New evidence has been building in recent years to suggest strongly that there is an important link between food and mental health. We’re not talking about emotional eating, this goes far beyond picking up a pint of chocolate chip cookie dough after a rough day. Research in the field of Nutritional Psychiatry is showing that eating a diet of whole foods, healthy fats and lean proteins (alongside treatment and in some cases, medication) can have a positive effect on mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

More research is underway, but if we look at the biology of it, it makes sense. Our brain is always working to regulate everything in our body as well as our thoughts and moods. The gut has its own nervous system, which it uses to send signals and messages to the brain. Ever felt queasy when you’re nervous or anxious? That’s your brain sending messages to your stomach, so just imagine the kind of message your stomach is sending your brain when it’s full of junk food.

We also know that a poor diet of too much processed foods and refined sugar causes inflammation of the cells, as well as oxidative stress which produces an increase of free radicals. Since the brain has a very limited ability to rid itself of these harmful cells and free radicals, it can get clogged up with this “waste”. With the brain at the center of how we operate, if it’s being slowed down it only makes sense that there will be consequences that affect not only our functionality, but also our mental health.

Current studies are looking at how a Mediterranean style diet could be the best option to work alongside therapy and treatment for helping mental illness. This means foods like fish, whole grains, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts and healthy fats like olive oil. Sticking to the produce section of the grocery store and the frozen section (for fish, fruits and vegetables) will help ensure you’re buying whole foods and less processed foods. Another interesting point is that there is no calorie restriction involved, so there is no need to lose weight to see improvements in mental health.