It’s an oft-used cliché: You are what you eat. This is true not only for your physical health, but your mental health as well. Indeed, depression shares many of the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, including inflammation, low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, and poor diet.* So if you’ve been feeling blue lately, one of the first things you might consider is how you’ve been fueling your body.

According to Drew Ramsey, M.D., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and author of Eat to Beat Depression, your brain represents just 2% of your body weight, but consumes 20% of what you eat. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, that eating well might contribute to a healthier mood and stronger mental outlook? Apparently so: “Real food heals brains,” Dr. Ramsey said in a 2013 Ted Talk.

Eating to treat mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression is the basis for the relatively new field known as nutritional psychiatry. This discipline focuses on the use of food and supplements as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, to provide the foundational nutrients necessary for improved mental health.

In her Harvard Health Publishing article, “Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food,” Eva Selhub, MD, in a 2015 noted that multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in sugar and impaired brain function and a worsening of mood disorders.

She also explained the link between our gut’s microbiome and mental health, an increasing area of focus in neuroscience research: “Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.” According to the article, the good bacteria in your microbiome protects you against inflammation, and helps activate the neural pathways between your gut and your brain.

So what should we eat to help improve our moods? According to the experts cited here as well as several other studies, a diet low in sugar, trans fats, and processed foods, and high in healthy oils, nuts, legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, seafood, poultry, and small amounts of lean, red meats can lead to healthier brains. You might also consider specifically adding prebiotics, such as onions, garlic, bananas, and asparagus, and probiotics — fermented foods including low-sugar pickles, sauerkraut, and yogurt – to support your microbiome. Fortunately, the summer’s bounty at your local farmer’s market offers a huge variety of options to choose from.

For information on nutritional psychiatry, visit the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research at Or, for help in refining your own brain power plan, reach out to a vetted SimplaFYI nutritionist. Not a Member? Register today.

*Source: Natalie Parletta, Dorota Zarnowiecki, Jihyun Cho, Amy Wilson, Svetlana Bogomolova, Anthony Villani, Catherine Itsiopoulos, Theo Niyonsenga, Sarah Blunden, Barbara Meyer, Leonie Segal, Bernhard T. Baune & Kerin O’Dea (2019) A Mediterranean-style dietary intervention supplemented with fish oil improves diet quality and mental health in people with depression: A randomized controlled trial (HELFIMED), Nutritional Neuroscience, 22:7, 474-487, DOI: 10.1080/1028415X.2017.1411320.

Written by Carol Swanson, a health & wellbeing blog poster. Carol can be reached at: [email protected]