Is There a Link Between Nutrition and Mental Health?

Here’s a new, compelling reason to prioritize your diet: the food you consume plays an influential role in your mood and mental well-being.

Indeed, a growing body of nutritional research indicates a significant link between dietary patterns and mental health. This new field of study is called nutritional psychiatry.

Unfortunately, only half of U.S. adults claim they try to eat a healthy diet, according to data from Statista. Too often, food choices are driven by convenience, affordability, cravings, bad habits, or mood.

On a brighter note, there’s a lot of room for mental health to improve if more people focus on upgrading the nutritional quality of their diet.

Here’s what you need to know about nutrition and mood, as well as tips on how to eat to support your mental health!

Food and Mood

As one might expect, research shows that greater well-being, happiness, and a positive mood are highly associated with healthy dietary patterns.

A healthy dietary pattern may include:

  • whole grains
  • fiber-rich fresh fruits, veggies, and nuts/seeds
  • fatty fish and seafood
  • lean, quality poultry and meat

It would also limit amounts of processed foods, added sugars, and unhealthy fats.

Tragically, the standard American diet (SAD) is low in these healthy foods. Instead, it’s loaded with added sugars, refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, and food additives.

Research shows that the SAD diet is an apt acronym as it’s associated with low mood, feelings of anxiousness, and poor mental health.

One recently published review went as far as to suggest that poor nutrition may play a causal role in a number of mental health disorders – and dietary interventions may help people who struggle to maintain their mental health!

Nutrition and Mental Health

Your brain uses more than 20% of the total energy you take in. The food you consume provides key nutrients your brain requires to produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are central to the regulation of cognition, mood, and appetite.

Additionally, your brain is very metabolically active. It needs antioxidants to protect against oxidative stress and neural inflammation, which are linked to low mood and other brain health issues.

The gut is in constant communication with the brain and synthesizes neurotransmitters that regulate mood. Consuming foods to promote gut health is critical to healthy mental hygiene.

Keeping these interconnections in mind, here’s how helping your brain and body can help you feel your best mentally.

4 Eating Habits That Can Improve Your Mental Health

  1. Eat More Fruits and Veggies

Nutrition and Mental Health 2 If you want to support a positive mental outlook, make sure you get the recommended five or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day.

Fruits and veggies are rich in vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and fiber. The antioxidant power of certain vitamins and polyphenols may help protect your brain and body against oxidative stress – too much unchecked oxidative stress is correlated with low mood.

Additionally, the high fiber content is beneficial to your gut microbiome – which supports healthy production of serotonin – a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood.

Leafy greens and certain fruits provide your body with minerals that are important to maintaining mental health. Mineral deficiencies have been found to contribute to mood issues.

A study that followed the eating habits and mental wellness of more than 80,000 individuals showed that mental well-being increased with the servings of fruits and vegetables participants consumed.

Measures of well-being (such as life satisfaction and happiness, amongst others) peaked at 7 portions a day. In comparison, the average American eats about 1 serving of fruit and 1½ servings of vegetables a day.

  1. Ditch the Sweets and Refined Carbs

Ice cream, sugary sodas, crackers, cookies, and cakes may give your mood a temporary lift but end up worsening your mood in the long run. If you want to promote mental health, cut them out!

These sugary foods score high on the glycemic index and typically worsen the body’s regulation of insulin, which can cause mood shifts and other mental issues. It also can fan the flames of oxidative stress and inflammation – which aren’t good for your brain or mental wellness.

Lots of research has found a correlation between consumption of these foods and low mood, feelings of anxiousness, and mental health issues – whereas low (added) sugar intake is associated with better mental health.

Eat whole fruit or berries in place of sugary treats. Stevia is a great healthy alternative to artificial sweeteners.

  1. Take Care of Your Gut Health

Did you know that your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million neurons, and roughly 95% of your serotonin is synthesized in your gut? It’s crucial for your brain health and overall mental health to eat in a way that supports your gut health.

Enjoy fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, and kombucha – which are loaded with beneficial bacteria – or take a quality probiotic supplement.

Also, be sure to eat prebiotic foods that feed the good bacteria in your gut. Some great prebiotic foods include lentils, chickpeas, beans, oats, bananas, asparagus, leeks, garlic, onions, nuts, and Jerusalem artichokes.

Stay away from foods that can harm your gut health like alcohol, artificial sweeteners, salty foods, fried foods, too much saturated fat, too much red meat, refined carbohydrates, and added sugars.

  1. Embrace the Mediterranean Diet

When contemplating what dietary pattern to follow – trade in the SAD diet for a Mediterranean one. Observational research shows that the Mediterranean dietary pattern is associated with a lower risk of problems with mood. Traditional diets also are good patterns to follow.

That means consuming loads of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and seafood, nuts and seeds, and only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy. Foods that are especially good for mood include berries, avocados, leafy greens, beans and legumes, olive oil, fatty fish, dark chocolate, green tea, and herbs and spices.

Eating for Mental Health 

When it comes to your health, nutrition matters. Any effort to consume more nutrient-rich foods will likely benefit your mood and overall mental health.


At BrainMD, we’re dedicated to providing the highest purity nutrients to improve your physical health and overall well-being. For more information about our full list of brain healthy supplements, please visit us at BrainMD.

Kim Henderson