Reality Check: What You Eat Impacts Your Mental Health

Nutritional psychiatry is a growing field that focuses on the impact of diet and nutrition on mental health. Research suggests that what you eat affects your brain as much as the rest of your body.
Reality Check: What You Eat Impacts Your Mental Health


We are continuously discovering the deep connection between diet and mental health through scientific advancements.

Research has demonstrated that certain food groups and nutrients have the potential to improve mood and mitigate mental health concerns. [1]

We still have a lot to uncover about the intricate relationship between diet and mental health, but we know that what we eat can undoubtedly affect our emotional state.


The Link Between Food and Mental Health

Nutritional psychiatry is a growing field that focuses on the impact of diet and nutrition on mental health. Research suggests that what you eat affects your brain as much as the rest of your body.

The food you eat impacts your brain due to the close connection between the gastrointestinal system (known as the gut) and the brain. This connection is often referred to as the "second brain" due to the intricate network of interactions between the two systems. [2]

The gut is home to trillions of bacteria. Most of them are beneficial and play a vital role in synthesizing neurotransmitters that send chemical messages to the brain to regulate sleep, pain, appetite, and mood. [3]

The production of serotonin, a crucial neurotransmitter that helps to regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain, is primarily produced in the gut. In fact, 95% of serotonin is produced there. [4]

Your food choices also influence the health of gut microbe colonies, which in turn affect your brain and mental health. Research suggests that eating a diet rich in diverse foods that support the health of the gut microbiome is crucial for optimized mental health. [5]


Probiotics Help Your Gut and Brain

Recent studies have demonstrated that probiotics possess the potential to enhance mental well-being by diminishing anxiety and stress levels, as well as boosting overall mood. [6]

Probiotics are microbes, including bacteria, that are beneficial to the body. You commonly find them in fermented foods such as yogurt and kimchi. 

Eating traditionally Japanese or Mediterranean diets, which are high in fruits, veggies, and unprocessed foods, reduces depression risk by 25-35% compared to a typical Western diet. [7]

The high probiotic content in these traditional diets influences how we digest food, absorb nutrients, and reduce body inflammation. All this contributes to improved mood and energy levels.



The Link Between Mood Swings and Blood Sugar

New research suggests that glucose levels impact one's mood, with poor blood sugar regulation possibly linked to anxiety and irritability. [8]

To experience more stable blood sugar levels, consuming high-fiber foods that take longer to digest can be an effective strategy. 

You can control your glycemic levels by switching from a Western diet to a traditional Japanese and Mediterranean diet rich in fiber and protein. Doing this can regulate your glycemic levels and reduce the frequency and severity of blood sugar fluctuations.


Food Boosts Your Mood Through Flavonoids

Flavonoids can reduce mood-related symptoms of depression.

A recent meta-analysis found a relationship between total flavonoid intake and depressive symptom reduction.

In one study within the analysis, 30 patients with mild to moderate depressive disorder consumed either flavonoid or fluoxetine. Both compounds significantly decreased depressive scores after four weeks. [9]

If you'd like to start incorporating flavonoids into your diet, you can look for tea, red wine, citrus fruits or juices, apples, and berries, which are rich in these powerful antioxidants.


Tips to Boost Your Mental Health

1. Essential Nutrients

Research has linked various nutrients to the prevention and reduction of depressive symptoms. They include:

Vitamin B6: 

It is a vital nutrient for building and synthesizing neurotransmitters and improving anxiety symptoms.

By affecting serotonin levels and GABA, two neurotransmitters closely linked to anxiety, vitamin B6 can be an effective tool for treating anxiety disorder. [10]

You can obtain this vitamin through food from various animal and plant sources. Some of the best sources of vitamin B6 include chicken, beef liver, salmon, tuna, chickpeas, dark leafy vegetables, and starchy fruits and vegetables such as bananas and potatoes.

Vitamin D: 

Various studies have demonstrated that Vitamin D positively affects mood and emotional regulation. [11]

The vitamin D receptors are in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, the brain regions responsible for emotional regulation. In other words, vitamin D supplementation may impact mood and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

In a recent meta-analysis, daily vitamin D supplementation reduced depressive symptoms, particularly in individuals with Major Depressive Disorder and women with prenatal depressive symptoms. [12]

To increase your vitamin D intake through food, you can consider eating fish such as salmon, tuna, swordfish, egg yolks, and sardines. All these food options are also a great source of healthy fats, which also have been linked to reduced risk of anxiety and depression.


Selenium plays an essential role in thyroid hormone regulation, which, in turn, has been linked to psychiatric symptoms such as depression and anxiety. [13]

Dysfunction of the thyroid affects mood, and researchers conclude that selenium's impact on mood could be related to its involvement in thyroid hormone regulation.

