How Food Impacts Mental Health

What we eat influences several aspects of our health, such as our heart, our blood sugars, and our weight. More recently, research has been looking into the impact of food and diet on our mental health. It has been said that diet not only affects our physical health but our mental health as well.  

Anxiety and depression are among the most common mental health conditions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression could be one of the top health concerns in the world by 2030. Mental health problems are typically treated with medications or psychotherapy. In recent years, the connection between food and mental health has piqued the interest of researchers. It has been theorized that food can supplement treatment of mental health problems. The question now is, how does diet help prevent mental health problems? Read on to earn more about the link between food and mental health.

Happy Eating

Understanding the Biology of Mental Health Problems

A group of chemicals called neurotransmitters are responsible for the communication between cells in our nervous system. Among these, the monoamine neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and serotonin are most important. These play a big role in the pathophysiology of mood disorders and in mechanisms of how symptoms of depression and anxiety develop.

Depression has been linked to problems or imbalances in the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the brain. 



One of the important neurotransmitters that regulate our mood is serotonin. It also regulates our sleep, appetite, and pain response. It is also involved in sexual behavior, eating habits, and aggression. This chemical is produced in our gastrointestinal tract – the exact site where we digest our food. Food affects our mental health by decreasing or increasing the levels of serotonin in our bodies. Current data suggests that decreased levels of serotonin in our brain causes depression in people. 


Another neurotransmitter linked to depression and anxiety is dopamine. Dopamine plays an important role in regulating our drive for reward and pleasure. Low dopamine levels may explain why depressed people do not have a sense of pleasure or reward with certain activities. 


Nutritional Psychiatry

Nutritional psychiatry is an emerging area of research looking into the link between diet and nutrition to the development, prevention, and treatment of mental health problems. Poor food choices can be an additional risk factor for experiencing bad moods, and making healthier food choices can help our mental health. Nutritional psychiatry is founded on the impact of nutritional changes on one’s mental health. 


The Mediterranean vs Western Diet

A healthy diet decreases the risk while an unhealthy diet increases the risk for mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. 

A Mediterranean diet incorporates the healthy eating habits of those living in areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It includes high consumption of fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, and beans. The main protein source is fish, with moderate consumption of poultry, and occasional consumption of red meat. Studies have shown that consuming a Mediterranean diet is linked to a reduced risk of depression. This type of diet has been found to reduce depressive symptoms by as much as 35%. 

An article published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a diet with high intakes of fruits and vegetables was associated with fewer depressive symptoms. The study contributed these results to the increased intake of dietary vitamins and minerals essential for brain function. 

On the other hand, a Western diet seems to be the complete opposite. It is characterized by a high intake of saturated fats, high sugar, high salt, low in fiber and nutrients. The Western diet is typified by a high intake of red meat, processed foods, sweets, deep-fried foods, and high-fat products. This kind of diet increases the risk for medical problems like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. It is also said to increase symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

This is backed up by a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry that revealed that individuals who consumed more fats, sweets, and processed foods were likely to report depressive symptoms. 

Happy Eating

Now, we know what we eat affects both our physical and mental health. For more tips on how to boost our mood with food, check out this article Boost Your Mood With Food at the Mindshift Psychological Services website

Schedule an appointment or visit any Mindshift Psychological Services office near me to get started on your nutritional journey. Our experts offer a wide range of services such as counseling and teletherapy to suit your needs.