Rachel Efemey (RD) – Advanced Health Improvement Practitioner
Adapted from British Dietetic Association (2020) Food and Mood: Food Fact Sheet available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/food-facts-food-and-mood.html and MIND (2017) Food and Mood available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/food-and-mood/about-food-and-mood/