September 19, 2020

mental health foods

There was a time not so long ago when very few of us paid attention to our mental health, let alone understood how to prevent and treat mental illness. Thankfully, nowadays mental health is regarded as equally important as physical health, and we’re all far more aware of the signs of mental illness, and how to avoid falling ill.

Mental health generally refers to your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It can play a role in everything from how you think and feel, to your day-to-day behaviour. Mental health affects how you handle stress, make decisions, and communicate with others. Having good mental health is important through every stage of life, from childhood right up to old age.

It’s thought that most of us will experience some form of mental health problem over the course of our lives. If you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behaviour may change. The direct cause of the mental illness is usually unclear, but factors that can affect your mental well-being include life experiences, including your upbringing, biological factors, and external factors that may present stress or anxiety at a given time.

There are a variety of mental health problems that doctors and scientists are aware of today, including anxiety, depression, bipolar, BPD, anorexia and body dysmorphia, and schizophrenia. It’s not always easy to know when you or somebody else is suffering from a mental illness, but warning signs to look out for include distancing yourself from others, sleeping poorly, low mood, low energy, a sense of helplessness, heightened stress, and severe mood swings.

Mental illness often requires treatment from a doctor, but there are a number of diet and lifestyle changes you can make to help to improve your mental health in general. If you’re looking to ward off mental illness and boost your mental health, stay tuned for the best foods to start adding to your diet today:

Best Foods to Start Adding to Your Diet

1. Yogurt

Probiotics in yogurt can help lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression

Most of us know by now the digestive benefits of probiotics, which are found in natural, unsweetened yogurts. It’s though that on top of that, the probiotics found in cultures such as yogurt can also impact a person’s mental health, helping to lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. 

If you don’t already eat a lot of yogurts, it’s time you included it in your diet. Just make sure you go for healthy, low-fat, and low-sugar options, as these will have the best effect on your health.

2. Mushrooms

mushrooms help lower blood sugar levels and even out your mood

There are two key reasons why mushrooms are essential for your mental health. First, their chemical properties prevent the over-production of insulin, which helps lower blood sugar levels, helping to even out your mood. 

They’re also something of a probiotic, promoting healthy gut bacteria and helping the gut to work properly. It’s thought that the nerve cells in the gut produce most of the body’s serotonin, so the better you can treat your gut, the happier you’ll be. 

Add mushrooms to your meat and vegetable dishes, like curries or cooked breakfasts. If you’re not a fan of the mushroom texture, try the old trick of chopping them up and adding them in smaller, more manageable bites to your food.

3. Tomatoes

Tomatoes have folic acid and alpha-lipoic acid which are good for fighting depression

Tomatoes are a fantastic source of folic acid and alpha-lipoic acid, both of which are particularly good for fighting depression. Research has found links between a folate deficiency and depression, with a study finding that around one-third of patients with depression were deficient in folate. 

It’s thought that folic acid can prevent an excess of something called homocysteine, which limits the production of important neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. The alpha-lipoic acid in tomatoes helps the body convert glucose into energy, which can then naturally stabilize mood. Mix tomatoes into your curries, pasta bakes, or salads to get your daily dose of the fruit.

4. Beans

Beans are great in improving your mood

Beans are a fairly underrated food, considering the incredible range of nutritional benefits they offer. As well as being one of the best anti-diabetes and weight-loss foods, beans are effective in improving mood because your body digests them slowly, which stabilizes blood sugar levels and prevents sugar spikes. 

Try replacing unhealthier protein choices with beans in your favourite curries, salads, and oven-baked dishes. The bigger the variety of beans you can eat, the better.

5. Bananas

Everyone knows that bananas are one of the most nutritional fruits to eat on a daily basis, and unsurprisingly, studies have also found that yellow fruits are also good for your mental health. Bananas are mood-enhancing because they affect something called tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps produce serotonin. 

The more serotonin we produce, the happier we’ll naturally be. Tryptophan also helps to regulate sleeping patterns and food intake, both of which are essential to our mental health. Snack on a banana instead of a less healthy choice, or if you’re not a fan of the texture, try adding it to your morning smoothie instead.

Bananas are mood-enhancing because of its tryptophan

6. Lentils

Lentils are very similar to beans in their positive impacts on mental health. Because lentils are loaded with the B vitamin folate, which your body needs to produce serotonin, eating them regularly can help to naturally boost your mood. 

Serotonin is a brain neurotransmitter that’s otherwise known as the ‘happy hormone’, so you’re never going to go wrong by producing more of it. Lentils are also low on the glycaemic index, which means they don’t lead to a sudden spike in your blood sugar.


This helps to keep your blood sugar levels regulated, which in turn helps with mood, and keeping a consistent level of energy throughout the day. Add lentils to your salads, curry dishes and oven bakes to get the most out of them.

