Does your diet affect your mental health?

As highlighted in a Harvard Health article, Nutritional Psychiatry: Your brain on foodthe food you consume directly influences the structure and function of your brain, ultimately impacting your mood. This statement holds profound significance. Food doesn’t merely affect brain function; it also shapes the very structure of our brains. Providing our brains and bodies with the nourishment they need is a fundamental piece of mental health.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 43 million American adults—equivalent to 1 in 5 individuals—face diagnosable mental health issues. While this statistic may seem alarming, it’s reassuring to know that many of these conditions are not debilitating. Nevertheless, approximately 10 million Americans grapple with severe mental health illnesses. Nearly 20% of adolescents aged 13 to 18 have either received a diagnosis or currently struggle with a debilitating mental health disorder. This figure surpasses the combined prevalence of asthma and diabetes, underscoring the magnitude of the issue.

The month of October marks various significant observances, including Mental Illness Awareness Week, the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding, National Depression Screening Day, and World Mental Health Day. These dedicated days serve as crucial reminders not only to raise awareness about mental health challenges but also to illuminate pathways for enhancing mental well-being.

Consider this: Your brain is ceaselessly active, functioning day and night to keep your body alive and well. It regulates your breathing, maintains your heartbeat, and processes countless thoughts even as you attempt to fall asleep.

The connection between nutrition and mental health is gaining recognition in the emerging field of Nutritional Psychology. Research, including studies by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), is shedding light on the relationship between prenatal nutrition, early childhood diet, and improved mental health outcomes in adolescents and young adults.

Here are some practical steps to nurture your brain with the right nutrients:

1. Fuel Your Brain with Complex Carbohydrates: The brain relies on glucose for energy, utilizing approximately one-fifth of the blood pumped by the heart. Incorporate complex carbohydrates like whole-wheat bread, quinoa, beans, and oatmeal into your diet to provide a sustained energy source for your brain.

2. Consider Eating Clean: Embrace the “eating clean” movement, which advocates reducing refined sugars and highly processed foods. Diets high in refined sugars can lead to inflammation, oxidative stress, and impaired insulin regulation, all of which are linked to depression.

3. Pump Up Your Serotonin with Prebiotics and Probiotics: An astounding 95% of serotonin, a mood-regulating neurotransmitter, is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Prebiotics and probiotics support gut health, and studies suggest they can reduce anxiety, stress, and improve overall outlook.

4. Get Your Supply of Omega-3 Foods: Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain function. Deficiencies in these nutrients have been associated with various mental disorders, including depression, dementia, and bipolar disorder. Include foods like salmon, chia seeds, and walnuts in your diet to boost your omega-3 intake.

5. Quench Your Brain’s Thirst: The brain comprises about 80% water, so adequate hydration is vital for brain and mental health. Ensure you drink your daily recommended intake of water to keep your brain functioning optimally.

While nutrition alone may not be a panacea for all mental health challenges, being mindful of what we eat and how we nourish our brains can serve as a significant step toward improving mental well-being. Remember, by feeding your body well, you’re also feeding your mind.

If you or a loved one needs extra support, do not hesitate to call any of the following mental health hotlines:

  • 988 Mental Health Emergency Hotline
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “HELPLINE” to 62640.
  • The Trans Lifeline is staffed by transgender people for transgender people: 1-877-565-8860 (United States)
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Veterans Crisis Line:



Here are two great snack ideas to support that gut-brain axis and mental health:

Hummus and Veggie Platter with Whole Wheat Pita:


  • Ingredients:
    • Homemade or store-bought hummus (probiotics)
    • Sliced bell peppers, cucumbers, and baby carrots (prebiotics)
    • Whole wheat pita bread (complex carbs)
    • Olive oil for dipping (optional)


  • Instructions:
    1. Arrange a variety of colorful sliced vegetables (bell peppers, cucumbers, baby carrots) on a platter.
    2. Serve with a generous portion of hummus for dipping (probiotics).
    3. Include whole wheat pita bread for additional complex carbs.
    4. For an extra touch, provide a small dish of olive oil for dipping the pita.


Chia Seed Pudding with Fresh Fruit:

  • Ingredients:
    • 2 tablespoons chia seeds (omega-3 fatty acids)
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk or Greek yogurt (probiotics)
    • Fresh fruit like sliced strawberries, kiwi, and banana (prebiotics)
    • Honey or maple syrup for sweetness (optional)


  • Instructions:
    • In a bowl or jar, mix chia seeds with unsweetened almond milk or Greek yogurt.
    • Stir well and let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or overnight until it thickens (chia seeds absorb liquid).
    • Once the pudding has set, layer it with fresh fruit slices (strawberries, kiwi, banana).
    • Drizzle with honey or maple syrup for sweetness if desired.
    • Enjoy a creamy, nutritious chia seed pudding filled with omega-3s, probiotics, and prebiotics.


These snacks not only provide essential nutrients for brain health but are also delicious and satisfying options for any time of the day. Remember to adjust the portion sizes to fit your dietary preferences and individual nutritional needs.