Diet May Have a Distinct Impact on Mental Health


Sienna Harris, Staff Writer

The Harvard Medical School referenced the analogy of our brains being expensive cars that “function best when [they] get only premium fuel.” With the pandemic and other at-home struggles, mental health has noticeably declined in teens and adults. For some, talking to a trusted friend or a therapist tends to help, but others may be in search of additional assistance. And if you’re somewhere in or between these two margins, altering your diet may have a significant benefit on the way you typically feel. 

Your body, like any gas-powered automobile, requires fuel. It will function at its best only when it is nourished with high-quality foods, specifically, ones that contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. People who consume excessive amounts of sugar lack these ingredients and could be negatively affected. Dr. Eva Selhub in Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food, includes that diets with high-sugar intakes can not only have a negative effect on the body’s regulation of insulin but can also promote inflammation and oxidative stress.” Multiple studies have linked diets high in refined sugar to weakened brain function and “worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.”

Though sugar could be impairing the way the brain functions, it’s not the only crucial ingredient in a typical diet to be aware of. Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, regulate sleep, mood, appetite, and more. Approximately 95% of serotonin is produced in the digestive system of the human body. Production is highly influenced by the good bacteria in our guts. This same bacteria prevents harmful substances from entering the bloodstream, reduces inflammation, correlates to how well your body absorbs nutrients, and activates neural pathways linked directly to the brain. It’s no wonder that if your food isn’t fueling you in your gut, it won’t in your brain either! 

The best “fuel” to incorporate into your diet to assist your brain in remaining lively entails lots of produce, nuts, seeds, and foods rich in omega-3. The Western diet that consists of a plethora of processed and sugary food, has been linked to higher risks of depression and anxiety. On the other hand, diets such as the Mediterranean, are loaded with whole-grains and produce to power your everyday needs. According to Sutter Health, Dr. Barish-Wreden believes that possessing a healthy diet “can be more effective for treating depression than prescription medications.” 

Mental health is like a ladder. Each tier is a step closer to a better place so whether that means your diet personally affects you or not, there is always another method in-store to try. Eating a more nutritional diet on a daily basis doesn’t mean you must eliminate all sweets and delicacies. Desserts and snacks are totally okay to have in moderation as long as the benefits outweigh the harm. Whether altering your diet in a healthy manner improves how you feel or not, you’ll still receive countless benefits from doing so.