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Food and Mood: Improving Mental Health Through Diet and Nutrition

As the daylight hours remain short and spring seems far away we may feel a little low, though there is some evidence that what we eat may affect our mental well-being.

The SMILES trial, published in 2017, was the first study in the world to demonstrate that making dietary changes can be effective in improving the mental health of those living with depression. Previous studies had shown that higher intakes of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish and lower intakes of highly processed and sugary foods were consistently associated with better mental health outcomes. The SMILES trial, being a gold standard randomly controlled trial, saw the further benefit of following a modified Mediterranean Style Diet.

So based on this trial there may be certain foods that help our mood and mental well-being such as:-

  • Oily Fish – they tend to be a great source of essential Omega 3 fatty acids. Our brains need them to function and as our bodies can’t make them ourselves we must get them from our diet. Part of the Omega 3 family, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) play a particularly important role in the brain as they form the brain cell membranes. Whether fresh, frozen, smoked or tinned we should look to include salmon, sardines, trout, whitebait, mackerel, pilchards, herring (kippers or bloaters) as a regular. Eat them on toast, as a pate, in fish pie, Mediterranean style stew, risotto, paella or simply grilled and served with roasted veg and potatoes.

  • Leafy Greens – brimming with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants they may help the brain to function at its best. Spinach, watercress, rocket and varieties of lettuce are available washed and bagged and can be quickly added to our sandwich, served alongside a filled jacket potato or dressed and eaten as a ‘starter’ at dinner time. Also spinach and other leafy greens like cabbage, spring greens and kale can be served alongside a main meal or added to a soup or pasta sauce.

  • Nuts and Seeds- with a small handful as a snack, a sprinkle on our breakfast, having a nut butter on toast or choosing a seeded wholemeal bread they may contribute to brain function. We can choose from brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and pistachios in the nut world and seeds include sunflower, poppy, sesame, flaxseeds and pumpkin.

As we eat several times a day there are many opportunities to select foods that support our overall brain well-being and mood every day.


Happy eating,


Nina Thomas

Registered Associate Nutritionist

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