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Food Insecurity and Mental Health

By September 20, 2022October 12th, 2022No Comments

With inflation often being comically assessed through the rising cost of a Freddo bar, it can be increasingly difficult to avoid the expenses of current times. We often underestimate the intricate relationship between food insecurity and our mental health. Let’s delve deeper! 

What exactly is Food Insecurity?

Defined by the British Dietetic Association, food insecurity is a ‘lack of the financial resources needed to ensure reliable access to food to meet dietary, nutritional and social needs’. 

Sustainable Development Goals in the UK follow up: Hunger, malnutrition and food  insecurity in the UK - Environmental Audit Committee - House of Commons

(Parliament UK, 2019)

Food insecurity can affect a whole host of outcomes for individuals. It involves factors such as micronutrient deficiencies, poor diet quality, declining mental health, decreased cognitive function, diabetes and obesity. Research has shown that it is not only the type of food that impacts us but also the act of choosing it. 

The Mental Health Link

Those living with mental ill-health have already encountered a significant income gap compared to those without mental ill-health. Many lose interest in food due to cost, therefore opting for cheaper choices such as processed foods or long-life items. This begins to feed into a cycle of inaccessibility to nutrient-dense foods.

However, as the cost of living is rising for all, more and more people in the UK are being forced into food insecurity. This will prove to be detrimental to mental health outcomes as the uncertainty of the next meal due to high costs is inherently stressful. Chronic stress forces us to change our behaviours of acquiring, digesting and metabolising our food. Ultimately, subconsciously, putting some into a spiral of declining physical and mental health. 

It’s Not Just Our Diet! 

Food insecurity doesn’t just affect our micronutrient status, strength and physical appearance. It affects us on a much broader psychological level. Changes in appetite, preference and motivation are all common when we do not have the resources to spend on ourselves. Concerning our mental health, we can take eating a healthful and balanced meal for granted. Taking the time to nurture our body in addition to our mind can come at a cost during difficult times. 

What Can We Do?

It goes to say, if we cannot meet our basic human need of fuelling our body with the right foods – our mind can pay for it! There are many ways to combat this and still achieve holistic health on a budget. 

  1. Utilising frozen and tinned produce! These can be just as nutrient-dense as their fresh counterparts. Try tinned chickpeas for a protein hit or frozen spinach for some iron in your next meal!
  2. Limiting processed food intake – it can be easy to opt for convenience foods but limiting our intake will have huge health benefits. Too much-saturated fats, sodium and sugars in these foods can contribute to poor mental health, diabetes and obesity. 
  3. Try food waste apps such as Too Good to Go and Olio! These are great ways of acquiring fresh produce that would otherwise go in the bin. 
  4. Aid/volunteer at your local soup kitchen/food bank. Volunteering is a great way to meet people, learn new skills and take something home! If you do have the facilities to donate any spare food, doing so to your local community centre or food bank will help people massively during these times.
  5. Support each other – remember, many people are going through similar situations. Having a sense of community and want is a basic human need! Be kind to those who need the aid and support one another through cooking together or sharing ingredients/meals! There is always strength in numbers! 

You may also find that finding a few minutes a day for physical activity or mindfulness can boost those feel-good endorphins in you. A brisk walk or painting session may be all we need to gather the energy to nourish ourselves and it can make a large difference in how we feel, mentally. 

Want to Know More? 

BDA Food Insecurity Statement – 

Mind Charity Food and Mood – 

The Trussell Trust (Food Insecurity and Food Bank support) – 

£1 Meals by Miguel Barclay (@miguelbarclay) – 

Aditi Mudaliar

Aditi is a 4th-year Nutrition and Dietetics student passionate about all things food, nutrition and holistic health. She seeks to seed healthy inspiration to support individuals in their ventures. From myth-busting to nurturing our wellbeing, Aditi simplifies nutrition into things everyone can take home.

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