Brain Food: How Food Can Boost Our Mental Health



When people are looking to improve their physical health, diet is usually the first place they turn. Can they cut the carbs, step away from the snacks? Yet fewer people are aware of the power of our diet to affect our mental being. The nutrients we put into our body have a powerful effect on our mental health, but often in subtle ways. Let’s take a look at how your diet can affect your mental health, and a few tips on what to put on the plate for better mental wellbeing.




We are what we eat. The food we consume and the nutrients contained therein have a direct impact on our body and, resultantly, our brain. Whilst this relationship is clear for our physical health - a moment on the lips, forever on the hips, it’s more complex with our mental wellbeing. The food we eat, from fat, protein to specific enzymes, become the building blocks of our brain. What’s more, the way we think and feel doesn’t all stem from the brain. Scientists are increasingly discovering the complex connections between our mental well being and gut bacteria. The expression “I feel it in my gut” is based on this connection - an imbalance of bacteria in our gut can lead to lower moods and increased anxiety.

Because we haven’t learned to think about food as closely connected to our mental well being it’s often hard to see the effects of what we eat. But by changing up your diet you can dramatically boost your mood. Let’s take a look at some foodstuffs to prioritize for a positive mental outlook.



Complex carbohydrates are long sugar molecules, the likes of which are found in whole grains, peas, beans and fruit. Carbohydrates are vital to our body’s energy systems and complex carbohydrates have been shown to impact the slow release of glucose into our system which can have a mood-boosting effect.

Complex carbohydrates are notably contrasted with simple carbohydrates, short-chain molecules found in common snack foods such as sugary drinks. Simple carbohydrates enact dramatic fluctuations in glucose and sugar levels in our bodies, often resulting in a quick but unsustainable mood boost. You may notice cravings for these foods based on the short-term boost to our mood, yet this is usually followed by a crash. Complex carbohydrates create sustainable improvements in our energy and mood, so next time you’re feeling snacky try reaching for a piece of fruit.



Omega 3 is a fatty acid frequently found in fish such as salmon and mackerel, but nuts, seeds and certain oils such as flaxseed oil and canola oil are also rich in omega 3. Omega 3 is a vital building block of our brain’s cell membranes and can impact the way brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin - intrinsically related to our well-being, are able to travel through the brain.

Omega-3 is not produced by the body itself and our brain’s only source of this essential nutrient is through the food we eat. Those deficient in omega 3 may be more susceptible to low moods due to inhibited transfer of serotonin and dopamine, so if you’re putting your well-being first prioritize the consumption of these fat-rich foods.



Antioxidants, so named because of the way in which they limit oxidation in our bodies, have a powerful effect on our mental wellbeing. Oxidation is a natural process that releases energy, but it also causes oxidative stress in our brains. By limiting this process, antioxidants enable chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin to flourish in our brains, leading to greater happiness and positivity.

Antioxidants are found in a range of foods from blueberries to green tea. Ensuring a regular intake of these chemicals can support our mood and strengthen wellbeing. There’s nothing like a good cup of tea.



Making changes to your diet can have a positive impact on your mental well-being in both direct and indirect ways. Supporting productive growth of gut bacteria can boost your mood and consuming omega-3 can strengthen brain tissue and improve cognitive function. Equally importantly, however, can be the indirect effects of a healthy diet on our mood. With more energy and a strong sense of looking after our bodies, you'll find a variety of positive changes come naturally. Take steps towards better mental health today.


   +  Words: Regina Wheeler

Regina Wheeler is an elearning consultant at She has an independent nutritionist practice based in Boulder, Colorado. When she isn’t working or writing she loves running in the Rockies, reading and drinking coffee in cozy cafes.