How Food We Eat Affects Our Mental Health

One of the major health impairments today is linked to the people’s reliance on the processed foods. These foods are very high in sugars and refined flours that train the brain to crave them more, than the nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables.

A majority of the processed foods people eat are highly addictive in nature and tend to stimulate the dopamine center in the brain. These centers are associated with reward and pleasure.

It is important to improve your food habits and understand how the food we eat affects our health.

Mental stress and depression

Processed foods and sugar are known to cause inflammation in the healthy tissues of the body, especially the brain, and thus, contribute to mood disorders, like stress, anxiety, and depression.

When a person is feeling stressed or depressed, he or she is likely to reach out to the processed or high-carb foods for a quick sense of ‘high’.

Similarly, during challenging or difficult phases of life, most people prefer to have just a cup of coffee for breakfast while replacing fresh fruits and vegetables with high-fat, and high-calorie junk foods. When feeling stressed, they are likely to eat just a pint of ice cream for dinner or even skip their dinner altogether.

This suggests that people tend to eat too little or too much when they are depressed, anxious, or stressed.

Eating too much can lead to weight gain and sluggishness. Eating too little, on the other hand, could lead to exhaustion making this habit hard to break. In both these cases, a poor diet during the phases of stress and depression could only make your decisions related to health worse trapping you in a vicious cycle.

A healthy gut flora                                        

There exists a strong connection between the intestines and the brain. The gut and brain are linked physically via the Vagus nerve, which carried the signals between these organs.


The gut has the ability to influence the emotional behaviors regulated by the brain, while the brain can alter the types of bacteria residing in the gut thus modifying the gut flora.

Gut bacteria can produce a wide range of neurochemicals that are used by the brain for regulating physiological and emotional processes, such as mood. It is believed that nearly 95%of the production of the mood stabilizer hormone called serotonin is regulated by gut bacteria. This marks the importance of consuming foods that can enrich the gut flora such as probiotics like yogurt in order to improve the serotonin levels and enhance moods.

You can attend our respiratory webinars 2022 to get a deeper understanding of the link between gut flora and mental health and how the gut-brain axis works for maintaining hormonal balance.

Brain food

The brain and nervous system are dependent on nutrition to form new cells, proteins, and tissues. The body requires a variety of carbohydrates, vitamins,  minerals, and proteins In order to function effectively. Hence, it is advisable to consume meals and snacks that provide a variety of nutrients, instead of eating the same foods each day, so that your body gets all the nutrients needed to improve mental health and functioning.

A healthy mental diet comprises three major categories of foods including:

  • Complex carbohydrates like starchy vegetables and brown rice that can give energy to the body. Millet, beets, Quinoa, and sweet potatoes also have a high nutritional value and can keep you satisfied for longer than simple carbohydrates present in candies.
  • Lean proteins lend energy, which can allow the body to think and react faster. The best sources of proteins include meat, fish, chicken, eggs, soybeans, seeds, and nuts.
  • Fatty acids are critical for the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system. These nutrients are present in fish, eggs, meat, nuts, and flaxseeds.

Healthcare professionals can attend our webinars to learn more about the impact of these foods on mental health and receiveRespiratory Care CEU Credits.

Healthy eating habits

Here are some healthy eating habits that can create a positive impact on the mental health of people.

  • Avoid processed foods, like potato chips, as these could impair your ability to focus and concentrate for longer. Also, avoid sugar-filled snacks, like candies and soft drinks, that could lead to frequent ups and downs in your energy levels.
  • Consume healthy fats, like olive oil, avocado, and coconut oil, to support the brain functions.
  • Have healthy snacks such as fruits, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, or baked sweet potatoes when hungry. This can give more energy to the body than the packaged products.
  • Think about when and where you eat. Avoid eating in front of the television, as this could be distracting causing you to overeat. Find a quiet place to sit and relax so that you can really notice what you are eating. Chew slowly and savor the flavors, texture, and taste of the foods.

Foods that improve mental health

Whole foods

Preservatives, food coloring agents, and other additives could worsen hyperactivity and trigger depression. Hence, it is important to eat whole food such as fresh fruits and vegetables that are minimally processed and have healthy ingredients.


Plant-based foods are rich in fiber that can help the body absorb glucose more slowly and help you avoid fluctuations in the blood sugar levels.


These are inflammation-fighters that are especially plentiful in leafy green vegetables, berries, turmeric, and foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids, like chia seeds.


Being mindful of the foods you eat can be an effective way for ensuring you consume nutritious foods and are able to combat cravings. Appreciating the smell and texture of food, and taking note of how the healthy and nutritious meals and snacks make you feel later can allow you to notice the difference between healthy food and junk food.

Our Respiratory Therapy Continuing Education CEUs are focused on providing information about the impact of foods on mental health and the most effective eating habits to enhance emotional wellness.