Eating: How Eating the Right Foods Can Improve Your Mental Health


We’ve all heard the expression, “You are what you eat” and at some age, most of us feel this when we eat bad foods because they make us feel bad.  Caffeinated soda makes you jittery, cheese can cause constipation, and a sugary dessert now will make you need a nap later.    

But what about the effect that unhealthy foods have on mental health?  Can the foods we eat improve or worsen our mental health?

Gut Health

Your gut is filled with good bacteria that are constantly fighting against bad bacteria.  The bad bacteria in the gut loves to feed on sugar and a diet high in sugar and processed foods increases inflammation in your system.  Inflammation is normally the immune system’s response to illness or injury but when it is from a poor diet, it can become a chronic problem that can cause body pains, gastrointestinal problems, fatigue, insomnia, depression, and anxiety.  

The good bacteria in your gut influence the production of neurotransmitters in your brain.  Neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are mood regulators and when they’re not working properly, messages don’t get through and we feel depressed.


Brain Health

Your brain continues to develop throughout your life and is needs the right nutrients to do so.  Without them, your brain can actually age faster than it should.  Antioxidants help fight the aging process in your brain.  Processed foods and those that are high in sugar can slow your thinking and cause your brain to age.  They tend to be stripped of most nutrients and are full of food additives like food colorings and preservatives that have been shown to make depression and hyperactivity worse.  

Lacking Nutrients

Our bodies are a puzzle and when pieces are missing, we don’t have the parts to make the big picture, a healthy body that functions properly.  When we lack basic nutrients, we experience serious problems.  

  • Lack of folate (dark leafy greens) is linked to depression.  
  • Low iron levels can lead to anemia which is linked to depression.
  • Lack of B-12 leads to fatigue, lethargy, depression, poor memory, mania, psychosis.
  • Not enough niacin leads to dementia and diarrhea.
  • Deficiency of magnesium affects the bacteria in your gut and can lead to anxiety and depression.  
  • Low levels of zinc can trigger depression.  

Good Nutrients and Where to Find Them

Taking a multivitamin can be helpful but often they don’t have the recommended quantities or aren’t absorbed as well as when you get them from the source.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are antioxidants and are found in fish like salmon and chia seeds.  They improve mood and memory.  
  • Dark chocolate, blueberries, strawberries, pecans, and artichokes have antioxidants that are good for mood, focus, and concentration.  
  • Fiber allows your body to absorb glucose better which can help you avoid the mood crashes you get when you eat sugar.
  • Folate is a B Vitamine that helps with dopamine production.  It’s found in leafy greens, lentils, and cantaloupes.
  • Vitamin D helps with serotonin production.  We get it from exposure to the sun but it can also be found in some mushrooms.
  • Fermented foods are rich in probiotics which are important for a healthy gut.  These include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and kombucha.
  • Polyphenols can prevent depression or improve its symptoms and are found in coffee, tea, citrus, nuts, soy, grapes, legumes, and various spices.  
  • Zinc helps us manage stress.  For zinc eat beans, chickpeas, beef, oysters, pork, oats, cheese, crab, milk, lobster, cashews, chicken, and yogurt.
  • Magnesium can be found in dark chocolate, cacao, almonds, cashews, spinach, bananas, and beans.   

Switching to a healthy diet all at once and giving sweets and processed foods cold turkey can be difficult.  If you start with a few changes at first and replace a few bad foods with good ones each week, you increase your chances of sticking with it and making your diet a healthy one for the long haul.  

While a healthy diet alone may not be a cure for your depression, you will see improvements in your overall health and moods when you eat more of the whole foods your body was designed to eat instead of foods that were designed to be food.  

If you suffer from depression and can’t find relief from symptoms using antidepressants, Gateway TMS may be able to help.  We offer Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in a calming, comfortable atmosphere.  To find out more about the treatment, please visit our website or call us at (314)909-8487 and see if TMS is right for you.