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How can we use Nutrition to improve our Mental Health?

Written by nutritional therapist Emma Bulbeck.

Food is a wonderful source of nourishment for the entire body. Did you know that the brain is a very nutrient-hungry organ? It should therefore be treated with the upmost care. There are lots of things we can do to support our mental health.

What we eat every day can have a definite effect on our mental wellbeing, but unfortunately the typical western diet promotes inflammation (depression is thought to be an inflammatory condition) and nutrient deficiencies, and also increases the permeability of our gut lining (also known as leaky gut). There is no “one size fits all” approach to nutrition, however our diet should consist of plenty of quality foods from the food groups below.

Vegetables and Fruits

Aim for as much colour and diversity as possible (eat the rainbow). By doing so you will be providing your body with plenty of fibre, which is needed to feed and grow the bacteria in your gut. These bacteria are responsible for optimal digestion and nutrient absorption.


These foods contain complete ranges of amino acids (the building blocks to protein). Amino acids are required for healthy neurotransmitter function (like Serotonin for example), often referred to as our happy hormone. If you are vegan make sure you combine your protein sources to ensure you get a complete amino acid profile or try things like Tofu or Tempeh.


Fats are essential for our bodies to thrive; did you know 60% of your brain is fat? Nuts and seeds are a great source of healthy fats, but you can also try olive oil, coconut oil, eggs, olives, and oily fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines and Herring).


Fill your diet with slow releasing, low GI carbohydrates such as beans, pulses, and grains. This is better than highly processed carbohydrates like pasta, bread, and cereals. Even starchy root vegetables contain great complex carbs (celeriac, parsnip, sweet potato, squash).

Are there any key vitamins & minerals that could help?


Zinc is the second most abundant mineral in in the human body (after iron). It is present in high concentrations in regions of the brain associated with emotional processing, and a lack of zinc has been shown to have negative effects on mood. Try eating lots of beans, pulses, seafood, nuts, and seeds.


Magnesium is often referred to as “natures tranquiliser”. It is fantastic at reducing anxiety and boosting mood. It is needed for over three hundred biochemical reactions in the body. It is also rapidly depleted in times of stress and in those regularly consuming alcohol. You can find magnesium in your leafy green vegetables (chard, spinach, pak choi).


A lack of Iron can contribute to depression as it works with dopamine (one of our neurotransmitters) which helps in mood regulation. It can be found in chicken, turkey, quinoa, lentils and peas. Did you know plant-based iron is poorly absorbed but combining plant-based iron rich foods with Vitamin C increases our absorption rates significantly.

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