Encourage regular eating, preferably three meals a day with two healthy snacks (for example fruit or yoghurt rather than sweets or crisps) in

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1 Encourage regular eating, preferably three meals a day with two healthy snacks (for example fruit or yoghurt rather than sweets or crisps) in between. This will help to keep blood sugar levels even. Eat breakfast within an hour of waking, as the body has been fasting overnight. Include some form of protein, such as an egg, yoghurt, or some nuts or seeds, as part of breakfast. Combining protein-rich foods with slow-releasing carbohydrates, such as wholegrain bread or porridge oats, helps to control blood sugar levels. Try to have at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day to nourish mind and body. Fruit and vegetables are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, fibre and water and plant chemicals that all play a vital role in regulating body processes. For example, they help to turn glucose into energy and amino acids into brain chemicals. Eating a variety of foods is important, as this maximises nutrient intake. Eat nuts, seeds and oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, tuna, salmon and herring, as these are good sources of essential fatty acids. Try to drink 6-8 glasses of water, which is essential for all body processes. Avoid highly processed foods containing sugar and white flour, as they tend to cause variations in blood sugar levels and can lead to symptoms such as irritability, dizziness and fatigue. Avoid stimulants such as alcohol, sugar, coffee and tea (caffeine), as they also affect blood sugar levels.

2 Suggested resources and reading The Food and Mood Handbook Amanda Geary. Thorsons Feeding Minds The British Nutrition Foundation The Food and Mood Project Food Standards Agency This leaflet is part of the Stressed Out and Struggling project (SOS) which aims to highlight the mental health needs of year-olds, and campaigns to improve access to and acceptability of mental health services for this age group. YoungMinds thanks Sara Da Silva for her contribution to this leaflet.

3 YoungMinds PO BOX LONDON EC1P 1YY Tel: YoungMinds Order Line: Parents information service: (Monday and Friday 10am-1pm, Tuesday and Thursday 1-4pm, Wednesday 1-4pm and 6-8pm) Fax: YoungMinds is a national charity committed to improving the mental health of children and young people. YoungMinds Parents helpline is a free confidential telephone service providing information and advice to any adult with concerns about the mental health of a child or young person. To obtain further copies of this leaflet and the other leaflets in the series, contact YoungMinds. YoungMinds Registered Charity no

4 YoungMinds Information Eating well and feeling good Information for parents about the links between food and mental health

5 Eating well and feeling good Advice about what to give or not to give children and teenagers to eat to help them develop good eating patterns for life can be confusing. The way to encourage children and young people to eat healthy food is essentially the same for mental and physical health: choose fresh ingredients and cook simple meals. The information in this leaflet has been based on current evidence of the links between healthy eating and good mental health. Are food and mood connected? There is increasing evidence of a link between what we eat and how we feel. This is often called the food mood connection. How we feel influences what we choose to eat or drink and it is now clear that what we eat can affect our mental health because of the effect of food on the function and structure of the brain. The way we eat in the UK has changed over the last 50 years and could be contributing to the rise in mental ill-health. We are eating considerably less fruit and vegetables (34%), and only 15% of men and 13% of women eat the five portions a day recommended by the government. Less than one third (29%) of year-olds regularly eat a meal made at home from fresh ingredients. We are also eating 59% less fish, which is our main source of the omega-3 fatty acids essential for brain function and structure.

6 As well as a decline in the consumption of some healthy foods, there has been an increase in the level of chemicals in our foods such as pesticides and additives. Changes in the way food is produced has reduced the amount of essential fats, vitamins and minerals consumed. Food grown intensively in poor soil loses many of its nutrients. The way we prepare food has also changed, with more people eating ready meals or meals outside the home, which tend to be low in essential nutrients and high in salt, sugar and trans-fats. How the nutritional values of food affect mental health Glucose from the carbohydrate-containing foods we eat provides the brain s main source of fuel. Without an adequate supply, we can t think clearly. The amount of energy provided depends on the form in which carbohydrates are eaten. They can be simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, white pasta and biscuits, which provide only a short burst of energy, or complex carbohydrates, such as wholegrains, beans and vegetables which provide sustained energy. Irregular eating or an excess of sugary foods, fizzy drinks and stimulants such as coffee, tea or alcohol increases the frequency with which our blood sugar goes up and down. When our blood sugar goes up and down, it can lead to changes in mood and energy and symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, dizziness, poor concentration and aggressive behaviour. Proteins found mainly in meat, fish and soya products are broken down in the body to be used as amino acids, which are vital to good mental health. Brain messengers are made in the body from the proteins that we eat. They

7 influence the way we think, feel and behave. A deficiency in certain amino acids can lead to feelings of depression, apathy, lack of motivation or tension. Essential fats, found mainly in oily fish, seeds and nuts, cannot be made within the body, so we have to get them from food. Sixty percent of the brain is made of fat, and the fats we eat directly affect its structure. A lack of omega-3 fatty acids is linked to various mental health problems, including depression and lack of concentration. Not only are we eating less essential fats in our diets, we are eating more trans-fats. Trans-fats block the ability of essential fats to help the brain function effectively and are found in highly processed foods such as cakes, biscuits and ready-made meals. What about the social aspects of food and mental health? It is very important not to underestimate the social importance of eating. Working together as a family to prepare a meal provides a good opportunity for talking. Sitting down at the table together in a relaxed setting gives children the chance to learn how to make conversation, gives them the opportunity to talk about their day, and gives parents and carers the time to listen. Lots of teenagers graze, or snack, in and outside the home. As well as missing out on the opportunity to be part of family life, this behaviour often leads to blood sugar variation and mood swings, as well as to possible weight gain.

8 A growing child or adolescent needs to eat a variety of foods and not to exclude any of the major food groups (carbohydrates, protein and fats). Some children and young people have to follow a special diet on the advice of a medical professional. Parents and carers need to be aware of the social, as well as the medical, aspects of following a special diet. Young people who have, for example, Coeliacs disease and who need to maintain a gluten - free diet, and nut allergy sufferers or those who are lactose intolerant and need to maintain a dairy free diet, may feel left out when they can t eat the same food as everyone else. Schools, parents and friends need to understand that they need to be sensitive about special dietary considerations, rather than make the child or young person feel difficult or faddy. Eating outside the home and the use of convenience foods can be a problem, as it is often difficult to ensure that fast food is free from gluten, nuts or dairy. Special diets can also lead to a lack of some nutrients that are vital for mental health. For example, those on a vegan diet may be lacking in B12 and iron, so it is important that parents and carers understand special diets and any supplements that may be needed. What do we need to do? Try to eat with your children and teenagers at least once a day. A diet which provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals helps to maintain a balanced mood and general feeling of well-being.

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