You Are What You Eat

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “You are what you eat,” and for years we’ve known that this is true of our physical health. But how often have you really thought about how the food you eat can impact your mental health?

With the rise of the Nutritional Psychiatry field, research has shifted focus to the association between diet quality and mental health. Several studies have shown evidence supporting the link between certain meal plans reducing the risk for developing mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and neurodegenerative disorders.

Here are three major diets that are examples of this:

  • The Mediterranean diet is primarily a plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts and fish. Research has cited this diet to lower the risk of depression by thirty-three percent.
  • The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet was originally developed to lower blood pressure without medication. This consists of lean meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and low-sodium foods. The diet has proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, bad cholesterol, heart failure, diabetes, and some kinds of cancer. Now, research is showing it may be preventative for depression.
  • The MIND diet, which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, encourages better brain aging. This diet specifies targeted servings of healthy foods, including whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, fish, and poultry. Adhering closely to the diet reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 53% and reduces cognitive aging.

Eating from these diets, and other similar diets, has shown a change in perceived mood, reduced stress, and improved neurological functioning when compared to common “Western” and “American” diets. Researchers equate the difference between the diets based on the foods commonly found in “Western” dietary patterns. “Western” diets typically consist of a high intake of red meat, carbohydrates, dairy products, processed and artificially sweetened foods, and salt.

The bottom line is that an increase in intake of fruits and veggies, whole grains, seeds and nuts, and lean proteins can reduce the risk for depression, while avoiding foods with added sugars, unhealthy fats, and processed meats can have the same effect. Using these foods to fuel your body for physical and mental health allows for optimal functioning.

There are several articles that provide more information on each diet, and the connection to mental health. If you believe a change in diet might be right for you, consult your doctor or nutritionist and a mental health therapist.


Written by: Emily Ruggles