The Link Between Diet and Mental Health

Most people are familiar with the saying “You are what you eat,” meaning the foods you put into your body make up the energy and nutrients that determine how your body will function. When it comes to mental health, studies show that the nutrients you give your brain are just as important.


Diet is linked to mental health in a major way. A systematic review published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information revealed multiple studies confirming a reciprocal link between depression and obesity. Obesity was found to increase the risk of depression, and depression was found to be predictive of developing obesity. While these things can certainly develop independent of one another, it is important to recognize their connection and work proactively to prevent any avoidable illnesses. It is also important to note that a poor diet alone – not always accompanied by obesity – can also have detrimental effects on your mental health.


What can you do to ensure you are giving your brain the diet it needs to stay healthy? We compiled a list of DOs and DON’Ts to help you establish wholesome eating habits for both your body and brain:





  • Eat a nutritious breakfast. Not only does breakfast give your metabolism a kick start, studies have shown a connection between eating breakfast and better memory and concentration.


  • Consume more vegetables, fruits and legumes. A recent study showed a Mediterranean-style diet led to a decrease in depression for participants. Those with diets containing high levels of saturated fats and carbohydrates – not seen in the Mediterranean diet – have poorer mental health, especially in children and adolescents.


  • Ensure you are getting enough Vitamin D + take Vitamin D supplements in the fall/winter. Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium, promote bone growth, and regulate the immune system. Rates of depression are higher in those with Vitamin D deficiencies, which can be caused by lack of sunlight exposure, not consuming the recommended levels of the vitamin over time, and having dark skin.





  • Eat excessive amounts of junk food, sugar or processed meats. This can increase the occurrence of depressive symptoms. An analysis of over 40 studies found that a poor diet made up of high fat and sugar levels has a likely causal connection with the onset of depression and is not merely an association.


  • Drink excessive amounts of highly-caffeinated drinks. Caffeine is known to trigger panic attacks in people with anxiety disorders. It is important to educate yourself on what you are putting into your body and how it might respond.


  • Place the focus of your diet on meats and dairy products. People who do this are 30% more likely to develop depression. Following the Mediterranean-style diet, as mentioned above, will lead to a decrease in depressive symptoms through the consumption of mainly vegetables, fruits and legumes.


Havenwood provides a comfortable outpatient facility for adults who need mental health counseling. With a registered dietician, chef and fully staffed kitchen, Havenwood provides an environment conducive to emotional healing and problem solving. If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental health disorder, contact a treatment facility for help. To learn more about the breadth of services offered at Havenwood Behavioral Health, visit call us at (864) 660-6217. With proper treatment and support, you can overcome mental illness.