How Dietary Health Affects Mental Health

How Dietary Health Affects Mental Health

How does what we eat make us feel better?

There is rarely one reason for anything, and mental health is no exception. Mental health experts believe myriad factors influence mental health conditions. While you may not be surprised to hear that these factors include genetics, socioeconomic status, and life experiences, you may not have heard as much about the effects of dietary health on mental health.

Given that mental health is such a complex issue, it will likely be years, even decades, until we have a sound understanding of what makes one individual healthier mentally than another. By looking at current studies on the subject, however, we can begin to understand the prevailing theories on how dietary health affects mental health.

Defining ‘Mental Health’

First, let us begin by pinpointing what we mean when we say ‘mental health.’ According to the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, mental health refers generally to one’s “emotional, psychological, and social well-being.”[1] It follows, then, that if a diet can affect one emotionally, psychologically, or socially, the diet can be said to influence mental health.

Through this lens, it is clear why certain dietary choices, such as overconsumption of alcohol, can lead to poor mental health. Drinking can lead to inebriation, which can lead to poor decision-making, and poor decision-making can have negative emotional, psychological, and social consequences.

What about the less obvious examples? Substance abuse can damage mental health—okay, but how else can diet affect mental health?

The Gut Microbiome and Mental Health

One theory as to how diet affects mental health centers on the health of the microbiome in the gut. The gut microbiome refers to the bacteria, archaea, viruses and eukaryotic microbes in the human digestive tract.[2] Given the strong research suggesting a connection between a healthy microbiome in the gut and brain function, it does not seem like too much of a leap to infer that this could also affect mental health.

Indeed, a 2020 study indicated that the pathway between the brain and the gut is key in managing mental issues and psychiatric illnesses.[3] Another study pointed out that enterochromaffin cells in the gut account for 90% of the body’s serotonin, which is linked to depression and mood regulation.[4]

Inflammation and Mental Health

While these studies focus on the role of the gut microbiome, another group of studies suggest that diet is related to mental health through inflammation. After a group of researchers reviewed 41 observational studies on the subject, they found that an anti-inflammatory diet may protect against the risks of depression.[5] In a 2019 study, researchers highlighted that inflammation changes the brain and, in turn, causes depression and fatigue.[6]

It is worth noting here that diets containing foods with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, such as the vegetables in SaladPower, likely help mental health.

The Big Picture

While the gut microbiome and inflammation may both contribute to mental health issues, it is important to keep in mind that diet can influence one’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being in other ways, too. For instance, while food choices may or may not directly improve one’s mental health, almost everyone has experienced the feeling of adhering to a healthy diet and the snowball effect that ensues. All of a sudden, you have more energy to work out, more willpower when it comes to turning down desserts, more confidence in social situations. These can all have drastic effects on mental health.

Until we have more definitive answers, we will have to rely on the existing bevy of research to support what our intuition and experience already tells us: when we eat better, we think and feel better. Speaking of eating better, we encourage you to check out the best and most convenient organic smoothie on the market: SaladPower!


[1] SAMHSA. (2023, April 24). What is mental health?; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

[2] Shreiner, A. B., Kao, J. Y., & Young, V. B. (2015). The gut microbiome in health and in disease. Current opinion in gastroenterology, 31(1), 69–75.

[3] Limbana, T., Khan, F., & Eskander, N. (2020). Gut Microbiome and Depression: How Microbes Affect the Way We Think. Cureus, 12(8), e9966.

[4] Martin, C. R., Osadchiy, V., Kalani, A., & Mayer, E. A. (2018). The Brain-Gut-Microbiome Axis. Cellular and molecular gastroenterology and hepatology, 6(2), 133–148.

[5] Lassale, C., Batty, G. D., Baghdadli, A., Jacka, F., Sánchez-Villegas, A., Kivimäki, M., & Akbaraly, T. (2019). Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Molecular psychiatry, 24(7), 965–986.

[6] Lee, C. H., & Giuliani, F. (2019). The Role of Inflammation in Depression and Fatigue. Frontiers in immunology, 10, 1696.

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