Call now – 1300 947 477

inspire health and medical

Psychology, Counselling & Osteopathy

Mental Health Blog

Why does diet affect mental health?

I wonder if you’ve noticed how you feel after you’ve eaten a big meal, been drinking alcohol, or have eaten a lot of “unhealthy” foods? Maybe you felt flat, lethargic or unmotivated? Instead, have you noticed how you feel when you’ve drank lots of water, eaten a wide variety of healthy foods, or paid attention to when you were full and stopped eating? Maybe you’ve felt energetic, calm and focussed?

Research shows that what we put into our bodies (food and drink) can affect the way we think, feel and behave (Bremner et al, 2020). The exact science of it is kind of complicated but basically a poor diet acts as an environmental stressor to our bodies, and negatively affects our immune system and the microorganisms in our gut (Adan et al, 2019). Similarly, when we don’t give our bodies enough vitamins and nutrients, we end up with shortages of these in the body – and many of these vitamins and nutrients are required to support healthy brain function (Adan et al, 2019). It’s also been shown that certain brain structures heavily involved in regulating emotions (like the hippocampus which is responsible for learning and memory) are particularly vulnerable to the effects of a poor diet (Melo, Santos & Ferreira, 2019). 

Often referred to as the gut-brain connection, the relationship between our stomachs and emotional wellbeing is clear – when we eat poorly we feel pretty blah, and when we eat a range of good foods we feel healthier. This connection also works in the opposite direction – that is, when we are feeling stressed, anxious or have low moods, we are more likely to eat comfort foods with lots of salt, sugar and fats (Bremner et al, 2020). Although this is supposed to make us feel ‘better’, it tends to have the opposite effect, and we end up craving more and more. But you’ve probably realised that when your diet is poor, you generally don’t feel so good either – that’s why it is important to consider diet and nutrition in the overall picture of your mental health.

Seeing as there appears to be a strong link between a poor diet and the worsening of mental health problems (Adan et al, 2019), it’s more important than ever to look at how what we eat affects our mental health. While it can be hard to acknowledge, we bet that you can see the connection we’re talking about in your own lives – that is, when you eat poorly, you feel poorly and vice versa. Unfortunately, the Western diet, full of processed foods and refined sugars, and with larger portion sizes in general, appears to be contributing to the higher rates of mental illnesses in society (Melo, Santos & Ferreira, 2019). And when things get more stressful (just like in a global pandemic), we tend to reach for the comfort foods to give us a sense of control over something, which in turn makes us more vulnerable to ongoing mental health problems.

Fortunately, more and more, mental health disorders are being viewed holistically or as ‘whole body’ disorders – that is, each part of the body is intimately connected and affects other parts. This means that the treatment of mental health problems needs to consider all factors (physical, social, environmental and mental) rather than just presenting symptoms. In particular, looking more closely at the types (and amounts) of different foods you put into your body could be really helpful for your emotional health. Although the research into this is really just beginning, in general the more fruits, vegetables and grains you eat, the better off you’ll be – and if you’re really interested in improving your diet, it might be helpful to focus on your protein, iron, iodine and vitamins, A, D and B12 intake (Adan et al, 2019).

We acknowledge that change can be really difficult, especially when it pushes us outside of our comfort zones. And we are certainly not here to push you into changing – rather we want to give you as much information as we can so that you can make the informed and purposeful decision to do something that will improve your overall health and wellbeing.



Adan, R. A., van der Beek, E. M., Buitelaar, J. K., Cryan, J. F., Hebebrand, J., Higgs, S., … & Dickson, S. L. (2019). Nutritional psychiatry: Towards improving mental health by what you eat. European Neuropsychopharmacology29(12), 1321-1332.

Bremner, J. D., Moazzami, K., Wittbrodt, M. T., Nye, J. A., Lima, B. B., Gillespie, C. F., … & Vaccarino, V. (2020). Diet, stress and mental health. Nutrients12(8), 2428. 

Melo, H. M., Santos, L. E., & Ferreira, S. T. (2019). Diet-derived fatty acids, brain inflammation, and mental health. Frontiers in neuroscience13, 265.

Share this post:

subscribe to the blog

Receive email updates and the link to our weekly blog post so you never miss out!