Managing Stress and Mental Wellness Through Nutrition
What we eat can influence how we feel - explore the relationship between good nutrition and mental wellbeing.
16 November 2020
Our health influences everything, from how we live our daily lives to a good night’s sleep. No longer do consumers think of health as only physiological (physical mobility); our mental wellness is just as much an integral and essential part of our being.
Overall health is defined as a "state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity".
World Health Organization
Over the past decade, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing as people have become more cognisant of the things that can impact stress levels and mood.
From students feeling the pressure of studies, to overworked employees, fast paced lifestyles to always on social media, and even fluctuating political and environmental landscapes – these are all influencing factors on the mental state.
Consumers are recognising the various stressors in their lives and are increasingly placing more importance on balanced lifestyles and spending time on themselves1.
Current state of mind
COVID-19 and the challenges that have arisen with it, have accelerated the focus on overall wellbeing as people become more aware of the importance to stay physically and mentally healthy in order to cope with the heightened levels of stress and anxiety in this new normal.
During the pandemic, consumer studies have shown increased levels of stress and anxiety amongst citizens globally, across all ages and genders, as they cope with the new environment.
According to Euromonitor International’s Health and Nutrition Survey, stress and anxiety scored among the top five health issues that consumers experienced at the start of 2020, with 63 per cent of people in Asia-Pacific saying they suffer from feelings of stress.
This has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, with 65% of people in China finding it difficult to sleep due to “worries and feelings of stress”, with the health and wellbeing of their loved ones and themselves key concerns2.
Beyond Asia, eight in ten Americans identified COVID-19 as a significant source of stress3, while in the UK, more than one third of adults are experiencing heightened levels of anxiety than usual4.
A holistic health approach
Consumers today recognise the new paradigm for holistic health. It has shone a light on the lifestyle decisions and habits that can support feeling relaxed, calm, confident and self-assured, including exercise and adopting hobbies that promote relaxation, meditation, or diet.
While this was a trend before COVID-19, the pandemic has only accelerated holistic health habits. According to FMCG Gurus, globally more than 80 per cent of consumers plan to maintain healthier lifestyles going forward, with 79 per cent having plans to improve their diets.
of people in China exercise to de-stress, as the benefit of doing exercise for both physical and mental health is becoming better recognised.
These lifestyle trends, supported by an increasing openness to talk about mental wellness, have seen a shift in the discourse from treatment to prevention. Growing scientific evidence that diet is as important to mental wellbeing as it is to physical health means consumers are looking to nutrition to support stress-management, anxiety and improve sleep quality.
The connection between mood and food
Increasingly research has found a correlation between what we eat and how we feel. The gut-brain axis means mood and emotion can result in a feeling in our stomach, while what we eat can affect our emotions. As such, diets have become tools to help manage stress and mental health.
Nutritious diets, consisting of high-quality foods containing vitamins, minerals and antioxidants nourish the beneficial microbes in our gut that can support mental performance, and reduce both inflammation and signs of stress5.
While diets high in processed foods and refined sugars have short-term mood boosting benefits, they also promote inflammation in the gut, influencing long-term state of mind, fatigue and brain function.
The microbes and bacteria found in our gut also stimulate the nervous system, and feed messages to the brain that can in turn lead to a positive or negative response to the food or bacteria in the gut.
of consumers are interested in food or beverage that will support brain health.
FMCG Gurus, 2019
of Europeans sought out mood boosting foods as a result of COVID 19 in May.
FMCG Guru Mental Wellbeing Webinar 2020
While modern busy lifestyles are often at odds with consumers’ aspirations to eat healthy, the rising knowledge of the benefits of balanced diets have seen people proactively seek softer solutions for their overall wellbeing.
Consumers are increasingly turning away from conventional drugs6, with supplements now widely consumed to cope with mental alertness, mood and stress. In addition, they also favour convenient, functional and fortified foods and drinks with health-enhancing ingredients.
of consumers globally prefer to consume health-enhancing ingredients through food.
Global Data, 2017
After the COVID-19 pandemic, we anticipate seeing a renewed and increased focus on preventive health with rising demand for products that help address key concerns including immunity, stress and cognition.
Alongside exercise and relaxation techniques, nutrition plays an important role in supporting health and wellbeing and as a way to manage stress.
In the next article in our series on managing mental wellness, we look at the specific foods and nutrients that support a holistic approach to mental health and wellbeing, and how to include them into everyday diets.
-  Amrutha Shridhar (May 2019). Top Consumer Trends Impacting Health and Nutrition. Euromonitor International.
-  FMCG Gurus Sleep Stress Management Survey China Q4 2020
-  American Psychological Association, Stress in the time of COVID-19, June 2020 https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/stress-in-america-covid-june.pdf
-  Statista, Anxiety during the lockdown in the UK: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1121059/anxiety-during-the-lockdown-in-the-uk/
-  Deans, E. (2017). Microbiome and mental health in the modern environment. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 36: 1.
-  Euromonitor 2019 Top Consumers Trends impacting Health & Nutrition