You are What You Eat: Eat Bad, Feel Bad

It’s quite difficult to stay healthy during term time. A quick and easy meal like pesto pasta seems ideal yet isn’t an overly nutritious option; just enough for us to feel full. As students, we want the fastest (and usually the tastiest) option – not one which will give us more energy. Frozen pizza and mozzarella sticks for a pound each seems like a pretty good deal, but how will it affect your body?

Many of us, including myself, am guilty of this ‘quick-fix dinner’. I did, however, start to feel its effects on my body; I was not only physically drained, but mentally too. The only thing changing was my diet – not my workload, lectures or my personal life. It’s not news that good nutrition is good for your body, but how much of what I ate actually contributed to my mental health? Think of your brain as an engine that directs your whole body. For a machine to run, it needs the right fuel in the right amounts. Food is our fuel, however, unlike a machine, that which fuels us is directly linked to how we feel.

Micronutrients are defined as substances that enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development by the World Health Organization. A lack of these crucial materials can result in Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) and potentially blindness in children, goitre development, iron deficiency anaemia, and various visible disorders. Few people seem to understand the direct link between the lack of micronutrients and mental health disorders, whereas it seems far easier to conceptualise the link between micronutrients and physical health. A major example of this the lack of understanding is the relationship between nutrition and depression. Depression is usually thought to be a biochemically based imbalance or rooted within emotional distress. However, nutrition is a key player in determining the severity and duration of a depressive episode. Previous studies have demonstrated that taking daily supplements with essential micronutrients have decreased the symptoms of patients’. Supplements that contain amino acids have also reduced symptoms as they are converted into neurotransmitters which make depression and other mental health disorders less severe.

Above is only one example of the many mental health patients who seem to have benefited from this alternative treatment method. Julia Rucklidge, a professor at the University of Canterbury, has been studying the effects of micronutrients on mental health for a decade. Her studies not only show micronutrients to decrease the levels of ADHD but also report a reduction of in response to trauma, and improvement of bipolar disorder in children. Her research has progressed to exploring how to prevent mental disorders with a well-balanced diet. According to the mental health organization Mind, improving your diet can influence your mood, energy levels, and can help you think more clearly. So, what is really stopping you from eating better? You can say that you do not have the time or that you dislike cooking, but when you start eating right, you’ll start feeling better.

If you’re asking, “How do I eat better as a student?”, here are a few useful tips:

  1. Avoid getting ready meals and be careful when having a takeaway. These alternatives to cooking will not only cost you more but are highly processed, thus not overly nutritious.
  2. Buy seasonal fruit and vegetables.
  3. Avoid having unhealthy snacks like crisps, ice cream or sweets. Instead, switch these for fruit, nuts or dates if you’re craving something sweet.
  4. If you find it difficult to cook during the week, try to meal plan or batch cook. You will only need to give one day a week to plan your meals and cook for the week.

Featured image by Martin Cathrae. Available on Flickr under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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