Improving mental health through healthy eating
Good nutrition is essential for our mental health
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Many people have heard of eating well to improve heart health, reduce the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and certain cancers, but did you know a few simple dietary changes may help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.
One of the best ways to improve your mental health is through your gut. Just as the brain impacts the gut, what we put in our gut can impact the functioning of the brain.
How to improve mental health through diet
Drinking enough water keeps our brain from having to struggle against the effects of dehydration, allowing us to think more clearly than if we let ourselves get dehydrated. Read more about how to stay hydrated here.
Eat fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables contain a lot of the minerals, vitamins and fibre we need to keep us physically and mentally healthy. Read more about adding for fruit and veg to your diet here.
Be a planner, decide on a week’s worth of healthy recipes ahead of time so that you don’t have to rush for fast food. Read more about how to plan out your week’s meals here.
Incorporate a healthy breakfast into your routine. If you’re tight on time in the mornings, grab a whole grain granola bar, yogurt and a piece of fruit to get you off to a good start. Learn how to make time for breakfast every morning here.
Eat good fats
Your brain needs fatty oils especially omega-3s and 6s to keep it working well. So rather than avoiding all fats, it’s important to eat the right ones. Oily fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and avocado are all great sources of healthy, mood-boosting fats. Learn more about how to eat well here.
It’s best to try to avoid
Eating too much fried or processed foods and sweets; Swap junk food for healthy snacks
Skipping meals – Read our advice on cheap and healthy meals here
Drinking too much alcohol
Drinking too much caffeine like coffee or energy drinks
Eating to relieve stress – Read SpunOut.ie’s tips on how to reduce stress here
10 feel good foods
It’s rich in iron and a great energy booster that wards off fatigue and aids concentration. It’s also a good source of vitamin B6 and folate, which support the brain’s ability to produce mood-boosting neurotransmitters, such as serotonin.
They’re a great alternative to standard spuds as they are rich in folate, plus they are better than white potatoes at keeping blood sugar levels steady.
They’re one of the best sources of the mood-boosting mineral selenium, which can ward off low mood and anxiety.
Fish such as sardines and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which help the brain to interpret moods and boost concentration levels. Low levels are linked with depression and other mood disorders.
They’re bursting with depression-fighting folate, mood-lifting tryptophan and stress relieving vitamin B6.
They’re a great source of zinc, which helps you to feel more alert and energised by regulating your metabolism and blood sugar levels.
It’s rich in calcium, a mineral which can ease mood swings, depression and anxiety.
It’s rich in protein, which increases energy levels and improves concentration. It also contains an amino acid called tyrosine, which boosts the brain chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine as well as thyroid hormone, which can all help elevate mood.
They can balance hunger and mood between meal energy slumps as they help to stabilise blood sugar levels. The fruit’s high vitamin B6 content can help to relieve anxiety and stress, and it’s also a great source of tryptophan – the essential amino acid the brain converts into happiness hormone serotonin.
Your daily slice boosts levels of serotonin – a neurotransmitter that helps you feel happier and calmer. Wholemeal bread produces less serotonin than white but the energy it produces has more staying power, so you will avoid the slump you can experience soon after eating white bread.
Try to eat two or more of these mood boosters everyday.