the best foods for mental health

24 Apr 2019
What you put into your body can affect how you feel.

Lots of research points to the fact that what we eat can affect our mental health. Certain foods contain nutrients and vitamins that can boost brain health and improve our mood. By fitting more of these into your diet, you’ll be on track to feeling good!

Here are some of the best foods to make you feel good.


Colourful fruits and vegetables

You’ve always been told to eat all your veggies – and it’s a pretty good point! Many fruits and vegetables contain what’s known as ‘complex carbohydrates’, which are great for brain health. By releasing energy into our bodies slowly, complex carbohydrates found in fruit and veg can perk up our mood over time.

Many coloured fruits and vegetables also contain antioxidants and vitamins which help us deal with stress. So if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed or are going through a rough time, upping your fruit and veg intake could help you feel better.

Not to mention… foods that look like the rainbow are super insta-worthy and make us happy because they look so great!

Think leafy greens like kale and spinach, crisp carrots and apples, and brightly coloured capsicums and bananas. Fruit and veg like this are great for healthy snacks, or in salads, soups, stews and sandwiches.


Wholegrains are high in fibre and really good for you! These include things like corn, brown rice, quinoa, oats, rye and barley.

The great news is, wholegrains contain a type of amino acid that makes your body produce ‘serotonin’ – also known as the “happy chemical”! Serotonin helps calm the mind, improve your mood, and keep your sleep cycle on track – all of which is helpful for maintaining a good headspace.

If you’re feeling down or low on energy, eating some brown rice, corn, or quinoa can help release more of the happy chemical into your body. You could even start your day off with a healthy bowl of oats for a wholegrain booster.


Fermented foods

Fermented foods like unsweetened yoghurts, kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut are thought to affect the same parts of your brain as some anti-depressants do. Eating more of them can help with feelings related to anxiety and depression.

The good bacteria in fermented foods directly influences our mood and emotions. Heaps of research links gut health to mental health, and the probiotics and prebiotics in fermented foods actively affect the environment of our tummies.

A healthier tummy means a healthier mind, so do yourself a favour and eat more yoghurt! It makes for a great snack, breakfast, or healthy dessert option with fruit. Just be sure to avoid the kind with lots of added sugar.


Oily fish like salmon, trout and prawns contain a special fatty acid known as DHA which is an awesome ‘brain food’! It helps with memory, and can boost your mood and reduce anxiety.

Fish also contains omega 3 acids which are great for brain function, and help circulate serotonin and dopamine – feel-good chemicals – around your body. By fitting more fish into your diet, you’ll be helping improve feelings of depression while boosting your memory ability.

Tinned fish can be cheaper and easier to buy, and can still have the same great effect on your mental health. You can include fish into salads, wraps, pasta dishes and heaps more.


Cutting back on other stuff

If eating the above foods helps to boost our mental health, there are certain types of foods that basically do the opposite. You may choose to avoid having too much of these if you’re going through a rough patch. These include:

  • Sugar – this is highly addictive, and does the opposite to what complex carbohydrates do for us. Cutting back on sugary foods and drinks can be a great step towards feeling better.

  • Alcohol – drinking lots of alcohol can have a negative effect on mental health. Alcohol can interrupt sleep patterns, and affect your ability to focus. Cutting back may help you feel better in the long run.

  • Saturated fats – this is the oily stuff you expect from takeaway foods and processed meals. These bad fats can decrease brain function and make it harder to focus and remember things.

If you’re feeling a bit off, have a think about what kind of foods you’re eating. Perhaps by making a few changes, you can put more of the good stuff into your body, and feel better. Even if you’re not really into cooking, it doesn’t have to be too hard to whip up some simple, tasty and nutritious food for yourself.

For more information on the link between good food and good mood, or for help with cutting back on alcohol and drugs, get in touch with your local headspace centre.