The importance of a good dinner on our mental health
By Susie White DipNT is a BANT registered Nutritional Therapist
There is much importance placed on meal-times; breakfast with its ability to kick-start the day and lunch as an opportunity to take a break to re-fuel and re-focus the mind. So what about dinner? Well just as important, dinner has a number of essential functions.
Fuel for the body
Since it’s the last meal of the day it’s important to make the right choices because you won’t eat again for at least another
10 hours or so. Ensuring that there is a steady supply of glucose for the body to use as fuel for essential processes whilst we sleep is critical.
A common cause of waking in the night, often seen in insomnia, is when levels of sugar in the blood fall. The body then has to release stored glucose and this action can cause you to wake and sometimes it may be difficult to get back to sleep.
To counteract this, it's essential to eat a good dinner which combines both protein (meat, eggs, lentils or beans) and carbohydrates (potatoes, pasta, rice, vegetables and fruit) which will ensure a steady release of glucose to the blood stream - helping to prevent disturbed sleep.
Eat to sleep
As well as eating to balance blood sugars, we also need to eat correctly to get the right amino acids. Part of the building blocks of the body, they also work as neuro transmitters, transporting messages around the nervous system, and they play an essential role in promoting well-being and mood.
One such example is serotonin. Deficiency is associated with mood disturbance, sleep problems and aggressive and compulsive behaviour. We get serotonin after it has been converted in the body from eating foods which contain the amino acid tryptophan. It's worth remembering that tryptophan is carried into the brain via carbohydrate - another reason to have your protein and carbs dinner. Good sources of tryptophan include: chicken, turkey, tuna (fresh rather than tinned), soya beans, nuts, seeds and bananas.
Feed the mind
With such busy lives these days it’s easy to overlook some of the simple pleasures in life – and one of these is making time for friends, family and loved ones. Dinner offers a great opportunity to do just that, although here in the UK sobering statistics show that not all families are eating together – with 26% of teenagers eating in their rooms or before their parents. This practice can encourage poor eating habits and choices and it also, just as importantly, means that parents, kids or partners don’t really get a chance to ‘check-in’ with each other.
A study by Harvard researchers also found that families who eat together every day were also eating a better range of important nutrients such as calcium, fibre, iron, vitamins b6 and b12 and vitamins C and E.
So there are the reasons to eat dinner but remember these too:
- Relax and eat slowly– when we’re stressed the body can’t digest nutrients properly so take time to chew - carbohydrates begin to be broken down in the mouth by saliva. Taste and enjoy your food. It takes about 20 minutes for the body to register that we are full so by slowing our eating we are less likely to eat too much
- Don’t eat too late in the evening – the longer you wait to eat the more likely you are to overeat as you may be more hungry
- Try to avoid too many stimulants with your dinner i.e. alcohol, caffeine (coke, coffee, tea, chocolate) as these can prevent you from getting to sleep. If you are sensitive to stimulants leave at least 6 hours between drinking/eating them and sleeping
- Avoid fatty foods late at night – it’s harder to digest and break these down and so may lead to poor quality sleep, especially if you suffer from indigestion
See Susie's great 'dinner swap' ideas for better mental health.
You can find out more about Susie at www.bluebroccoli.net