Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, with events all over the UK engaging people to talk about their mental health struggles.

The theme of this year’s awareness week was ‘thriving not surviving’, with a focus on how to optimise and support your mental wellbeing.

According to MIND, the mental health charity, approximately one in four people will be affected by a mental health issue at some point during their lives, with anxiety and depression being the most common problem. I work with many clients in my clinic who are dealing with these issues, and nutritional therapy has a lot to offer for supporting mood balance and wellbeing.

Stress is a key trigger for many people’s anxiety and depression. Stress can lead to erratic eating patterns: skipping breakfast, relying on sugary snacks and caffeine, and eating late in the evening are all typical habits. Putting a meal and snack structure in place helps support energy levels and blood sugar balance. Pinging from one sugary snack and coffee to another causes your blood sugar levels to rush up and down, and the brain relies on a steady supply of glucose for fuel and mood balance. Replacing caffeinated drinks with redbush tea, water, or herbal teas stops the nervous system being overly stimulated, and herbs like lemon balm and chamomile actively soothe and calm the mind.

Eating a large breakfast can feel impossible when you’re anxious and depressed, so look for small, nutrient-packed foods. A banana and handful of Brazil nuts, or a slice of wholemeal toast with almond butter – even a homemade smoothie with a handful of berries, a tablespoon of ground seeds and milk, are all small manageable options to start the day.

Fats are particularly important for mental wellbeing. The brain is made up of around 60 per cent fats, and a quarter of your body's cholesterol sits in brain tissue. These fats are used to help brain cells communicate with each other: a lack of healthy fats is a bit like a poor mobile phone signal - the messages are broken up and fuzzy.

Omega-3 fats found in oily fish, nuts and seeds have a long chemical structure. They are found in the membranes of brain cells, and influence how these cells talk to one another, making these fats vital for managing mental health.

Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of magnesium and B-vitamins! And this is especially true when dealing with anxiety and depression. Dark green vegetables, pulses, wholegrains like brown rice, buckwheat and oats; nuts, and seeds are all good sources of these nutrients, which nourish the nervous system and provide energy and co-factors for building mood chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. Vitamin B12 is particularly important for mental health, and levels are adversely affected by antacid medications like Omeprazole and Lansoprazole, so if you are using these medicines long term, speak to your GP about B12 testing.

- Sally Duffin is a nutritional therapist and writer based in Holgate, York.