3 Nutrients that Promote Mental Health

Diet and Mental Health

Like all facets of your overall well being, maintaining a healthy diet is extremely important for your mental health. Those with a healthy diet displayed upwards of a 35% reduction in depression risk. (1) With each meal that comes up, you have a choice to either help or hinder your mental health. Processed foods like chips, sweets, and fast food will have a detrimental effect on it, while a well-rounded diet loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats will support your health and limit symptoms of conditions like depression and anxiety. These foods are the blueprint for good mental health, but there are some nutrients that have been shown to be extra effective at promoting it even further. Knowing what those nutrients are and the best sources of them can help you take your efforts to feel mentally well to the next level!


Probiotics are the good bacteria found in cultured foods like yogurt. These bacteria are the same ones found in your gut, and when these bacteria thrive (as in allowed to grow to high levels in your gut), a lot of positive things can happen. By adding more to your body when eating foods like yogurt, you increase the good bacteria counts and thus your overall health.

  • Digestion– Cultured foods have been shown to improve digestion and reduce symptoms like bloating and gas. Having a healthy digestive tract helps improve mood and energy. (2)
    • Junk foods, in turn, increase bad bacteria and hinder healthy bacteria growth, causing the opposite effect. 
  • Increase Serotonin– Serotonin is considered the “happy” neurotransmitter, meaning when it is present in high amounts, people report increased happiness and calmness. Ninety percent of your daily serotonin is made in your gut. By supporting gut health via filling yourself with probiotics, you will promote healthy productions of serotonin and limit symptoms of anxiety and depression. (3)

Best Sources of Probiotics

  • Yogurt (Greek or Icelandic)
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential to all facets of health and is classically one of the most common vitamin deficiencies. It is most frequently involved in bone maintenance and metabolism, but deficiencies are linked to increased instances of anxiety and depression. 

  • Reduce Anxiety and Depression Risk– Vitamin D deficiencies have been shown to increase stress hormones and decrease mood. Those suffering from depression were treated with a vitamin D supplement and subsequently saw similar relief to anti-depression medication regimens. (4)
  • Sleep– Proper sleep quality and time are extremely important to mental health. Disrupted sleep is a key indicator used to identify the presence of a mental disorder. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to disrupted sleep patterns, which can only exacerbate mental health issues. (5)

Best Sources of Vitamin D

  • Go Outside!- sun exposure is the number one way to obtain vitamin D
  • Fortified Milk and Milk Alternatives
  • Fatty Fish- mackerel, salmon
  • Egg Yolk

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in animal sources (EPA, DHA) and plant sources (ALA). All forms have been shown to help with mental health, but those found in animal sources have the most potent effects. Therefore, unless you avoid animal proteins, it is best to try to highlight animal sources in your weekly diet.

  • Promote Brain Function– Omega 3s have been shown to protect your brain by maintaining proper structure and function of the blood-brain barrier. This barrier protects your neurons from damage by the outside world- allowing them to obtain all nutrients without negative exposures. (6)
  • Limit Anxiety and Depression Symptoms– An amount of fish oil supplementation equivalent to 3 salmon servings per week, improved mood related to mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder. It also reduced stress response in those with anxiety exposed to a stressful situation. (7, 8)

Best Sources of Omega 3s

Animal Sources (EPA, DHA)

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Tuna
  • Sardines, Herring
  • Egg Yolk

Plant Sources (ALA)

  • Chia Seeds
  • Flax Seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Hemp Seeds

Bottom Line

As mentioned previously, consuming a generally healthy diet is the most important factor for promoting mental health. That being said, highlighting specific nutrients and their sources throughout that diet can make the extra difference to feeling well each day!

Additional Resources

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