Are We What We Eat?
What’s for lunch? This question is becoming more expected in behavioral health facilities. There is significant research that a nutritious, well-balanced diet isn’t just good for the body; it’s great for the brain too.

Are We What We Eat?

By Brittney Rutledge, MS
Forensic Therapist

What’s for lunch? This question is becoming more expected in behavioral health facilities. There is significant research that a nutritious, well-balanced diet isn’t just good for the body; it’s great for the brain too.

Many well-conducted studies have been published worldwide regarding a link between diet and common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety in both kids and adults.

Half of all long-term mental health disorders start by age 14. Today, childhood mental illness affects more than 17 million kids in the U.S.

“A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health,” says Felice Jacka, president of International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. A healthy diet is protective, and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. Food allergies may also play a role in psychoses and personality disorders.

Certain foods may play a minor role in the cause of mental disorders, or they may enhance the symptoms. A nutritious brain diet follows the same logic as a heart-healthy regimen or weight control plan. By helping people shape their diets, we can improve their mental health, and hopefully decrease their risk of psychiatric disorders.

It is essential to be mindful when eating and limiting sugary or high fat processed foods, and choose more plant foods like fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains.

Although there’s no direct evidence that diet can improve depression or other mental health disorders and it shouldn’t be a substitution for medication and other treatments; it is essential to be mindful of eating habits. Experts have found a correlation with diet and how it may play a role in mental health. What you eat may affect your immunity, how your genes work and how your body responds to stress.

Diet impacts your mental health, and it is crucial for brain development. Specific nutrients and dietary patterns are linked to changes in the brain protein that helps increase connections between brain cells. Therefore, a diet rich in nutrients like omega-3s and zinc boosts levels of this substance. Whereas, a diet high in saturated fats and refined sugars may have a negative impact on brain proteins.

A well-balanced diet also fills the gut with healthy bacteria which is good for the brain. Good bacteria will fend off harmful germs and keep your immune system in check. Good gut health may decrease the inflammation in the body. Foods with probiotics (good bacteria) help maintain a healthy gut environment which may also have positive effects on mood and cognition, whereas, a high-fat or high-sugar diet is bad for gut health and bad for your brain. Some research suggests that high-sugar diets worsen schizophrenia symptoms.

Overall, certain foods may have effects on your mental health, or they may make symptoms worse. The goal is to choose foods that pack as many nutrients in as few calories as possible. Nutrients may be particularity helpful as preventive care in mental illness.

People who have low B12 levels have higher rates of depression and dementia, too little iron in the blood has been linked to depression. Healthy fatty acids like omega-3s aides in improving thinking, mood, and memory. Nutrients like zinc can help control the body’s response to stress where low zinc levels may cause depression. Fermented foods and drinks like yogurt and kombucha with active live cultures provide good gut bacteria; resulting in lower stress, depression, and anxiety. And, dark chocolate has antioxidants, which increases blood flow to the brain assisting in memory and mood. So, the next time you eat a piece of chocolate, don’t feel so guilty, remember it’s good for the brain.

Mental Health is for everybody and just as we should follow a daily regimen that keeps our hearts, skin, and other organs flourishing, we should also be mindful of nourishing our brains, even if we don’t suffer from mental illness.

Remember to eat healthier fats, get more protein, avoid sugar highs, treat stress with vitamins, and learn how to live in constant state of release, forgiveness, and peace.

For more information about Highland-Clarksburg Hospital, visit or call 304-969-3100. Keep up-to-date with our activities and events by following our Facebook page:


Highland-Clarksburg Hospital (HCHI) is a private, non-profit hospital that is dedicated to providing the best care for persons with mental disorders in West Virginia, parts of Ohio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. It has established an integrated system of high-quality behavioral health services, including mental health treatment services for Children, Adolescents’ and Forensic patients. Highland-Clarksburg Hospital is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

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