Good nutrition is just as important to mental health as it is to physical health. The usual response I get to this statement is something akin to – ‘Really? I didn’t know that!’.

So many people are amazed to learn that we need to nourish our mental health with natural, wholesome foods – the same as with our physical health!

Despite increasing mental health awareness and training, many of us are still oblivious to the benefits of good nutrition when it comes to optimum mental, emotional and cognitive health.

Is it any wonder, then, that many healthy eating plans lack specific reference to nourishing mental health? In fact, widespread misunderstanding about what constitutes healthy eating often leads to food choices that detrimentally impact mental health and cognitive function. A prime example is the belief that all dietary fats are bad for you.

Many of us experience symptoms such as brain fog, low mood, excessive worry and irritability. Good nutrition not only promotes good mental health, but it can also prevent severe symptoms of poor mental health which may result from, or be compounded by, nutrient deficiencies.

To be fair, it can be challenging to sift through the endless streams of advice from food ads, social media gurus, Amazon bestsellers and well-meaning friends.

The key is getting to know what works for you – what makes you feel better and what makes you feel worse. We are all unique and our individual needs differ.

Here are five simple tips to get you started:

  • One: Drink water

    As your brain is up to 75% water, hydration can affect the way it functions. Staying hydrated helps concentration and clarity of thought. Being well hydrated is also associated with improved mood regulation and better sleep. Aim for 6-8 glasses of water per day.

  • Two:  Gut-brain connection

    Your gut is sometimes referred to as your ‘second brain’ as it contains the same types of nerve cells and chemical messengers as your actual brain.  Your gut microbiome (a community of micro-organisms) also plays a role in supporting your mental health.

    The gut-brain connection means that your gut health can impact your brain health and vice versa. Gut health is known to influence mood and cognitive function. Therefore, it is important to keep your gut healthy with foods such as probiotics (e.g., live yoghurt) as well as whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruit.

  • Three:  The brain needs ‘good’ fats

    As the brain consists of mainly fat, it needs healthy fats such as Omega-3 to function well.  Good sources of healthy fats include oily fish, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, seeds and avocados.

  • Four:  Eat a rainbow every day

    Consuming a variety of different coloured vegetables and fruits each day provides a wide range of vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients (chemicals found in plants) to help your body and mind stay healthy.

  • Five:  Avoid inflammation-causing foods

    Some foods such as excess sugar, trans fats, processed foods and artificial additives can cause inflammation and increased the risk of mental health problems. Focus on natural, whole foods to support your mental and physical health.

A great tip is to focus less on calorie counting and weighing scales and more on what makes you healthy i.e., vitamins, minerals and other nutrients found in food.

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