Food for Thought

The effect of diet on mental health

food for thought

We know that what we eat can affect our waistline and overall physical health, but we often overlook how these foods also influence our mental wellness—altering our immediate mood, stress levels, and cognitive functioning. Growing research in nutritional psychiatry recognizes the consequences and correlations between what you eat and the kinds of bacteria that live in your gut, how you feel, and how you ultimately behave.

Eating a whole-food, nutrient-diverse, fruit-and-vegetable-dense diet is proven to reduce excessive inflammation in the body, enhance energy production in cells, and help the gut microbiome—all systems linked to brain health and therefore beneficial to mental wellbeing.

How your gut leads to glory

The link between diet and emotions starts with the close relationship between your brain and gastrointestinal tract, where your gut microbiome hosts billions of bacteria that influence the production of chemicals responsible for carrying messages from the gut to the brain (neurotransmitters). For example, about 95 percent of your serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain, is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Eating nutritionally dense foods promotes the growth of “good” bacteria, which in turn influences optimal production levels of neurotransmitters. So, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system also guide your moods. 

Nutrition as a remedy

Each year, one in five adults experiences mental illness in the U.S., with depression being among the most common conditions—making it the most widely researched in nutrition psychiatry. Studies show that dietary interventions can significantly reduce depressive symptoms. ADHD can also be reduced through diet. In a recent study, researchers found that a broad-spectrum micronutrient supplement with all known essential vitamins and minerals improved symptoms of inattention and enhanced emotional regulation and overall general functioning.

The brain relies on an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support its daily functions, so it’s essential that this powerhouse gets the proper fuel to promote an overall sense of wellness. Low levels of certain nutrients, including folate, vitamin D, and magnesium, are linked to worsening mood, feelings of anxiety, and risk of depression.

Good for your mood foods

  • Whole foods: Think fresh fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors and protein sources like meat, dairy, and quinoa for powerful nutrients to benefit mind and body.
  • Fiber-rich foods: Nutrient-packed whole grains, beans, and plant-based foods help absorb glucose slowly to avoid sugar rushes and crashes.
  • Antioxidants: Berries, leafy greens, and foods with omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation and can improve depression and anxiety.
  • Fermented foods: Sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and kombucha contain probiotics which benefit your digestive tract.