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nutrition and mental health

nutrition and mental health

maintaining a balanced diet doesn't benefit only your physical health; it can also positively impact your mental wellbeing

You’ve probably heard the old saying, ‘you are what you eat’. And guess what? There’s more truth to it than you might think! Whilst we often hear about the impact of diet on physical health—like how being overweight can lead to serious conditions like heart disease and cancer—what’s less talked about is how what you eat affects your mental wellbeing.

It might not be as obvious as a number on the scales, but your diet can impact your mental wellbeing. Studies have found that eating foods high in saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and processed goodies can negatively affect our mood, especially for kids and teens.

In Scotland, 2 out of 3 adults are classified as being overweight or obese. It’s more important than ever to understand the connection between what’s on our plates and in our minds. So, next time you’re reaching for a snack, remember that you’re not just feeding your body, you’re feeding your mind as well.

myths about nutrition and mental health

supplements can replace a balanced diet

While certain supplements may have their benefits for those with unique health conditions, relying only on them can overlook the importance of a balanced diet rich in whole foods.

low-fat diets are best for our health

Fat is often thought of as something bad, but it’s actually important for our brain health and mental function. The good fats found in foods like nuts, seeds and fish can help keep our brains healthy and working well. Without those, our brains might not get all the nutrients they need, which could cause mood swings.

skipping meals improves mental focus and productivity

Skipping meals can cause low blood sugar, decreased brain function and eating disorders. Regular meals provide the energy and nutrients for mental performance, while skipping meals can disrupt metabolism and contribute to burnout.

How does my diet affect my mental health?

Your diet has a big impact on how you feel, both mentally and about your body. Eating the right foods can make you feel happier and more confident, whilst unhealthy eating habits can affect your mood and how you see yourself. Let’s look at how your diet can affect your mental health and body image.

Nutrient quality

Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats is good for your brain and your mood. These foods give your brain the fuel it needs to work well and help you feel more positive.

Gut-brain connection

There’s a link between your gut and your brain. Eating foods that are good for your gut, like yoghurt and fibre-rich foods, can help you feel better mentally. It might even boost your mood.

Blood sugar control

When your blood sugar levels go up and down because of eating too many sugary or processed foods, it can make you feel grumpy and tired. Eating balanced meals with whole foods helps keep your blood sugar steady, which is better for your mood and energy levels.

Inflammatory foods

Some foods, like sugary treats and processed snacks, can cause inflammation in your body. This inflammation might make mental health conditions like depression and anxiety feel worse. Eating anti-inflammatory foods like fish, nuts, and colourful fruits and veggies can help you feel better.

What makes a ‘balanced diet’?

A balanced diet means eating a mix of different foods that give your body all the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. It’s important to know that a balanced diet for you will look completely different from somebody else’s.

Regardless, having a balanced diet not only helps your body work well but also affects how you feel mentally and about your body. In general, here’s what you need to know:

  • Fruit and veg: The NHS suggest having 5 portions of fruits and vegetables every day. They’re full of vitamins and minerals that help keep your brain and body healthy. If you’re unsure where to begin, consider starting with blueberries. They’re known for their potential benefits for memory and mood regulation.
  • Whole grains: Foods like brown rice, wholemeal bread, and oats give you energy and keep you feeling full. They’re also good for your digestion.
  • Lean proteins: Foods like chicken, fish, beans and lentils help your body build muscles and keep your brain chemicals balanced. This can help you feel more positive and focused. Remember that ‘protein’ does not necessarily mean just meat.
  • Healthy fats: Your brain needs fats to work well, so don’t be afraid to enjoy foods like nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish. Lack of omega-3s in your diet is proved to lead to development or worsening of various mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Eating healthy fats can help in maintaining good mental health.
  • Dairy or alternatives: Milk, cheese and yoghurt are packed with calcium and vitamin D, which are important for strong bones and teeth. If you’re not a fan of dairy (or are intolerant to it), try fortified plant-based alternatives like almond milk or soy milk.

A balanced diet isn’t about being perfect or cutting out all your favourite foods. It’s about enjoying a variety of foods in moderation and listening to your body. By eating well, you can feel happier, more confident and take better care of your mental health.

You might also want to consider talking to a dietician and health specialist about what diet works best for you. You can reach out to your local GP to find out more.

support

Our Advice and Support Service is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm, where advisers can signpost you to local support that most fits your needs, including our Change Mental Health services. We offer initial advice on money worries and help to deal with emergencies. 

Contact 0808 8010 515, email us at advice@changemh.org or fill out the enquiry form on the Advice and Support Service page. 

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