Best Foods for mental health

7. Seeds

Flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds are the new craze at the moment, and when we look at their nutritional values, there’s certainly something to be excited about. These seeds are all especially good for improving your mood because they’re high in omega 3 fatty acids, which can fight diseases and inflammation that may lead to mental decline. 

They’ve also been found to increase the absorption of protective nutrients in vegetables eaten at the same meal – so you know what to do. Add flaxseeds, hemp seeds, or chia seeds to your sweet or savoury meals for the biggest impact.

8. Lean protein

Lean Proteins have a positive impact on your mental health

Lean protein is a fairly broad food group to focus on, but you can pretty much guarantee that all lean proteins have some form of positive impact on your mental health. Chicken, turkey, and beef are bursting with essential compounds that your body uses to produce the neurotransmitters found in your brain, making them fairly integral to good mental health. 

Add lean proteins to your lunch or dinners, grilling them or baking them in the oven, and serve with plenty of vegetables for a healthy, satisfying dish.

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Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety: Nourish Your Way to Better Mental Health in Six Weeks
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Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health: A Complete Guide to the Food-Mood Connection
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The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health
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9. Apples

Apples are a great source on antioxidants that helps prevent low moods and mood swings

You’ve probably heard all sorts of mixed messages about apples because they have a slightly high fructose content that puts some health experts off them. However, there’s no denying that apples contain a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals, some of which we need to produce neurotransmitters. 

Apples are also a great source of antioxidants, which we need to fight inflammation – thus preventing low mood and mood swings. Eat an apple a day to quite literally keep the doctor away. It’s fine as a snack on its own, but you might want to get more inventive and use it to top your porridge or mix into bircher muesli for your breakfast.

10. Eggs

Eggs have been long-loved by health experts and nutritionists for being one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. They’re packed with essential vitamins and minerals, protein, and healthy fats, and even a number of compounds that have been shown to improve the health and function of your brain cells. 

Eggs are often recommended as a part of a mental health boosting diet

They’re often recommended as a part of a mental health boosting diet, but watch how you cook them. Avoid frying them in unhealthy oils and focus instead on boiling or poaching them to retain their nutrients.

11. Green tea

Alcohol has been found in studies to increase your risk of developing anxiety or depression

Green tea might not be your afternoon beverage of choice, but it’s certainly worth adding to your diet if you’re looking to improve your mental health. Packed to bursting with powerful antioxidants, green tea has been found in numerous studies to enhance nearly every aspect of human health. 

The exhaustive list of green tea’s benefits includes improving cardiovascular health, preventing metabolic diseases, and even helping to manage body weight. It’s hardly surprising that green tea has also been shown to improve mental health, prevent age-related declines in cognition, and decrease the risk of depression and anxiety. 

Try to drink one mug of green tea every morning for the best results.

12. Fermented foods

Fermented food like kimchi can improve your overall mental health

Never heard of kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir before? It’s time to give this unique group of foods your attention. Kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir have all undergone a process of fermentation that fills them with healthy probiotics. 

These get to work in your gut, where they can improve the health of your gut and your microbiota, which in turn can improve your overall mental health. You can add any of these foods to your morning scrambled eggs, or top them on grilled cheese, stir them into fried rice or stir-fries, or put them on your pizza for something different.

What not to eat

Just as there is a substantial bunch of foods you can benefit from eating for mental health, you’ll want to avoid a fair few of them too. Drinks containing a high amount of processed sugar, like fruit juices and fizzy sodas, have been shown to increase inflammation and may harm the health of your microbiota. As a result, diets high in sugary beverages can contribute to significant reductions in your mental health.

You should try to stay away from cooking your meals in vegetable oils, which are cheap to make but highly processed and full of omega 6 fatty acids. Overconsuming these omega 6 fatty acids can often lead to an increase in inflammation, which in turn causes a decline in mental health. Some studies have even linked a high intake of vegetable oils to an increase in suicide risk.

Also worth avoiding are processed meats, which have a negative effect on the body and brain, refined carbohydrates, which contain no nutritional ingredients and increase inflammation, and alcohol, which has been found in studies to increase your risk of developing anxiety or depression.

Alcohol has been found in studies to increase your risk of developing anxiety or depression


There’s still so little we know about mental health and avoiding mental illness, but we do know that there’s a direct link between the foods we eat and the way our minds operate. Following a healthy diet, paired with leading an active lifestyle and making time for rest and regeneration, is the simplest way to stay mentally healthy throughout your life.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, aside from making the appropriate changes to your diet, it’s important that you reach out for help. Whether that means talking to a trusted friend about your feelings, or visiting a doctor to discuss your symptoms in privacy, there are always ways to lessen the burden and seek support. 

Remember, mental illness is something that affects almost all of us, and you’ll only put yourself at risk if you choose to suffer in silence.

About the author

Rachel Perono

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