Diet and mental health

Eating well – which means having a balanced diet full of vegetables and nutrients – can improve your sense of wellbeing and your mood.

How are diet and mental health linked?

The relationship between our diet and our mental health is complex. However, research shows a link between what we eat and how we feel.

Eating well can help you feel better. You dont have to make big changes to your diet, but see if you can try some of these tips.

  • Eat regularly. This can stop your blood sugar level dropping, which can make you feel tired and bad-tempered.
  • Stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration can affect your mood, energy level and ability to concentrate.
  • Eat the right balance of fats. Your brain needs healthy fats to keep working well. Theyre found in things such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocados, milk and eggs. Avoid trans fats – often found in processed or packaged foods – as they can be bad for your mood and your heart health.
  • Include more wholegrains, fruits and vegetables in your diet. They contain the vitamins and minerals your brain and body need to stay well.
  • Include some protein with every meal. It contains an amino acid that your brain uses to help regulate your mood.
  • Look after your gut health. Your gut can reflect how youre feeling: if youre stressed, it can speed up or slow down. Healthy food for your gut includes fruit, vegetables, beans and probiotics.
  • Be aware of how caffeine can affect your mood. It can cause sleep problems, especially if you drink it close to bedtime, and some people find it makes them irritable and anxious too. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks and chocolate.

What should I eat?

The Eatwell guide on the NHS website has detailed information on how to achieve a healthy, balanced diet.

Mind has more tips on eating well. It also has advice on managing your mood with food, including foods to avoid if you’re taking certain medications.

Sharing meals with other people

There are many psychological, social and biological benefits of eating meals with other people. They give us a sense of rhythm and regularity in our lives, a chance to reflect on the day, and feel connected to others. Biologically, eating in upright chairs helps with our digestion. Talking and listening also slows us down so we don’t eat too fast.

Make the most of mealtimes by setting aside at least one day a week to eat with family and friends. Choose a meal that’s easy to prepare so it doesn’t become a chore. Share responsibility so everyone has a different task: doing the shopping, setting the table, cooking or washing up, for example. Keep the television off so you can all talk and share.

Eating disorders

If you feel you’re using food as a negative coping mechanism to deal with emotional pain or as a way to feel in control, you may have an eating disorder. Read our page on eating disorders to find out more, including where to go for help.

Other ways I can take care of my mental health

A healthy diet is one way you can improve your mental health. Other things include staying physically active, spending time in nature, avoiding cigarettes and alcohol and developing good sleep habits. Our guide on How to look after your mental health has more ideas.

* Last updated: 25 January 2022