What has diet got to do with mental health?

In my recent blog about stress I mentioned that there is research that shows a correlation between what we eat and our mental health, so I thought I would dedicate a whole blog to this subject.

Before I get started I would like to make it clear that I am not an expert in this field, and you should always consult a nutritionist or medical professional before making changes to your diet. I am simply sharing what I have learned in the hope that it might help you in some way, or at least make you think differently about the food you put into your body.
We have all been told for years that eating a well-balanced diet is important for the health of our body, but recently experts are starting to understand that what we eat is just as important for our mental health.

Everyone is familiar with the phrase comfort eating. People often reach for the ice-cream when they are upset or depressed, but did you know that this could actually make you feel worse?

Below I have listed foods that have an impact on mental health. They may not always directly cause these conditions, but they will certainly make them worse:

 Foods to avoid:

  • Sugar – high glucose levels are bad for just about every part of your body, but recent research has shown that it also increases the risk of depression and dementia by causing inflammation in the brain.
  • Artificial Sweeteners – Aspartame Stops the production of serotonin which is a chemical that helps to regulate your mood.
  • Caffeine – inhibits levels of serotonin and if you are already anxious can cause heart palpitations, and increase the symptoms.
  • Alcohol – is a depressant and interferes with the production and use of serotonin, and raises cortisol levels (a stress response hormone) .
  • Trans fat & hydrogenated oil – These clog your arteries which inhibit the blood flow to the brain, and this increases the risk of depression.
  • Refined carbohydrates – These impact your blood sugar levels and increase the risk of depression.
  • Salt – Eating a lot of salt can raise your heart rate and make you dehydrated, which will contribute to stress and anxiety.

Foods that help:

  • Foods rich in tryptophan – E.g. Turkey/chicken, oats, bananas, nuts, seeds (like sesame). These foods help your brain create chemicals like serotonin which make you feel good.
  • Foods rich in Omega fats – Salmon, and oily fish like mackerel & sardines – Omega 3 oils decrease existing negative mental states, and protect you against mood swings, depression, and anxiety.
  • Whole Grains – found in brown bread and brown rice also increases the production of serotonin.
  • Foods rich in B vitamins (B1 & 12) – beef, pork, chicken, or if you are a veggie – leafy greens, legumes, citrus fruits, rice, nuts, and eggs. These help relieve stress in the body, improve brain function, and can help reduce blood pressure.
  • Blueberries – are rich in phytonutrients, vitamins and antioxidants, which can be beneficial for relieving stress.
  • Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain folate, which produces dopamine, which helps calm down your system.
  • Chamomile tea helps calm the body and aids sleep.
  • Dark Chocolate – reduces you’re the stress hormone cortisol and increases good feelings.
  • Seeds – Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are all great sources of magnesium which helps regulate emotions. “Magnesium has been shown to help alleviate depression, fatigue, and irritability.
  • Nuts – For example walnuts have been found to slow down the effects and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, and help with depression. Pistachios lower blood pressure and contain phytonutrients (antioxidants).


I am not saying that you have to become a vegan/vegeterian, or that you shouldn’t enjoy a treat when you want one. But if you know that you are stressed, depressed, or anxious – make smarter decisions about what you eat and drink, because it could be the difference between getting through it easily or making the experience much harder to cope with.

In the same way that people who go to the gym but continue to eat a bad diet and wonder why they don’t lose any weight, if you are seeing a mental health specialist and still eating a lot of foods listed in the unhelpful list above, this could explain why you are struggling to make progress. So again make life easy on your self, if you want to feel good – eat healthy food. Think about it like this…If you put the wrong petrol in your car it will break down, and your body works in the same way with food.

But don’t take my word for it. Have a look at the following article and short video about the writer Rachel Kelly. After having two nervous break downs and severe depression, Rachel teamed up with nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh to get her condition under control through her diet. The results from their work together was so effective that they published a book called “The Happy Kitchen” which has been a huge success. If you want proof that it works just check out the reviews on Amazon.

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