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Young-woman-with-no-appetite,-tired,-bad-mood-and-sleepy,-sitting-in-the-whEating a varied balanced diet and keeping physically active are just some of the factors that can benefit our mental health. Evolving research shows that a good quality diet can be essential in preventing mental health disorders. Key nutrition areas that can help improve our mood include the role of omega-3 fatty acids, the status of our gut health, inclusion of plant-based foods and the Mediterranean diet. (1)


The SMILES Trial (Supporting the Modification of lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States) was the first of its kind to explore the question ‘if I improve my diet, will my mood improve?'. SMILES was a 12-week, randomised controlled trial of a derivative dietary intervention in the treatment of moderate to severe depression.

The dietary intervention included personalised dietary advice and nutritional counselling support, plus motivational interviewing, goal setting and mindful eating from a clinical dietitian. This comprised the ‘ModiMedDiet’, which was based on the Australian dietary guidelines and the dietary guidelines for adults in Greece focusing on 12 key food groups, whilst reducing processed foods, sugary drinks and alcohol.

The results of this trial show that improving one’s diet in relation to current recommendations targeting depression may be a useful and reachable approach for the general population and in clinical settings.(2)


Depression and anxiety are the most prevalent mental health conditions worldwide, making them primary causes of disability.

Research has shown that following healthy dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, is linked with a reduced risk of depression. The Mediterranean diet consists of  a high intake of fruit, vegetables, nuts, wholegrains and legumes; a reasonable consumption of poultry, eggs, and dairy products and the occasional consumption of red meat.

There is also a good amount of evidence to show that the Mediterranean diet promotes mental and brain health.(3)


The connection between long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), brain health, cognitive function and mood, has been the talk of emerging research.(4)

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, found in oily fish, flax seeds, walnuts and oils such as walnut and soya oils, can have the potential to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Omega-3 fatty acids correlate with a host of physiological processes signalled in common mood disorders like the inflammatory response and the regulation of neurotransmitters known as serotonin.(5)

gut healthGUT HEALTH

The gut microbiome interacts with the brain in several ways using neural, inflammatory and hormonal signalling pathways, as well as regulating emotions in the human brain.

Various factors, such as diet, environment and health status, can play a role in forming the gut microbiome. When the gut microbiome is altered due to stress, diet or antibiotics, the make-up of the gut microbiome gets altered resulting in leaky gut syndrome. This can cause inflammation and chemical mediators can impact brain function via the gut-brain axis and can lead to depression and anxiety.(6)

The incorporation of protein slows down the absorption of carbohydrates and increases the release of dopamine, which directly effects mood. Incorporating complex carbohydrates increases serotonin in the brain by aiding the transmission of tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier.

To improve our gut health increasing fibre is beneficial and we should be aiming for 30g of fibre daily through a variety of plant-based foods.


Emerging research shows that a higher risk of health outcomes can be linked with ultra-processed food exposure. This includes a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, common mental disorders, overweight and obesity and type 2 diabetes.(7) 

Ultra-processed foods can also contain less  of the vitamins and minerals we need. For example, not having enough B vitamins, folate, iron, zinc, magnesium and Vitamin D can result in low mood, fatigue and irritability.

Rather than trying to entirely cut out ultra-processed foods, the aim should be to focus on balance in our food intake. This includes reducing processed foods and increasing the consumption of fruit and vegetables with meals and drinking more water instead of sugary drinks, as well as home cooking.(8)


What we eat and drink can impact on our mood.

There is no one size fits all approach to mental health nutrition.

Food choices can be correlated to one’s psychological state, eg, eating comfort foods when mood is low and appetite can become altered in times of stress and pleasure.

Following a food-first approach and seeing a registered diettitian or nutritionist to support health and well-being can help individuals have a good relationship with food and understand how food can impact our energy levels and mood.(9)

Gopi Chandratheva, RNutr
Gopi is a registered nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition (ASfN).
She works in the private sector specialising in weight management and
also works with nationwide food brands creating simple nourishing recipes.
She has worked at the London Obesity Clinic specialising in
weight management and is now freelance.



  1. https://nutrition.bmj.com/content/early/2021/11/02/bmjnph-2021-000301
  2. https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y
  3. https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12966-021-01227-3
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S241464472030004X
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10118139/
  6. https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m2382
  7. https://www.bmj.com/content/384/bmj-2023-077310
  8. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/news/behind-the-headlines/ultra-processed-foods
  9. https://nutrition.bmj.com/content/early/2021/11/02/bmjnph-2021-000301


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