Researchers have for many years understood the physical benefits bestowed by a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Now, the impact diet has on mental health is coming into focus with an increasing amount of research linking the two.

The foods you eat feed the body as well as the brain, with healthy foods reducing the risk for depression and other mood disorders.

This way of thinking represents a marked departure for modern day doctors, with scientists previously reluctant to connect the mind and body in such a powerful way.

However, researchers can no longer ignore the data, although they’re still working to understand just how food affects mood. For example, a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found people who frequently ate processed foods suffered from higher rates of mental illness, including depression and anxiety. 

Spanish scientists found eating fast food increases the risk of developing depression by 51%.

Part of the reason could lie in the stomach — what some scientists call the “second brain”. Key mood neurotransmitters including serotonin are found in the intestines as well as the brain. And, early in life, stomach bacteria heavily influence serotonin levels in the brain, found researchers at Ireland’s University College Cork.

If you’d like to improve your diet to lift your mood, try focusing on unprocessed foods. Filling your plate with whole grains, leafy greens, lean meats, or fish could unlock a host of mental health benefits.

While most whole foods support mental health, some offer particularly potent mood-improving benefits.

Spinach

This leafy green is rich in folate, a nutrient that supports human growth and development. People who are depressed frequently exhibit folate deficiencies. Eating spinach and other leafy greens helps ensure healthy levels of this important nutrient.

Fish

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, tuna, and other fatty fish have been shown to protect mental health. Research published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found eating a diet rich in omega-3s staved off psychosis in high-risk individuals. French researchers also found fish oil supplements benefited patients experiencing major depression.

Olive oil

Cooking with olive oil does more than reduce the risk of heart disease. It also protects against depression, Spanish researchers found.

Have you experienced a connection between healthy food and happiness? 

Image by NatalieMaynor via Flickr

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