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Eat a Balanced Diet for Mental Health - Topic Overview

Stress can make mental health problems worse. You can help your body deal with stress by avoiding certain foods and eating a balanced diet.

Things to avoid

  • Avoid or limit caffeine and "power drinks." Coffee, tea, some soda pop, and chocolate have caffeine. Caffeine causes you to feel "wound up," which can make stressful situations seem more intense. If you drink a lot of caffeine, reduce how much you drink gradually. If you stop drinking caffeine suddenly, you may have headaches and find it hard to focus. Power drinks, such as Red Bull, also have ingredients that keep you on edge.
  • Don't skip meals or eat on the run. Skipping meals can make stress-related symptoms such as headaches or stomach tension worse. Use mealtimes to relax, enjoy the flavor of your food, and reflect on your day.
  • Don't eat to relieve stress. This can lead to overeating and guilt. If you tend to do this, replace eating with other actions that relieve stress, such as taking a walk, playing with a pet, or taking a bath.
  • Don't turn to alcohol if you feel stressed. Alcohol can make you feel worse and may change how well your medicines work. Try not to drink or drink only on special occasions. At these times limit yourself to 2 drinks if you're a man and 1 drink if you're a woman.

Eat a balanced diet

A balanced diet includes:

  • Breads, cereals, pasta, and rice. Choose whole-grain breads, cold and cooked cereals and grains, pasta (without creamy sauces), hard rolls, or low-fat or fat-free crackers. Watch out for grain-based foods that have added fats and sugars, such as pastries, granola, snack crackers, and chips. These may cause weight gain or raise your cholesterol levels.
  • Fruits and vegetables. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. They have little if any fat and lots of nutrients. Eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables every day.
  • Meat and meat alternatives. Meat is a good source of protein. Choose fish and lean poultry instead of red meat and fried meats. Beans, tofu, and nuts are also good protein sources.
  • Milk and milk products. Choose low-fat or fat-free products. If you have problems digesting milk, try eating cheese or yogurt instead, since these foods are low in lactose.
  • Fats and oils. Limit fats and oils, including those you use in cooking. Choose oils that are liquid at room temperature (unsaturated fats), such as canola oil and olive oil. Avoid trans fats, which are found in margarines, crackers, cookies, and snack foods. Save sweets and high-fat snacks for special occasions.
  • Water. Drink water when you are thirsty. For most people that means about 8 to 10 glasses of liquid a day.
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