Your brain on food: The science behind diet and mood

We modify our diets to lose weight, regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol, but what if HOW we eat can also affect how we feel? New research is looking into the connection between diet and mental health.

“Just as what we eat affects our physical health, it also has an impact on our mental health,” said Patricia Larabell, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at Unity Point Health-Meriter.

The field of nutritional psychiatry aims to find the impact of nutrition on the brain. Research is relatively new but Larabell said some patterns are emerging. One 2017 study found that people with moderate-to-severe depression experience improved when they received nutritional counseling sessions, ate more nutrient dense foods and limited processed items, sweets and fried food.

“Those people who eat a plant-based diet have lower rates of depressive symptoms than those people who are eating a more processed or western diet,” Larabell said.

A host of other studies or reports have found promising connections between food and mood diets high in Selenium, Vitamin D, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, antioxidant rich vitamins A, C, and E, Zinc and B12 and B9 have all helped improve mood or lessened depression.


Whole grains, certain seafoods, liver

Vitamin D

Oily fish, diary, eggs

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Salmon, chia seeds, walnuts

Vitamins A, C, E

Berries, vegetables, soy


Oysters, beans, nuts


Eggs, meat, milk


Dark leafy vegetables, seafood, whole grains

Larabell urges everyone to take this information with a proverbial grain of salt.

“The reviews are very mixed so it’s hard to say one nutrient is the answer,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment and see what works to boost your mood. Larabell suggests switching out meat for more fish and following a Mediterranean diet.

“That type of diet includes lots vegetables, fruits, and whole grains,” Larabell said.

Also consider adding in more probiotic rich foods, like yogurt or kombucha. Science suggests that a healthy gut is important in processing neurotransmitters like serotonin that regulate mood.

“Other fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi also have those probiotics that are great for your gut and mind as well,” Larabell said.

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