These Are The Three Best Foods For Better Mental Health

Eating well is one of the most important things we can do for our health. And while most people probably already know that eating lots of fruits and veggies is good for our bodies, maintaining a healthy diet is also just as important for our minds. Studies have shown that eating a diet rich in vitamins, nutrients, protein, and healthy fats can not only improve our physical health but our mental health as well.

It turns out that a well-balanced diet can improve our moods, while diets that are high in processed food and sugar can negatively impact our mental health and even exacerbate mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, according to Sutter Health. There are a few different reasons for this. One significant reason is what scientists call the gut-brain connection. In fact, the brain and the gastrointestinal system are intricately connected via neurotransmitters, according to Healthline. Furthermore, many important mood-regulating neurotransmitters, including serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid, which help control depression, fear, and anxiety, are produced by microbes in the gut. 

The foods we eat have a major impact on our gut microbes, so eating a poor diet can cause inflammation that can seriously affect our moods. On the other hand, eating gut-healthy foods that contain lots of fiber, healthy fats, and probiotics can help lead to better psychological wellbeing.

Diet has a significant impact on mental health

Additionally, diet affects many other areas of the body, including our focus and energy levels. The brain requires a steady stream of healthy nutrients to keep it functioning properly. When it doesn't receive these nutrients, mental functioning can be impaired. However, when one is depressed, it can be easier to reach for quick, processed meals instead of preparing healthy dishes, thus creating a vicious cycle. Processed foods, which are often high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, can deliver a quick rush of dopamine, according to Sutter Health, but in the long run, they can lead to inflammation that can trigger feelings of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, that rush is followed by a crash, which can cause even more sugar cravings and lead to an addictive cycle.

Caffeine is another common culprit that can interfere with your mood. After all, too much caffeine may be bad for you. This common stimulant is popular for its energy-boosting properties, but it is a drug that can also worsen anxiety symptoms, including restlessness, nervousness, and gastrointestinal problems, per GoodRx. And it is not only what you eat that can impact your mood but how often you eat as well. Skipping meals can cause a drop in blood sugar, which can cause feelings of irritability, fatigue, and depression, according to But what are the best foods to eat for better mental health?

Protein, fatty acids, and complex carbs can help improve mood

For optimal functioning, the brain needs a healthy combination of lean proteins, fatty acids, and complex carbohydrates, according to Sutter Health. Healthy lean protein, which can be found in chicken, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds, is important for good mental health since it contains essential amino acids that the brain needs to regulate emotions (via Fatty acids, particularly Omega-3s, are essential for brain health and nerve cell structure, according to The Better Fish. The brain needs fat to function, so a diet that is lacking in Omega-3 fatty acids can severely impact vital brain functions like cognition, learning, memory, sleep, and even aging. Fish, walnuts, and flaxseed are all great sources of healthy fatty acids.

And while refined, processed carbs can negatively impact the gut, complex carbohydrates are part of a brain-healthy diet. Complex carbohydrates, such as those found in brown rice, whole grains, and starchy vegetables, contain healthy fiber and nutrients. They are also digested more slowly, helping to regulate blood sugar and deliver a steady stream of energy throughout the day, per Healthline. So while it may be tempting to reach for a bag of candy or chips the next time you are feeling down, you might want to grab an apple or a handful of walnuts instead. Both your brain and your body will be better off. When it comes to mental health, too, know that even celebrity chefs have talked about depression, so it's a natural experience shared by many.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.