You can probably imagine a wonderful meal you have had, or are going to have. The anticipation of a perfectly grilled piece of meat, or fish, the sweetness of the first strawberries of the season, the taste and mouth feel of a wonderful piece of chocolate can lift your spirits.  There is a link between certain foods and mood, not just connected with memory. A new field of psychiatry has emerged to examine the role of nutrition in mood disorders.

Western medicine is now dealing with the negative effects of the western diet. Obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, and anxiety are being seen in growing numbers, not just in adults.  The modern diet of fast foods overly processed and additive-laden foods and sugary drinks are being linked to growing health problems in adults and children.  Medical and psychiatric providers are asking patients more questions about their diet and lifestyle patterns than before.

Nutritional Psychiatry is a relatively new field that studies the connection between nutrition and mood. Since 2007, this field has studied diet quality across different age groups, cultures, and countries. There is evidence that dietary food patterns can contribute to depression, both in adults and children.


A study published in American Journal of Psychiatry, studied the effects of 3 diets in Australia women. (Association of western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women. Am J Psychiatry 2009; 66:1090-1098)

The three diets examined were traditional, western, and modern. The traditional diet consisted of mainly vegetables, fruit, beef, lamb, fish, and whole grains. Western diets included more processed meats, chips, pizza, hamburgers, white bread, sugar flavored drinks and beer. The modern diet included fruits, salads, fish, tofu, beans, nuts, yogurt, and red wine. Evidence from the study concluded that the traditional or modern diets were positively correlated with fewer incidences of depression and anxiety.

Another study published 2009, in Spain (Arch Gen Psychiatry 2009;66-1090-1098)  reported that the Mediterranean diet pattern was helpful in reducing the risk of developing depression and also reversed some of the depressive symptoms when people incorporated this diet plan into their lives. The Mediterranean is a plan that recommends moderate red meat consumption, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil as the primary source of fat and plant based foods.

The role of diet during a child’s early life has also been studied for links to depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems, The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, October 2013, Volume 52, published a study linking poor diet during pregnancy and the first five years of age were predictors of depression, anxiety and behavioral problems in children and adolescents.

What does this mean today?  The knowledge that essentially, We are what we eat can play a part in understanding our moods and behaviors, not just our spreading waistline or “sugar fog”. As our lives become more hurried, meal preparation and eating good quality food becomes less of a priority or more difficult because of time factors and economics. Simple behaviors can make a difference. Change doesn’t have to be fast. Some ideas for a healthier nutritional pattern:

  • Avoid sugary drinks, which contain empty calories and can impact tooth enamel. Drink at least 8 glasses of water daily to remain hydrated.
  • Don’t skip breakfast. Breakfast is needed to fuel your brain and body. Skipping meals can lead to fatigue and “brain fog”. A healthy breakfast can be simple, fruit, a piece of cheese, whole grains of some sort.
  • Avoid high fat, refined and sugary foods that have little nutritional value. Incorporate fruits, leafy green vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and unsaturated fats.
  • Find creativity and humor in discovering different foods and ways to think about meals.
  • Remember- You don’t have to do it all at once.
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