Feed Your Mood: The Link Between Diet and Mental Health

What foods are associated with increased psychiatric symptoms? What should you eat if you want to boost your mood? Learn what researchers have found when it comes to diet and mental well-being.

By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

You may have heard of the “food-mood connection.” Research indicates that our food choices greatly impact not only physical health, but mental well-being. Some foods seem to boost mood and reduce psychiatric symptoms while others are linked to depression and anxiety.

Mood Thugs

Sugar negatively impacts mood and slows memory and learning. High-sugar diets are associated with smaller brain volume. Furthermore, sugar will make you less alert and more tired. A recent study found that the idea of a “sugar rush” is myth.

Sugar is not the only villain; fat can be just as harmful. One study found that a high-fat diet may lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, trans fat may lead to poor memory function.

If you have bipolar disorder, avoid processed meats such as jerky, hot dogs, etc. Researchers found that nitrates in processed meats are associated with mania.

Mood Champions

A diet high in fiber and vegetables (with limited added sugar) has been linked to improved mood and a reduction in depressive symptoms. Interestingly, women seem to benefit more than men, and the effect is even greater when exercise is added. A vegan or plant-based diet is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Fruits and vegetables are good for mood, but raw fruits and veggies are better. A raw diet is associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing and lower levels of psychiatric symptoms. According to a recent study, the top raw foods associated with mental wellness are apples, bananas, berries, carrots, citrus fruits, cucumbers, grapefruit, kiwi, lettuce, and dark, leafy greens.

So how many servings of fruit/veggies should you eat per day for optimal mental health? At least 8, according to one study that found happiness benefits were evident for each portion for up to 8 servings per day.

What nutrients should you include in your diet for improved mental health? Research indicates the following are important for mental wellbeing:  Omega-3 fatty acids (fish, flaxseed, walnuts), phospholipids (egg yolk, soybeans), niacin (liver, avocado, brown rice), folate (legumes, beets, broccoli), vitamin B6 (chickpeas, tuna), and vitamin B12 (sardines, fortified nutritional yeast).

In sum, skip the fast food and soda; head to the salad bar instead to feed your mood and your belly!


Bonnie Beezhold, Cynthia Radnitz, Amy Rinne & Julie DiMatteo (2015) Vegans report less stress and anxiety than omnivores, Nutritional Neuroscience, 18:7, 289-296, DOI: 10.1179/1476830514Y.0000000164

Boston University. (2017, April 20). Is soda bad for your brain? (And is diet soda worse?): Both sugary, diet drinks correlated with accelerated brain aging. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170420162254.htm

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2018, July 18). Beef jerky and other processed meats associated with manic episodes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180718082225.htm

Knüppel, A., Shipley, M. J., Llewellyn, C. H., & Brunner, E. J. (2017). Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Scientific reports7(1), 6287. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05649-7

Lim SY, Kim EJ, Kim A, Lee HJ, Choi HJ, Yang SJ.   Nutritional Factors Affecting Mental Health.   Clin Nutr Res. 2016 Jul;5(3):143-152. https://doi.org/10.7762/cnr.2016.5.3.143

University of California, Los Angeles. (2012, May 15). This is your brain on sugar: Study shows high-fructose diet sabotages learning, memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120515150938.htm

University of California, San Diego Health Sciences. (2015, June 17). Dietary trans fat linked to worse memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150617144237.htm

University of Manchester. (2019, February 5). Healthy diet can ease symptoms of depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190205090511.htm

University of Otago. (2018, April 16). Raw fruit and vegetables provide better mental health outcomes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180416101403.htm

University of Warwick. (2016, July 10). Fruit and veggies give you the feel-good factor. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160710094239.htm

University of Warwick. (2019, April 4). No such thing as ‘sugar rush’! Sugar worsens mood rather than improving it. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190404104345.htm

Wiley. (2015, October 19). High-fat diet may cause changes in brain that lead to anxiety, depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151019123204.htm

37 Things You Can Do to Live a More Fulfilling & Meaningful Life

A unique list of ideas for personal growth

By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC

If we don’t strive to meet our goals and improve on a regular basis, we become stagnant. And if we aren’t growing and learning, our minds become lethargic.

According the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), there are eight dimensions of wellness:

Emotional—Coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships

Environmental—Good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being

Financial—Satisfaction with current and future financial situations

Intellectual—Recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills

Occupational—Personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work

Physical—Recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and sleep

Social—Developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system

Spiritual—Expanding a sense of purpose and meaning in life

Find additional SAMHSA links in the Resources section of this blog. SAMHSA is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. Anyone can access free publications, workbooks, and fact sheets on substance use disorder and addiction by visiting the SAMHSA website. Additionally, free online tools are available to assist with locating treatment services.

In order to maintain balance, it helps to have a variety of wellness strategies in your toolbox. The following list is comprised of 37 ideas for personal/professional development, self-improvement, and creating healthy habits.

