10 Foods that Boost Your Mental Health

plate of food passed to someone at table

Everyone knows the foods we eat affect our physical health, but did you know they can also affect your mental health? For years, the medical field did not acknowledge the connection between mood and food. Diets high in processed foods and sugar have been linked to anxiety and depression, whereas diets high in whole foods—like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—are reported to lessen feelings of depression. Simply stated, foods that are good for your body are also good for your mind! Here are 10 foods that can boost your mental health:

  1. Salmon. This fish contains a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to reducing depression and boosting learning and memory.
  2. Healthy fats. This includes olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado. These healthy fats help support brain function, memory, and concentration.
  3. Chicken and turkey. These lean proteins contain tryptophan—an amino acid that helps your body produce serotonin. This helps your brain fight depression and maintain a strong memory.
  4. Whole grains. Whole grains are complex carbohydrates, which mean they provide us with energy and vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Many foods fall into this category, such as brown rice, popcorn, oats, and beans. Whole grains promote blood flow to the brain and can help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
  5. Berries. Dark berries such as blackberries, blueberries, and cherries contain anthocyanins that help boost memory function. Animal studies have shown that blueberries significantly improve learning and motor skills.
  6. Nuts. A great source of omega-3 fatty acids, nuts can help fight depression. Almonds, for example, contain phenylalanine which is known to help the brain produce dopamine. This is a neurotransmitter that boosts mood, learning, and memory.
  7. Spinach. Leafy greens like spinach support a healthy immune system and contain folic acid, which has been shown to fight symptoms of depression and insomnia. Aim to eat at least six servings of leafy greens per week.
  8. Dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains powerful antioxidants and natural stimulants like caffeine that help enhance focus, concentration, and boost mood. You won’t find these benefits in milk chocolate—dark chocolate with 85% cocoa or more is the most beneficial. Regardless, chocolate should be eaten in moderation. About half an ounce to an ounce per day is all you need.
  9. Probiotics. This includes yogurt, kefir, tempeh, and pickled vegetables. These foods have friendly bacteria like the ones that occur naturally in our digestive tracts. Probiotics can help reduce anxiety and stress.
  10. Coffee. Caffeine, the main stimulant in coffee, blocks adenosine, a central nervous system depressant. Drinking up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe for most adults. Coffee without added sugars increases attention, alertness, and boosts your mood. Drink it in moderation—too much caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety.

Avoid processed meats, fried food, refined cereals, candy, pastries, and high-fat dairy products. These foods make you more likely to feel anxious or depressed. Don’t eat foods that are high in trans fats like potato chips and pizza, as they are linked to decreasing serotonin levels. Ditch sugar-sweetened drinks (like soda) which have a direct link to depression.

In many cases, you are what you eat! Choose a diet that helps you feel good both physically and mentally.

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