Studies have suggested a connection between low levels of selenium and depression. [14]

Seafood such as shrimp, halibut, tuna, and meats like turkey, beef liver, and ham, can be sources of selenium. Cottage cheese and eggs are also good sources of this mineral.


Researchers have found that magnesium is essential for all human cells to function correctly and plays a role in brain function and mood. [15] It is crucial for optimal nerve transmission, and its deficiency can affect the HPA axis, contributing to the development of anxiety and depression. [16]

Magnesium deficiency can also disrupt the gut microbiome and affect the gut-brain axis, leading to depressive symptoms manifestation.

Green leafy vegetables, fish, nuts, and whole grains are the best sources of magnesium.


2. Fruits and vegetables

The consumption of fruits and vegetables can be beneficial for mental health. 

Various nutrients they contain, including fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins B and C, and plant chemicals called polyphenols, support brain function and improve overall mental health.

As per research, eating more fruits and vegetables is associated with increased optimism and self-efficacy while lowering the levels of depression and psychological distress. [17]

Certain fruits and vegetables are particularly beneficial for mental health. For instance, berries, citrus fruits, and leafy greens contain antioxidants and may help reduce oxidative stress, which is a key factor in anxiety and depression development.


3. Prebiotics and probiotics

Prebiotics are foods that provide nutrition to the existing gut bacteria, while probiotics contain healthy bacteria themselves.

A balanced gut microbiome, rich in prebiotics and probiotics, has been linked to improved physical and mental health. It helps maintain balanced homeostasis (stability) in the gut. [18]

Research also suggests that prebiotics and probiotics contribute to the body’s response to stress and depression. [19]

Some examples of prebiotics or probiotics are fermented foods such as yogurt and kimchi, vegetables like artichokes, onions, and leeks, grains such as barley and oats, and fruits such as bananas and apples.


4. Whole grains

Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Studies have shown that those with a higher dietary fiber intake have lower risks of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress. [20]

In addition, the type of fiber found in whole grains, known as soluble fiber, may have anti-inflammatory effects when digested in the gut, which can also positively impact mental health via the gut-brain axis.



Eating a nutritious diet is one of the best ways to support gut health and mental well-being.

There is an increased awareness of the interplay between gut-brain communication, intestinal bacteria, and mental health management.

If you want to make changes to your diet to support mental health, start with a few small food swaps and build up from there. Everyone's dietary needs are unique, so consulting a registered dietitian is recommended to determine the best plan for your specific goals and needs.

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[1]Nutritional psychiatry: Towards improving mental health by what you eat - PubMed (

[2]The Complex Molecular Picture of Gut and Oral Microbiota-Brain-Depression System: What We Know and What We Need to Know - PubMed (

[3]The Relationship Between the Gut Microbiome-Immune System-Brain Axis and Major Depressive Disorder - PubMed (

[4]Serotonin in the gut: Blessing or a curse - PubMed (

[5]Microbiome and mental health in the modern environment | Journal of Physiological Anthropology | Full Text (

[6]Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies - PubMed (

[7]Shifts on Gut Microbiota Associated to Mediterranean Diet Adherence and Specific Dietary Intakes on General Adult Population - PubMed (

[8]Epidemiology of depression and diabetes: a systematic review - PubMed (

[9]Antioxidants | Free Full-Text | Exploring the Impact of Flavonoids on Symptoms of Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (

[10]Vitamin B6 - Health Professional Fact Sheet (

[11]Effects of vitamin D on mood and sleep in the healthy population: Interpretations from the serotonergic pathway - ScienceDirect

[12]The effect of vitamin D supplementation on depressive symptoms in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials - PubMed (

[13]Dysregulated thyroid hormones correlate with anxiety and depression risk in patients with autoimmune disease - PubMed (

[14]Dysregulated thyroid hormones correlate with anxiety and depression risk in patients with autoimmune disease - PubMed (

[15]The Role and the Effect of Magnesium in Mental Disorders: A Systematic Review - PMC (

[16]Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: modulation by therapeutic drug treatment - PubMed (

[17]Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mental Health in Adults: A Systematic Review - PubMed (

[18]How Microbes Affect Depression: Underlying Mechanisms via the Gut-Brain Axis and the Modulating Role of Probiotics - PubMed (

[19]Probiotics, Prebiotics and Postbiotics on Mitigation of Depression Symptoms: Modulation of the Brain-Gut-Microbiome Axis - PubMed (

[20]Consumption of Dietary Fiber in Relation to Psychological Disorders in Adults - PubMed (

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