Anyone can be regarded as a carer if they are a person who looks after a family member, partner or friend because they need help as a result of illness, frailty, disability, mental health problem or an addiction, and is not paid for their work
In the UK there are around 7 million carers which is the equivalent of one in ten people and this figure is set to rise significantly over the next decade
While the role of caring for someone is often seen as positive and rewarding for many people, the relentlessness and responsibility can take its toll on mental health. This can be even more intense for those who have additional work responsibilities or young families to look after.
Rob Hobson, Healthspan Head of Nutrition gives his views on how carers can protect their mood and ensure good mental health while caring for a loved one by watching what they choose to eat.
How can you define mood?
The word ‘mood’ is defined as a temporary state of mind or feeling. Whilst this short-term definition covers the day-to-day fluctuations that we all experience, wider and more long-term conditions include depression, anxiety and Insomnia which impact on wellness and ability to function and carry out daily tasks and overall mental health.
How can diet help improve mood?
Diet can play a role in how you feel and as such your mood. Diet works in several ways when it comes to mental health. Some foods and food groups have been shown to help alleviate symptoms of certain mental health conditions, but these conditions can have an impact on food choice and even the rate at which the body demands certain key nutrients associated with the central nervous system.
Why is it important to eat a balanced diet?
It’s important to try and eat three nourishing meals daily to support your health. Meals should include plenty of veggies, protein, fibre-rich grains and healthy fats, all of which will supply sufficient vitamins and minerals as well as promoting satiety and balancing blood sugar between meals. This is easier said than done if your mood is affecting motivation, which likely may put food somewhere at the bottom of the list of things to focus on.
Why should you eat regularly and not skip meals?
At a basic biological level, the effects of blood sugar can impact on mood and other wider mental health conditions. Skipping meals can leave you lacking energy, whilst also feeling ‘fuzzy’ or unable to centre yourself when hunger sets in. Skipping meals also means missed opportunities to nourish the body with essential nutrients that in some cases may zap you of energy such as iron (required for red blood cell production) and those required to maintain a healthy nervous system and convert food into energy such as the B vitamins and magnesium.
Try eating more smaller meals across the day if that’s easier to fit into your schedule. This could include dips with vegetables, yoghurt with fruit or cheese and cold meats with wholegrain crackers.
Why shouldn’t you rely on quick-fix snacks and drinks?
When you’re lacking in energy then it’s tempting to perk yourself up with quick-fixes. The most popular choices when people are busy tend to be snacks and drinks loaded with sugar. If you’re eating three healthy meals daily, then a healthy snack can be just the ticket to keep you fuelled between meals but on an empty stomach, a sudden influx of sugar can play havoc with blood glucose levels. Whilst the ‘up’ may be great, the ‘down’ is often quick to occur and leaves you in a slump craving more of the same type of food. If you chuck in a hefty dose of caffeine, then this will also leave you feeling jittery and anxious on top of everything else.
Why are vitamins and minerals important?
One of the most common signs of a nutrient-poor diet is tiredness and fatigue. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient insufficiency and is more common in women than in men. This mineral is required to make healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. Stress and the impact of running around all day can also lead to a more rapid depletion of magnesium and B vitamins, which are required to convert food into energy. If your struggling to eat well then consider a basic multivitamin and mineral supplement to bridge any gaps in your diet.
During lockdown it has become really important for everyone to be taking a daily vitamin D supplement in the advice given out by Public Health England which recommends that everyone takes 10 micrograms (400 IU) vitamin D per day. Low levels of vitamin D are not only detrimental to bone health but can also lead to low mood.
Older people may benefit from a higher dose as the ability to make vitamin D in the skin at least halves between the ages of 20 to 80 years – often more. The upper safe intake level for vitamin D is 100mcg per day (4000 IU) from all sources.i When choosing a vitamin D supplement look for one that provides vitamin D3 rather than vitamin D2. These are available as tablets, gummies and sprays which are particularly useful for older people as they are more readily absorbed through the mouth (try Healthspan Super Strength Vitamin D3 50 Peppermint Oral Spray – £6.95).
Why is hydration important?
A lack of fluids can leave you feeling lethargic and irritable whilst unable to concentrate or focus properly and this can contribute to poor mood. Keep hydrated with hot beverages, water and foods with high water content like fruits and soups.
Maintaining a healthy diet is not only a key pillar of good health but can have a huge positive impact on your mental health which is important when caring for a loved one at home.