Eat Well This Veterans' Health Week

28 September 2022

This October, Mates4Mates is participating in Veterans’ Health Week as it encourages veterans and their families to ‘Eat Well’ to support their health and wellbeing.

Running from 1 October to 9 October 2022, this year’s theme for Veterans’ Health Week is ’Eat Well’, highlighting the importance of nutrition and how it contributes to the physical, mental and social health of veterans. 

Veterans and Defence families are diverse in nature and therefore nutrition requirements can vary between individuals depending on their circumstances. 

At Mates4Mates, our psychologists and exercise physiologists promote the benefits of good nutrition to veterans and family members who have been impacted by service to help improve their quality of life. 

How nutrition benefits our mental health 

There are pillars of health that need to be considered when thinking about mental wellbeing. These are:

  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Social connection. 

Nutrition is an essential component for balanced wellbeing.  

For example, omega 3, in particular EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which is found in fish and nuts, has been shown to reduce systemic inflammation, reduce depressive symptoms significantly, and promote increased stress tolerance.  

Magnesium, which is found in dark green leafy vegetables, has been shown to promote good depth and quality of sleep. A good night’s sleep is like attending psychological therapy – immensely powerful and important for our psychological wellbeing.  

Research has indicated there is a bidirectional pathway between the gastrointestinal tract (or gut) and the brain, indicating that a healthy gut promotes a healthy mental wellbeing.  

Additionally, the gut produces approximately 95% of the body’s serotonin (a mood stabiliser involved in feelings of contentedness and satisfaction), which can be low amongst depressed individuals highlighting the strong relationship between gut microbiome and mental health.  

Alcohol can also have an impact on our gut health and can reduce the amount of gut microbiome which may in turn lead to decreased stress tolerance, increased anxiety, depressive symptoms and consequently unhelpful emotions such as feelings of guilt and shame, etc.  

Overall, it is important to think of good, balanced nutrition as a tool to set yourself up for good mental health. It may not treat the mental illness by itself, but it sets the scene for psychological intervention to be highly effective.  

How nutrition benefits our physical health 

Nutrition is fuel for the body, just like fuelling a car, if we use the wrong or inferior products, the machine (in this case, our body) won’t function properly. 

There are three types of fuel sources for our body, known as macro-nutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. There are ratios of these nutrients that are required for optimum function. The ratios can vary from person to person and if you would like a detailed plan to cater for your specific needs, then a date with a dietician is a good idea.   

Nutrition can make or break your exercise routine. It provides the energy which motivates you to train, it provides the fuel to get through the workout, and it provides the building blocks to help you recover after a workout.  

The term ‘You can’t out-train a bad diet” does not only apply to weight loss; your diet influences every aspect of your exercise regime.  

Simple nutrition tips from an exercise physiologist:

  • Fresh foods over boxed/shelved foods. Spend most of your time shopping in the outer perimeter of the grocery store. 
  • Make your plate colourful. Essential vitamins and minerals are held in colourful fruit and vegetables.  
  • Limit sugar and sugary snacks. Learning how to read a nutrition label is very useful. For example, a 600ml iced coffee contains up to 49g or 12 teaspoons of sugar! You would never put 12 teaspoons of sugar in a coffee at home.  
  • See a professional. If you have any sort of condition that is contributed to by diet (diabetes, heart disease, kidney or liver disease, etc.), you need to speak with a dietician on how to best manage your diet.  

Veterans’ Health Week Events 

Mates4Mates are excited to be offering a range of Veterans’ Health Week events in South East Queensland, North Queensland, Northern Territory and Tasmania throughout the entire month of October.   

From cooking classes, learning about fermentation, making sushi, farm to table tours, and educational talks from a nutritionist, there is something for everyone to enjoy.  

To find out more about these events, click here. These events are sponsored by the Department of Veterans' Affairs for Veterans' Health Week.  

Support at Mates4Mates 

While an Accredited Practising Dietitian can provide clinical support for healthy eating and nutrition, the team at Mates4Mates consists of psychologists, exercise physiologists, counsellors, and social workers who are here to help support your health and wellbeing.    

Veterans and families impacted by service can access experienced support, a tailored recovery plan, and a like-minded community standing with them.  

If you are a veteran or family member who has been impacted by service who is looking to improve their mental and physical health and wellbeing, please call 1300 4 MATES (62 837) to book an appointment with a Mates4Mates psychologist or exercise physiologist.   

Written by Jonathan Moscrop, Clinical Lead – Psychological Services; and Harley Fox, Exercise Physiologist 

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