What Foods Can Help Improve Mental Health?

Although it is common to hear that you should eat certain foods to reduce your risk of stroke, diabetes, heart attacks, some cancers, and obesity. However, are there foods that you should be eating that can improve your mental health? Believe it or not, there are a few simple nutritional and dietary changes that you can make to reduce depression, anxiety and improve your cognitive function.

There is currently a lot of hype regarding the importance of ‘brain exercises‘ and ‘mental boot camps’. While there is some evidence to indicate these types of exercises can improve mental acuity, these exercises are not the only things that can make an impact on brain function.

When the majority of people consider increasing their brainpower, they do not think about food. Instead, they think that they have to learn something, read a book, take nootropic supplements or engage in debates that make them think. The truth is, one of the most effective and easiest ways to improve your mental health is through the foods you consume.

Just like your brain, your digestive system has a nervous system of its own. It uses the vagus nerve to send information to the brain. This is one of the reasons why a person may feel queasy when they are upset or stressed. The brain impacts the digestive system and vice versa. Brain friendly foods and super foods can increase short-term memory, increase alertness and improve problem-solving skills.

Fortunately, there are some foods that you can begin including in your diet today to help improve and boost your mental health.

food for mental health

Whole Grains

Glucose is the primary energy source for the brain. Glucose is derived from carbohydrates. When you eat simple carbohydrates, low mood levels are exacerbated because the blood sugar spikes are similar to the same effects drug abuse have on the brain.

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates release glucose into the bloodstream more slowly. As a result, a person feels fuller longer and the body receives a steady source of fuel that the body and brain can use.

Healthy sources of whole grains include:

  • Bulgar
  • Oats
  • Beans
  • Barley
  • Soy
  • Wild rice

Fatty/Oily Fish

The SAD (Standard American Diet) is highly deficient in essential fatty acids like omega-3. The diet is low in DHA and EPA (docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic), while very high in saturated fats and trans fats. The brain is mostly composed of fat, and the body does not naturally produce essential fatty acids. This means it is important to eat a diet full of omega-3 so the body’s daily needs are met.

Studies have shown that oily and fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines, and herring are sufficient in omega-3. Flaxseed, walnuts, and seaweed are also high in the nutrient. These foods have been shown to reduce symptoms related to ADHD, depression, schizophrenia and other mental disorders.

The improvement is likely based on the fact the omega-3 helps in the production of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that are responsible for an individual’s mood. Dopamine and Serotonin are examples of neurotransmitters. This essential fatty acid also helps increase memory and learning.

Dark Leafy Greens

Popeye knew the importance of dark leafy greens in the diet. Not only do they help with weight management, but dark leafy greens like spinach, turnips, mustard greens, broccoli, and romaine are also very high in folic acid. Folate deficiencies have been linked to an increase in insomnia, depression, and fatigue.

Selenium is also found in broccoli. It is a trace mineral that is important for the proper functioning of the immune system, thyroid functions, hormonal balances, metabolism, and reproduction. There are some studies that suggest low selenium levels can contribute to fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

One of the best sources of selenium is a Brazilian nut. Other sources are:

  • Chicken
  • Onions
  • Walnuts
  • Seafood

Pumpkin Seeds

These seeds are very high in zinc. Zinc helps to boost memory and increase mental speed. Pumpkin seeds also contain a mineral called niacin. It helps to enhance the GABA activity and reduce LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. As a result, an individual will feel less anxious. Anxiety can affect a person’s sleep cycle and their ability to concentrate.

Pumpkin seeds are also rich in minerals like copper, magnesium, selenium, and iron.


Did you know that something as simple as a glass of water could help improve your brain function? The brain is severely impacted by dehydration, and it can result in poor decision-making skills, low attention span, and memory issues.

Water also helps to flush excess toxins out of the body. When toxins remain in the bloodstream for an extended period of time, a person’s ability to think clearly can be affected. In fact, it is these toxins that can cause the body to shut down if you are extremely dehydrated.

Make sure your body stays well hydrated so your brain and body can perform at optimal levels.

Good nutrition is key to good mental health. However, it is only one piece of the puzzle. Do not be afraid to speak with a mental health professional for treatment.

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