The Link Between Mental Health & Nutrition

According to the Mental Health Association, just under 20% of adults are experiencing a mental illness. That’s the equivalent of approximately 50 million Americans. Supporting our mental and emotional well-being is an essential part of maintaining good health for us as individuals and as a broader community. 

Studies have shown an overwhelming connection between what we eat and how we feel. In addition to improving brain function, certain foods contain nutrients that have also been shown to lower symptoms of anxiety and depression and boost mood. 

Below are a list of foods to add and avoid to support your mental health through food. While these foods are not a substitute for the advice and treatment of your healthcare provider, they can be great supplements in supporting your mental and physical health. 

ADD: Leafy Greens

Leafy greens like spinach and kale contain folate. Low folate has been shown to result in symptoms of anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and depression. 

ADD: Bright Red, Yellow, and Orange Fruits & Vegetables

Eat the rainbow! Red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables contain the antioxidant carotenoids. Studies show those with higher levels of carotenoids are less likely to have symptoms of depression. 

ADD: Fermented Foods

Fermented foods like non-dairy yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi contain probiotics which help to cultivate a healthy gut microbiome. Bacteria in a healthy microbiome have been shown to produce mood-regulating and calming compounds. Learn more about the benefits of a healthy gut microbiome in our Microbiome 101 blog.

ADD: Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids, like those found in flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts, enhance brain function and preserve the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells, which may reduce the risk of mood disorders. 

ADD: Green Tea 

Green tea includes many mental health supporting compounds including L-theanine and EGCG. L-theanine has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, which have been related to anxiety. EGCG has been shown to improve brain health. 

AVOID: Added Sugar

Multiple studies have linked high-sugar diets with depression, especially in men. Sugar crashes, or withdrawals, are also known to cause anxiety-like symptoms including shakiness, fatigue, and trouble thinking. Learn how to cut back with our How to Break Up with Sugar blog.

AVOID: Caffeine

While there are many benefits to consuming coffee, it is best to avoid caffeine when managing your mental health. That’s because caffeine has been shown to increase and worsen symptoms of anxiety.

In summary, taking care of our mental health and wellbeing is just as important as taking care of our physical health. Support both by eating a whole food, plant-based diet rich in nutrients and low in added sugar and highly-processed ingredients. 


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