Can food affect mental health?

 With a growing interest in how food and nutrition can affect emotional and mental health we thought we’d delve a bit deeper into this very topic.

Scientifically evidence around the topic is developing but there are many challenges for scientists to overcome and in the meantime some medical practitioners remain unconvinced of the link between food and an individuals mood.

Nevertheless, positive responses from individuals who have made changes to their diet confirm the importance of food and nutrition for maintaining or improving emotional and mental health.


How does food affect mood?

There are many explanations for the cause-and-effect relationship between food and mood, here are just some examples:

  • Fluctuations in blood sugar levels are associated with changes in mood an energy, and are affected by what we eat.
  • Brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, can influence the way we think, feel and behave. They can be affected by what we’ve eaten.
  • Low levels of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids can affect mental health, with some symptoms associated with particular nutritional deficiencies. For example, links have been demonstrated between low levels of certain B-vitamins and symptoms of schizophrenia, low levels of the mineral zinc and eating disorders, and low levels of omega-3 oils and depression.


What’s the psychological relationship?

It’s generally accepted that how we feel can influence what we choose to eat or drink, what is less well known is how what we eat can affect our mental functioning.

The use of caffeine is one example of a complex relationship. Found in tea, coffee, cola drinks and chocolate is probably the most widely used behavior-modifying drug in the world. We often choose to drink it if we are feeling tired and irritable, because it can give us a boost and help us concentrate.

Having a cup of coffee or tea also has a lot of positive psychological associations. We meet a friend for ‘coffee and a chat’ or give ourselves a break by sitting down with a cup of tea, and these things are very important.

But too much caffeine can cause symptoms such as anxiety, nervousness and depression. Because of this exploration into food and mood needs to take into account this two way relationship and include the psychological aspect behind what we are choosing to eat.

The Wellbeing Network runs courses on Mood and Food. If you’d like to know more about this, call us on 0208 525 2301 or e-mail us at

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