Your plan members are what they eat! Making the connection between food and mood
June 29, 2022
For business owners, plan administrators, and sponsors
Eating well is a cornerstone of the Manulife Vitality Group Benefits program and a great way for people to improve their mental and physical health.
Raise your hand if you’ve done this. You’re feeling down or stressed so you reach for a quick pick me up: a chocolate bar, a couple of cookies, some ice cream.
Yup, we’ve all been there.
And what happened next is probably the same for everyone. Instead of feeling better, the treat had the opposite effect. You had the immediate sugar-fuelled dopamine rush, followed by a severe drop. Now you still feel bad AND you had a bunch of extra calories.
The science behind food and mood
There are more and more studies documenting the links between a healthy diet, exercise, sleep, mindfulness and mental wellbeing.
Vitality dietician Terry Harris says that, as with other organs in our body, the brain requires nutrient dense food to function optimally. “We’re seeing more and more how nutritional factors are intertwined with human cognition, behaviour and emotion. There is a growing body of evidence showing that nutrition may play an important role in preventing and managing mental health issues,” she says, adding, “this is particularly apparent in preventing and managing depression.”
Food for thought
Canada’s food guide encourages healthy food choices and advises people to limit highly processed foods and drinks. Processed foods add extra sodium, sugar, and saturated fats to the diets of people who consume them and can increase the risk of chronic disease.
All this plays a role in regulating your mood and levels of anxiety. “Mental health can be an overwhelming challenge for people, so to have control in the nutrition space at least can make things feel more manageable,” says Harris.
And when people feel well mentally, they’re more likely to have the energy to exercise and keep fit, improving their overall health.
Share these top tips with your plan members
- Eat vegetables and fruits every day.
These contain the vitamins, minerals and fibre your brain and body need to function well. Add more vegetables into every meal, serve fresh fruit after meals to satisfy sweet cravings instead of sugary desserts, and snack on fruit between meals instead of sugary or salty options.
- Pick healthy protein and fats.
Lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs as well as legumes (beans, lentils and chickpeas) help regulate your thoughts, emotions and mood. Also add nuts and seeds, sugar-free nut butters and olive oil to your grocery shopping list.
- Prioritize wholegrains and fibre-rich starchy foods.
Brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta and whole wheat couscous, quinoa, oats, bulgur wheat and popcorn provide your body with essential nutrients.
Even low levels of dehydration can affect your mood, concentration and energy levels. Water is best, but unsweetened herbal tea such as chamomile also counts towards this intake. Try infusing plain water with lemon or slices of fresh fruit or cucumber and mint or choose unflavoured sparkling water for something different.
- Eat with others.
When possible, share meals with other people. There are many psychological and social benefits of eating meals with others. For example, it can help us feel connected to others plus help us eat more slowly in between conversation.
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