Exploring the Diet-Mental Health Connection

Your brain requires daily fuel from the foods you eat to function optimally and keeping a diet rich in proteins, vegetables and fruit will ensure optimal functioning and overall happiness in both mind and body.

Opt for a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and lean meats; while limiting foods high in sugar, salt, and fat.


Neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HTP) acts as an important messenger between nerve cells in our gut and brain, helping regulate our mood, appetite, and sleeping patterns. Studies have linked lower levels of serotonin with depression; however, certain foods can stimulate its production for increased happiness.

Sugary drinks and processed carbohydrates may spike blood glucose, leading to a gradual drop in serotonin. Instead, switch up your diet by choosing whole grains, leafy greens, protein, healthy fats from nuts/seeds/yogurt/kefir etc as sources for serotonin enhancement; other mood-boosting foods may include berries/dark chocolate/fermented foods containing probiotics which support gut microbiome health; this food will boost mood while simultaneously decreasing risk of anxiety/depression or other mental health conditions*


Tryptophan is an amino acid which contributes to the production of serotonin, the “happy chemical”, which has long been linked with happiness and well-being. Furthermore, tryptophan plays a key role in producing coenzymes nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and nicotinamide adenine diphosphate (NADP), both essential components in metabolic reactions.

Tryptophan can be found naturally in both plant and animal foods, including turkey. Other sources include milk, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit.

Studies have demonstrated the influence of dietary tryptophan intake on serotonin and melatonin levels; however, results of such research have been inconclusive due to methodological flaws, such as inadequate dosing controls or the failure to include adequate controls (e.g. hepatitis C patients with chronic liver disease who inhibit tryptophan breakdown). A recent Zung’s Self-Rating Anxiety Scale analysis demonstrated that those consuming higher levels of tryptophan reported lower anxiety scores than those with lower intake levels of tryptophan.


An active gut microbiome has been linked to improved mood. Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fatty fish have been proven to reduce depression while increasing serotonin levels; probiotics and prebiotics may also help balance out your gut flora.

Studies suggest that probiotics may alter the microbiota-gut-brain axis by producing metabolites which support healthy bacteria or inhibit unhealthy ones, producing neurotransmitters like dopamine and GABA; they also convert tryptophan into serotonin for production of serotonin; as well as reduce stress.

However, probiotics may not be appropriate for everyone, particularly those with compromised immunity. “Importantly,” according to Cresci, taking live microorganisms should only be done so with proper supervision by a doctor; taking too many probiotics may result in gas, bloating, and diarrhea; nonetheless they’re an effective natural way of improving mood; moreover researchers are researching “psychobiotics,” which have been found to increase BDNF production while simultaneously decreasing symptoms associated with depression. For now dietitians can support clients by suggesting diets containing lactobacillus strains while monitoring their patients for changes in mood.

Essential Fatty Acids

Diet can have a significant effect on both physical and mental wellbeing. Studies show that increasing consumption of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, fish and legumes may help alleviate depression while altering it can lower inflammation levels and enhance cognition.

Polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 are crucial for brain health and can be found in fish oil supplements, nuts, seeds, and plant oils. Two specific polyunsaturated fatty acids known as linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids should also be consumed regularly as the body cannot produce these vital fatty acids on its own.

These healthy fats can be found in food such as walnuts, flax seeds and dark green vegetables; or taken as supplements depending on your individual needs. Consuming sufficient healthy fats may help alleviate inflammation caused by conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, improve cognitive functioning and decrease depression symptoms.

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