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How to boost your mental and emotional health with food

Read time:

Five minutes or less

What you’ll learn:

  • Discover the foods that can help improve your mood and prevent mental health conditions
  • The simple 4S approach to mindful eating you can apply today
  • Access to professional support to help ensure you’re eating well

The right food eaten the right way can be rocket fuel for your mind and mood.

It's widely known that eating well is good for your body. But did you know it’s great for your emotional health, too? In this article you’ll learn what foods can help boost your mood and how eating mindfully can help you find your inner calm at mealtimes.

The right food for your mind

Here’s a look at the foods that can help improve your mental and emotional health. You’ll want to aim for a mix at mealtimes.

  • Whole foods — Some studies have shown that preservatives, food colourings and other additives may cause or worsen hyperactivity and depression. So opt for food that’s minimally processed.
  • Fibre — Research indicates that increasing your intake of fibre-rich foods like fruits, vegetables and nutrient-filled carbs can be a successful strategy in reaching old age free from depression and dementia.
  • Antioxidants — Including in your diet foods that are high in antioxidant content (berries, beans, apples, leafy green vegetables, foods with Omega-3 fatty acids and dark chocolate) is thought to ease the symptoms of anxiety disorders.
  • Folate — Folate, a type of B vitamin (B9), helps send signals for repair and regeneration in the brain. Low folate symptoms can contribute to depression, and a long-term lack can lead to dementia. You’ll find it in eggs, salmon, nonfat yogurt, black-eyed peas, leafy greens, lentils, cantaloupes, asparagus, broccoli, oranges and avocadoes.
  • Vitamin D — Vitamin D helps with the production of serotonin and we usually get it from exposure to sunlight. But mushrooms are another good source, as are fortified milk (cow’s milk that contains extra vitamins and minerals not naturally found in milk), eggs and fish.
  • Magnesium — This essential mineral is vital to the food-mood connection; a magnesium deficiency can cause depression and anxiety-like symptoms. Natural sources include dark chocolate, cacao nibs, almonds and cashews, spinach and other dark leafy greens, bananas and beans.
  • Fermented foods — Fermented foods are packed with probiotics that are good for gut health. Interestingly, mental health and gut function can go hand-in-hand. That’s a reason to consider including sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh and kombucha in your diet. However, these foods tend to be high in sodium, so consume in moderation or skip altogether if you have high blood pressure.

The right way to eat

More and more experts are suggesting a mindful approach to mealtimes. The good news is that it’s easy to do. Just follow the “4S” approach here:

  • Scan — Make sure you’re hungry rather than bored or stressed
  • Spotlight — Prioritise mealtime: sit down, set aside at least 15 minutes, eat slowly and avoid distractions
  • Savour Really enjoy your food, using all your senses to notice colours, smells, textures and flavours
  • Stop Eat until your 80% full; satisfy you're hunger without becoming too full

Support for eating right

We understand the role that eating right plays in your health and well-being. That’s why we provide access to services and resources to help you eat more healthfully:

  • Get a doctor’s expert dietary advice, virtually — Get convenient access to expert health care by phone or video chat from the comfort of your home, day and night. Talk to dedicated, specially trained doctors who can provide guidance and advice before you start a new eating programme. vHealth doctors can also diagnose and treat medical conditions, email prescriptions, make referrals and offer general health advice. Once you download the app and register your details, you can talk to internationally accredited doctors through your computer or smartphone, any time you need it (subject to plan eligibility).  Click here to learn more about vHealth. Members in the U.S. can access Teladoc here. Talk with a doctor for help and guidance or if you have health concerns.
  • Get one-on-one clinician care — One-on-one telephone-based care between you and an Aetna International team clinician can help you address any chronic and acute health conditions. It's confidential, comprehensive care between you and a nurse built right into your benefits plan. To contact the clinical team, click here.

A photo of a woman at the market, taking the time to smell the flowers

Five For Me: Bite-sized health and well-being tips just for you

Wouldn’t it be nice if getting expert advice, guidance and inspiration to help you balance your emotional and physical health was quick and easy? That’s the idea behind Five For Me — bite-sized member health and well-being tips that help you build the habit of better health. Available exclusively to our members, Five for Me encourages you to take just five minutes out of your day to do something positive for your health and well-being. It’s quick, easy and good for your all-round health, and brought to you by a team of clinical experts. Read more

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