Nutritional Choices & Mental Health: What You Need to Know

Date: 14-02-2024

By Lisa Hodge

Over the past few years, people have been grappling with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression at an increasing rate. According to a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization (WHO) the prevalence of anxiety and depression has increased by a massive 25% since the pandemic. While it’s not uncommon for people to turn to junk foods and sweets when they’re not feeling the best, recent studies tell us that a junk food diet is least likely to benefit our mental health. Instead, a diet containing whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds and fermented foods are much better.  

For a long time, the relationship between mood and food has largely been ignored but more recently, there is growing evidence to suggest that a poor, nutrient deficient diet is a contributing factor to the epidemic of depression. There is a large body of evidence demonstrating that stress and the extended release of cortisol induces the depletion of magnesium and zinc. A plethora of prior studies have shown that both these nutrients are essential for the production of chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain – serotonin, dopamine, melatonin and GABBA, that play a role in mood, sleep and the body’s stress response. Oysters are one of the best sources of zinc and it’s also found in red in meat and poultry. Good food sources of magnesium are spinach and other leafy greens, as well as whole grains, almonds and cashews.  

There are certain foods that may promote the brain’s health. Seafood, for example, or more specifically the oils contained in seafood namely Omega-3 fatty acids Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) have been widely researched as brain enhancing nutrients. While EPA seems more influential on behaviour, mood and emotions, a combination of both DHA and EPA have been shown to generate neuroprotective chemicals and have been shown to benefit Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), autism, dyslexia, depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder. As such, a diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids is a proven approach to support cognitive process and mental wellbeing. 

It is well recognised that a healthy diet enhances overall gut health and digestive function. It is lesser known how the gut communicates with the brain through what is known as the gut-brain axis. Gut bacteria, also known as the microbiome, supports the production of the brain’s chemicals – serotonin and dopamine, which help to regulate our mood. There’s an emerging body of literature understanding how the microbiome plays an influential role in a variety of psychiatric disorders. Foods that support a healthy microbiome include prebiotic fibres because they feed the healthy bacteria in our gut. Prebiotic fibres are found in some types of vegetables such as onion, garlic, leek and legumes such as lentils, beans and chickpeas.  

As Naturopaths, it is our role to look at the relationship between diet and mental health. Regardless of the cause, we counsel patients on how better eating and nutritional supplementation may be another tool in helping to ease stress, depression and anxiety.  

Nutrients required for good mental health 


  • Essential for the production of chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain serotonin, dopamine, melatonin and GABBA  
  • Decrease stress, anxiety, depression 
  • Improves sleep quality 
  • Helps manage cortisol and the body’s stress system 


  • Reduces inflammation thereby improving overall brain function and cognitive performance 
  • Essential for the production of chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain serotonin, dopamine, melatonin and GABBA  
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids  
  • Proven approach to support mental wellbeing and mood 
  • Improves age related cognitive impairment  

Lisa Hodge – Clinical Naturopath
Lisa Hodge is a Clinical Naturopath consulting at NIIM who continues to find meaning supporting people with their mental health and beyond. Find out more about how Lisa can help you and how to make an appointment to see her HERE.

DISCLAIMER: The content of this post is general in nature, the information should not be relied on as advice, and persons should seek advice relevant to their circumstances.