1. Read one inspirational/motivational book per month or

2. Read one wellness article per week.

3. Take advantage of free classes offered at the library or through Coursera. (Coursera provides universal access to education by partnering with top universities and organizations.)

4. Take part in a new activity or event to step outside your comfort zone. (Examples: Join a book club, take a cooking class, attend a Meetup, etc.)

5. Make time for an old friend.

6. Develop an exercise routine, write it down, and then stick with it. No excuses!

7. Walk your dog (or borrow one from a friend!)

8. Complete household tasks and chores on a daily basis. Create a chore list. Don’t procrastinate!

9. Stay informed on the latest science and health news/research with sites like Science Daily.

10. Attend a workshop to learn about a topic you’re unfamiliar with.

11. Prioritize sleep hygiene.

12. Improve your posture. (And yes, there are apps for that!)

13. Read a non-fiction book.

14. Take a daily inventory; assess your attitude, productivity, etc. before going to bed.

15. Drink more water, green tea, and black coffee. (And drink less wine, beer, sugar-sweetened beverages, and soda!)

16. Practice active listening.

17. Overcome a fear.

18. Identify your “blind spots” by soliciting feedback from a trusted friend or loved one. They can help you to recognize areas for improvement by sharing their observations. (Example: You may not realize how often you complain until someone points it out for you.) Make a commitment to change.

19. Find a mentor (or be a mentor!)

20. Complete a 30-day challenge to improve your mental and/or physical health.

21. Practice daily meditation and mindfulness. Spend a few quiet moments alone every morning, drinking a cup of coffee. Or journal before going to bed. Reflect on your day and think about what you’re grateful for. Practice deep breathing exercises or listen to guided imagery scripts. Create your own unique ritual.

22. Dress up, style your hair, apply makeup, get a manicure/pedicure/facial, wear sexy shoes or your favorite jacket… Alternatively, you may prefer to put on your comfiest clothes, sweatpants or a fuzzy sweater. Whatever makes you feel good!

23. Be optimistic. Catch yourself if you start complaining and reframe your thoughts. Always assume positive intent.

24. Complete a task you’ve been putting off.

25. Watch a TED Talks.

26. Cook and enjoy a healthy meal.

27. Learn to juggle.

28. Learn a foreign language (or sign language).

29. Practice random acts of kindness, give a spontaneous gift, or help a stranger.

30. Create a vision board.

31. Volunteer.

32. Be a tourist in your hometown. (Free walking tours are often available in larger cities!)

33. Donate blood or plasma.

34. Memorize the lyrics to a song (or rap) of your choice.

35. Find a Pinterest project that interests you. Pin it and then do it!

36. Pick up trash in your neighborhood.

37. Write and mail “thinking of you” cards/postcards.

Additional Ideas: Run a 5K (or 10K!) Adopt an elderly pet that needs a home.

Please leave a comment with your own unique ideas for self-improvement!

30 Thirty-Day Challenges

A unique list of wellness-based thirty-day challenges.

By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC
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There are plenty of 30-day challenges out there, but this post is unique in that all the challenges listed are wellness-based. It may seem counterintuitive; after all, balance is at the foundation of wellness. However, quitting a harmful habit, like smoking, would drastically improve your overall health, which would then enable you to achieve true balance. And the thirty-day challenge, while not a scientifically proven method, allows the perfect opportunity to quit harmful habits while developing healthy ones. Plus, it’s fun, especially when several people (or a group of people) participate. Read on for 30 exciting ideas for thirty-day challenges.

Difficulty Level – Easy

1. Give one compliment per day

2. 30 days of flossing

3. Five minutes of mindful breathing every day

4. 30 days of gratitude journaling

5. Set sleep schedule for 30 days

6. 30 days of matcha or green tea

7. Learn a new vocabulary word every day for 30 days

8. Daily act of kindness

9. Read a random Wikipedia article every day for 30 days

10. 30-day dog walk challenge

11. Write a daily poem or short story

12. No cursing for 30 days

13. Pray (or spend time in quiet reflection) every morning

14. Watch a TED Talks (or similar) every day

Difficulty Level – Medium

15. 30-day vegan challenge

16. 30 days of following a strict budget (no “wants,” only “needs”)

17. 30-day gym challenge

18. 30-day documentary challenge

19. 30-days of cleaning and organization; the decluttered home challenge

20. No fast food, no carryout, and no dining out for 30 days

21. Write a book chapter daily

Difficulty Level – Hard

22. 30-day art challenge (one drawing or painting per day)

23. 30-day Pinterest challenge (one Pinterest project a day)

24. No social media

25. 30 days of no caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or other substances

26. No driving for a month

Difficulty Level – Nearly Impossible!

27. No cell phone or Internet (except for work-related use); the 30-day unplugged challenge

28. One hour of daily exercise

29. 50 sits ups or crunches daily

30. Sugar-free challenge

Please post your ideas for a 30-day challenge in a comment!