The Role of Food in Mental Health

The Role of Food in Mental Health

Whether it’s to satisfy your hunger pains or for enjoyment, everyone eats food. Eating is an everyday activity for everyone and a survival need. It’s a survival necessity. This is especially true regarding the relationship between nutrition and mental health. 

Nutrition and mental health are deeply intertwined. What you eat can affect your mood, and your mood can affect what you eat. Therefore, focusing on mental health without considering what you are feeding your mind is a missed opportunity. 

Paying particular attention to the types of foods you eat, how you obtain them, and how you eat them can all offer insight into how to get the most out of your meal. Ultimately, proper nutrition can significantly benefit the body and mind. 

The Body

Everything comes at a cost. Every muscle you move depletes some of the body’s limited energy sources. Furthermore, every breath, muscle twitch, and heartbeat uses energy without you even thinking about it. 

Your brain functions use up precious glucose. These energy sources are obtained through the foods you consume. With this constant demand for fuel, you either have to eat or find an energy source elsewhere. This source is the excess energy stored in glycogen, fats, and muscle. 

The body will then ration these limited resources to essential organs, like the brain. When you eat regular meals, you keep a constant supply of easy-access energy for your brain and the rest of your body to function at a high level. 

The Mind

Even though the brain gets taken care of first when energy sources are limited, poor nutrition can still significantly harm your mental health in acute and chronic ways. 

Low blood glucose levels can cause you to think less clearly, become confused, or even pass out. Unhealthy foods can induce sluggish mentation, negative moods, and depression. Chronic deprivation of nutrients and minerals can also cause depression and other cognitive changes. 

As a result, when you eat, you must focus on nourishing your body and mind. Instead of only asking yourself what effect this food will have on your physical appearance, ask what effect it will have on your mental state. 

Research and learn about foods that have been shown to help improve mood or reduce stress. Avoid mind-altering substances other than those prescribed by your health care provider. 

Types of Food

Not all foods are the same. Fast foods or desserts can be acceptable in moderation. However, their regular intake may have detrimental side effects on your body. Not only can they lead to increased fat deposition and the development of diseases like diabetes or heart disease, but unhealthy eating habits can also harm your mental health. You may not even realize how unhealthy foods affect your thoughts and emotions until you change to a healthier diet.

Eating habits consisting primarily of healthy foods are essential to optimizing your mental health. However, there’s no single correct diet that works for everyone. There are ample informational resources available on foods generally agreed upon to be good for mental health. These include fruits, vegetables, and wheat. Perhaps equally important is knowing what to avoid, such as alcohol or foods high in saturated fats that can have detrimental side effects. 


When examining the importance of nutrition for mental health, the type of food is a crucial element to consider. However, a commonly overlooked aspect of eating that can benefit mental health is how you obtain food. 

Ordering takeout is easy, convenient, and sometimes necessary when life is busy. However, cooking your food can benefit your mental health as much as eating it. Cooking can allow you to tap into the creative part of your brain. It can be a form of self-expression – a way to create something beautiful the same way one might paint a picture or play a musical instrument. 

It can also give a sense of accomplishment, self-improvement, and productivity. It’s a way of showing yourself that you are worth the time and effort you put into creating that one-of-a-kind dish.

The Act of Eating

Eating does more for your mental health than just providing nutrition for the body and fuel for the brain. The nutrients you obtain may be the final destination, but there are plenty of benefits to be gained from the journey. 

For example, experiencing the smells and tastes associated with foods you enjoy can improve your mood. This occurs because the brain’s reward center releases hormones that tell you that you are enjoying yourself.

The process of eating also allows an opportunity for socialization. Think about a time you ate dinner alone, and then think about a time you ate dinner with a group of friends. How did your mood differ? 

Every day, all over the world, people sit down for meals with friends, family, and loved ones. This ritual brings people together and builds relationships that nourish the mind, similar to how food nourishes the body. 

Getting Food-Focused

If you’ve been struggling with your mental health, take a moment to think about your eating habits. While settling for something quick and easy may often be tempting, it may significantly hold you back from a happier, healthier you. 

Start small by making sure you’re eating three meals a day, then look at what types of foods make up those meals. Eating healthy doesn’t happen overnight; it is a big win formed from many more minor victories. Over time, as you develop healthy eating habits, you’ll feel good about the foods you’re eating and yourself. 

The food you eat plays a crucial role in your mental health in ways you might not have considered. However, establishing healthy eating habits doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that occurs over time with continuous improvement. 

At Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center, we understand the effect food has on your mental health and want you to get the most out of your meal. We aim to assist in informing our clients about healthy eating habits and helping them on their journey of self-improvement. 

If you or a loved one thinks an improved relationship with food would benefit your mental health, call us at (888) 627-6225 for more information.

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