Nutrition with Jane McClenaghan: Eat better to support your mental health
GOOD food is so much better when shared, isn’t it?
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness.
In all cultures and societies, people use food as the focal point of social gatherings. We use food to celebrate and comfort.
After the past two years, many of us are taking advantage of a return to normalcy to get together and share food with friends and family.
I think there is nothing better than cooking with friends and sitting around a table to share food.
Eating together has been shown to strengthen community bonds, create family bonds and friendships, alleviate feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety, and help nurture a sense of belonging.
It will therefore not be surprising to know that people who are socially isolated tend to eat less well. Whether it’s because some people find it harder to shop and cook for one person, or feelings of loneliness mean less motivation to cook a decent meal, we know that socially isolated people often have an appetite. reduced, eat fewer meals per day and consume less protein, fruits and vegetables in their diet.
For others, feelings of isolation may mean more comfortable eating, less nutritious choices, and overconsumption of fast foods like bread, processed foods, and takeout; a slice of toast to keep you going, or another bowl of cereal to fill a hungry gap.
Social distancing and Covid isolation have posed an additional challenge for people of all ages, and that includes a nutritional challenge.
Reduced access to healthy foods, working from home and changes in daily routines have altered our eating habits.
Living alone does not mean being alone. I know many people who prefer independence and eat better than if they lived with others, but with the changes in society caused by the pandemic, some people feel more isolated. We can have feelings of loneliness if we also live with others.
It can be hard to get motivated if you’re feeling lonely, but hopefully these simple ideas will get you thinking and maybe help you eat better to support your mental health.
KEEP YOUR REGULAR MEALS
Having a daily routine will help you take care of your health in a more structured way. It will also keep you more aware of what you are eating and help you eat the main meals, rather than just surviving on snacks.
PLAN 3 OR 4 DAYS AHEAD
Think about what you could cook quickly and easily that will help feed and sustain you. Plan meals around vegetables and protein (eg, eggs, meat, fish, legumes), with some slow-release carbs (whole grains, with more fiber for slow, sustained energy).
TO MIX TOGETHER
Eat a variety of different foods rather than sticking to the same meals every day. A menu planner will help you with this.
COOK ONCE, EAT TWICE
One-pot meals like bolognese, curry, and chili can make four servings; one for today, leftovers for tomorrow and two portions for the freezer.
Keep a well-stocked pantry so you always have a few ingredients on hand to prepare a simple meal. Eggs, legumes, canned tomatoes, curry paste, some frozen vegetables, brown rice, or whole-grain pasta are good places to start. Omelettes, pressed curry or a quick stir-fry will make a healthy and quick dinner that will satisfy your taste buds and nourish your body.
Call a friend, meet for coffee, or plan to meet for lunch. Making that initial connection can sometimes be difficult, but it will be worth it. You’re not alone.