How Your Diet Affects Your Mental Health

The research is in!! What you eat can have a profound impact on your mental health, with healthier diets linked to better mental health.

Research on the role of nutrition on mental health dates back to the 1970s, but the field of study – known as nutritional psychiatry – has exploded in recent years. The majority of these studies support the idea that healthy diets lead to better mental health, and unhealthy diets lead to poorer mental health.

In fact, the studies suggest a link between diet and:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Behavioural problems
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Psychological distress
  • Schizophrenia
  • Addiction
  • Violent behaviour

Furthermore, a person’s nutritional status may impact behaviours that have a knock-on effect on mental health, including sleep problems and fatigue.


Diet and Depression

When it comes to the field of nutritional psychiatry, the majority of studies focus on the impact of food on depression. However, nutrition most likely has similar effects on other mental health conditions, including anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Researchers have found that addressing low levels of omega-3 fats can reduce depression, perinatal depression (depression related to pregnancy), and bipolar disorder. Similarly, there is a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Vitamin D supplements may be comparable to antidepressant use in providing relief.

Other vitamins and minerals that are important for good mental health include zinc, vitamin B6, folate, and selenium. And keeping the gut healthy, through consuming plenty of fibre and fermented foods, is also essential for mental and brain health.

Certain dietary patterns – such as traditional Mediterranean or Japanese diets – can lead to a reduced risk of depression. Some studies show a 25-30% lower risk of depression when people eat such traditional diets. Which is pretty impressive, considering this is about as effective as antidepressant use, particularly for mild to moderate depression.

Overall, the research supports the link between healthy diets and good mental health, and between unhealthy diets and poor mental health. In many studies, this relationship exists in a dose-response pattern – which means that, the healthier the diet, the better the person’s mental health. It is not surprising that some experts suggest that “diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology” (Sarris et al., 2015, p.271).


How Do I Change My Diet?

While some nutrients may be more strongly linked to mental health than others, the truth is that a varied diet is most important for good mental health – including good gut health. We can’t isolate individual nutrients from foods.

That’s why the best approach is a “whole of diet” approach, which takes into account the  complex combinations of various foods and nutrients that people both eat, and need. The healthiest diets for mental health and gut health are plant-heavy – meaning they are rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, beans, and lentils.

They typically contain minimal animal products, sugar, and alcohol; and they avoid processed or pre-packaged foods as much as possible. As Michael Pollan says: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t”.

Finally, if you have any nutritional deficiencies, it is best to address those through diet, or supplements, or both.

Looking to change your diet to support your mental health? Contact me for queries or bookings.

Learn more about how nutrition affects your mental health.