Happy Food for Mental Health

Your lifestyle plays a key role in your mental health. Here, our resident nutrition expert, Stephanie Yu, shares why it’s important to think about what we put into our body because it can be a factor in mental ill-health as well as simple choices you can make.

Fruits and vegetables

Research suggests that depression and anxiety can be impacted by free radical damage. Free radicals are unstable molecules that create stress and oxidation in our body cells. The environment around us such as pollution and radiation can cause free radical damage. Fruits and vegetables contain plenty of antioxidants, such as Vitamin A, C and E, which can help protect our cells for normal functioning.

Avocados, potatoes and apricots are good sources of Vitamin A, capsicum, spinach and strawberries are good sources of Vitamin C, and pumpkin, kiwi fruit and broccoli are good sources of Vitamin E.


While fruits and vegetables contain fibre, you can get a large amount of fibre from whole grains. Our bodies process some fibre by fermenting it – this helps us maintain and promote the growth of good gut bacteria. Why is this important? Gut bacteria is believed to be essential for brain chemical production such as serotonin (which works like a natural antidepressant for our brain). If we have an overwhelming amount of bad gut bacteria, that can influence the production of chemicals in our brain and lead to anxiety or a depressed mood.

Fibre aside, plenty of grains serve as great sources of Vitamin B, one of the components of serotonin pathways and also important to maintain normal nerve functioning. Consider swapping white carbohydrates for wholegrain bread, whole wheat pasta (or quinoa pasta if you’re gluten intolerant), and brown rice to get the best results.

Fish and meat

Most meat contains iron, which supplies oxygen to our body cells through our bloodstream.  Iron is essential to maintain the normal functioning of our nerve and brain cells. Beef, turkey, lamb and chicken are great options – as are certain animal products like eggs.

Fish is the best source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Similar to free radicals, Omega-3 can protect our cells from being damaged or becoming oxidised. It’s also anti-inflammatory, making it especially good for heart and eye health. Salmon, tuna and sardines are some great examples. Fish also has the benefit of containing iodine. It’s important for cell production and is found in large amounts in cod and seaweed.

Like any protein, eating a large amount of meat or fish does not necessarily mean you’ll be better off. A palm-sized amount is enough with your meal to give your body what it needs.

There is no one single food you can eat to improve your mental health. Eating a balanced diet is the key to a good mood. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a treat here and there. Just remember that if you’re not feeling 100 per cent in mind or body, a healthy option is your ticket to feeling better.

Stephanie Yu holds a Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Sydney. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Food, Nutrition and Health.


Cover Photo by Chantal Garnier on Unsplash