Nutrition

The demands of a veterinary career can sometimes make it difficult to find the time to prepare and eat nutritious food, but there is growing evidence that our diet and our gut microbiome affect mood.

Being on call at night can also play havoc with the digestive system …

The Mental Health Foundation and the Royal College of Psychiatrists give the following advice about getting the best possible nutrition for your mental health:

Eat regular meals

Eat regular meals throughout the day to maintain blood sugar levels and avoid low mood, irritability and fatigue.  Don’t miss breakfast out and you may need to include some healthy snacks in your daily diet too, so keep a stash of fruit and nuts in your car and at work.

Avoid refined foods

Wholegrain cereals, pulses, fruit and vegetables are more filling and, because the sugar in these foods is absorbed more slowly, doesn’t cause mood swings.  Try to cook from scratch rather than buy prepared food – to save  time and effort cook several portions of a dish and freeze some of them.

These foods are more nutritious as they contain thiamine (B1), a vitamin that has been associated with the control of mood, and folate and zinc (supplements of these nutrients have been shown to improve the mood of people with depression in a small number of studies).

Choose:

  • bread – wholemeal and granary rather than white. Also try rye breads, pumpernickel, wholemeal pitta bread, wholemeal chapattis, oat cakes, rice cakes and corn cakes
  • breakfast cereals – choose high fibre, low sugar types eg wholegrain or bran cereals, or porridge
  • rice and pasta – go for Basmati and brown rice and wholemeal pasta
  • potatoes – serve boiled new potatoes in their skins (with a little bit of butter) or mashed or jacket potatoes. Potato wedges (lightly brushed with olive oil) are a lower fat alternative to chips and roast potatoes.  Try sweet potatoes or yams for a change – delicious baked
  • Aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Stock up your freezer with frozen fruit and vegetables which are often cheaper than fresh produce and are usually just as good nutritionally

Avoid:

  • Sugar and sugary drinks
  • Cakes, sweets and puddings

Include protein in every meal

Recent research suggests that the amino acid tryptophan can influence mood.  You can ensure a regular suppy to your brain by including at least one good sized portion of protein at each meal.  Peanuts are low in tryptophan so you will need to include another source of protein at the same meal.

Eat a variety of foods

The more varied your diet, the more likely you are to obtain all the nutrients you need.  Another nutrient that seems to be associated with mood is B12  – red meat and fish are good sources.

Include fish in your diet

A few small studies suggest that omega 3 oil supplements may reduce symptoms in people with depression on antidepressant medications.  Include more omega 3-rich oily fish from sustainable fish stocks – try to include 2-4 portions a week (but no more than 2 portions if you are pregnant or breastfeeding).  If buying tinned fish, choose varieties in water, brine or tomato sauce rather than in sunflower oil (this is high in omega 6).

Night Shift Meals

Because of the ways that their exercise and sleep problems contribute to their weight gain, night shift workers must be especially careful to eat healthy food.

  • Large night shift meals will make you sleepy and encourage additional weight gain
  • Eat small meals or snack repeatedly on small amounts of food during your night shift
  • Pack fruit or vegetable juices and protein-rich foods
  • Eat these foods early in your night shift, when they will give you needed energy
  • Include fruits and salads in your lunch bag
  • A packet of trail mix containing nuts, seeds and dried fruit, can serve as a snack
  • After the night shift stop consuming caffeine four hours before your scheduled bedtime
  • Shortly after you get home, eat foods that are high in carbohydrates and lower in protein and fat to make you sleepy