How a Healthy Diet Can Influence Your Mental Health

By: Jayson Tripp, MD


Diet and mental health often go hand in hand. Our brains rely heavily on nutrients gained from the food we eat, so a healthy, well-balanced diet can help to improve brain function and raise energy levels. In contrast, a poor diet leaves the brain underfed, leading to increased stress and a higher risk of experiencing symptoms related to mental illness. Read on to learn how your diet can influence your mental health, and what foods you should try to reach for throughout the day.

Eat Regularly

Though it’s easy to slip into the habit of skipping meals when you’re in a rush or if symptoms of mental illness get in the way of a regular eating schedule, eating on an irregular basis has negative repercussions on your mental health. Studies show that skipping meals can worsen symptoms of mental illness, particularly those connected to depression. No food means no fuel for your body to run on. Your blood sugar levels drop when your body goes too long without food, which can make you feel tired and agitated as you run on low or nearly depleted energy levels. To avoid skipping meals, try to plan your meals out in advance, or make a goal to eat small, healthy snacks throughout the day.

Stay Hydrated

Proper hydration is just as essential to your diet as food. Dehydration (even in its mildest form) can affect your mood, concentration, energy, and overall mental health. When your body doesn’t receive enough water, blood and oxygen flow to the brain decrease and diminish brain function. For individuals who struggle with mental illness, remembering to drink enough water can be difficult. Try to drink every time you eat and make sure you’re familiar with the signs of dehydration.

Cut Back on Processed Foods

Processed foods are notoriously high in addictive ingredients such as sugar, sodium, and trans fats. Though these foods often make for an easy snack choice when you feel like you can’t put together a full meal, they do more harm than good to your mental health. Processed foods taste good and temporarily stimulate dopamine production within the brain but they also provide little nutritional value, leaving you feeling lethargic, moody, and craving more.

Limit or Avoid Caffeine Intake

Caffeine can add a boost of energy when you need it, but for those who struggle with getting enough sleep, caffeine intake should be limited or eschewed altogether to avoid further disrupting your sleep schedule. Caffeine can also increase anxiety and nerves, so make sure you monitor how caffeine affects you if you choose to consume it.

Reduce Alcohol Consumption

Like caffeine, alcohol is fine in moderation, but too much can prove harmful to your mental health. Alcohol is categorized as a depressant, which means it impairs your cognitive functioning while altering chemicals in your brain. If you already suffer from mental illness, avoid overindulging in alcohol or consider cutting it from your diet entirely.

What Should You Be Eating?

  • Include fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains into your diet
  • Seek out foods with healthy fats, natural sugars, and complex carbohydrates
  • Try looking for healthy snacks such as yogurt, hummus, pita bread, or granola bars
  • Make minerals and vitamins a priority
  • If you choose to take supplements, make sure that your doctor knows about them beforehand

As with anything in life, strive for balance and moderation in your diet. Too much of a good thing can be just as detrimental to your mental health as a deficiency, so it’s important not to overdo it.

It’s also important to remember that a healthy diet does not guarantee improvement in your mental health. If you adjust your diet and find that symptoms of your mental illness continue to affect your day-to-day life, it might be time to seek professional help. Contact Serenity today to learn more about how you can find help for your mental illness.

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*All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.