Importance of diet & nutrition on mental health

A poor diet can aggravate mental health. Eating dark green leafy vegetables
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Table of Contents

Why are mental health concerns rising?

From the past ten years, a great increase in cases of mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, impaired sleep cycle, and brain functioning, has been viewed. People with serious mental health disorders are more prone to physical illnesses such as heart diseases, diabetes, respiratory diseases (1). Some studies show that people with mental and physical health abnormalities are at risk of mortality, 15 years earlier than their actual life span. The patients should be well aware of self-management skills to enhance their health by following healthy food choices, exercise, proper sleep patterns, and smoking cessation (2). The modern world has been shifted from traditional healthy food patterns to “westernize” unhealthy food choices, which include processed fast foods, refined carbohydrates. Lack of various nutrients is responsible for impaired cognitive functioning (3). Various observational studies show a relation between a healthy diet and improved mental health status.

Contemporary world psychiatric disorders: The mixture of impaired thinking, feelings, attitude, and intrapersonal relations are considered as mental disorders, by WHO, 2019. ‘The stress, environmental pollution, genetics, diet, infections are the risk factors of mental illnesses. Worldwide 11-18% of people are suffering from mental illnesses, according to WHO estimations. In today’s contemporary world, malnutrition, inactive lifestyle, long term indoor activities, lack of sleep, and self-isolation affects normal body functions and elevate depression (5).

How does food affect our mood?

Diet & nutrition affect on our mood

Food consists of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Lack of any nutrient can cause physical and mental health issues. The ingestion of food secretes natural opioids in the brain as an indicator of the feeling of fullness and happiness. The brain chemical serotonin is made up of amino acid tryptophan in the presence of an enzyme as 5-hydroxytryptophan. It improves sleep and reduces depression and anxiety (5). When you feel full after eating your meal, then it means you have eaten a well-balanced meal, but if u still crave more food, then it prevails that your meal was nutritionally incomplete. Nutritionally complete meals comprise of all the nutrients like complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, and seafood (6).

Diet & nutrition in mental disorder treatment

Role of Macronutrients & Micronutrients in the treatment of mental disorder: 

– Carbohydrates: carbohydrate-containing foods enhances mood and behavior whereas it also increases brain chemical secretions and provides more energy to the brain for proper functioning. Refined carbohydrates (bakery items, sweets, white bread) provides instant but short interval effects on mood, whereas complex carbohydrates (whole grains, pasta, oats) and fresh fruits and vegetables give moderate but long-lasting effects on brain functioning and mood (5).

Protein: it includes meat, fish, eggs, soy protein (6). Protein contains amino acids that enhance mental health and brain functioning, but the increasing amount of protein intake elevates dopamine and serotonin levels, which may cause brain injury and deteriorate mental health (6). An adequate amount of protein should be added to the daily diet for the proper formation of amino-acids.

Fats: The brain is surrounded by a lipid membrane. The brain’s grey matter is composed of fatty acids (polyunsaturated fatty acids 17% & 33% omega 3 fatty acids). Polyunsaturated fatty acids (DHA & EPA) reduces inflammation and depression. DHA and omega 6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids and must be taken through food. A 1.5 to a 2-gram dose of EPA/day has been found to decrease depression. Modernized diets contain decreased levels of n-3. The fish is a source of DHA, and the plant oils, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids (4), (5).

– MICRONUTRIENTS: The insufficient folate levels show signs of depression. Depressive people have 25% lower plasma folate levels than normal people. The brain chemicals utilize vitamin B6 and B12 in their formation. Supplementary B12 elevates brain functioning.

Shows the effect of nutrients deficiency and
respective food sources (4)


Deficiency symptoms

Food items

Vitamin B1

Lack of

grains, vegetables

Vitamin B3



Vitamin B5

Poor memory,


Vitamin B6

poor memory, stress


Vitamin B12

poor memory, psychosis

Meat, fish,
dairy products, eggs

Vitamin C


fresh fruits

Folic acid

depression, psychosis

Green leafy


insomnia, depression

vegetables, nuts, seeds



germs, liver, fish, garlic, sunflower seeds, whole grains


blank mind, depression

nuts, seeds


Healthy food choices and a diet containing all nutrients can help fight depression, anxiety, mood swings. Physical activity also prevents mental stress. A healthy lifestyle and proper routine of meals and sleep are essential to maintain your physical and mental health.