Did You Know That Food Can Affect Your Mental Health?

stethoscope on table next to a model brain and heart

I recently read This is Your Brain on Food by Uma Naidoo, MD and it was a great read!  Dr. Naidoo is a psychiatrist at Harvard and she has a special interest in how nutrition affects mental health; she is also a trained chef.  In this book, Dr. Naidoo highlights different mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and many others and shares compelling medical research for how food can help (and hurt) people with these disorders.  Food is not a substitute for medication, but what food we put into our bodies certainly affects our brain and mental health.  Here are some tips that Dr. Naidoo shares in her book.  I highly recommend reading the full book or you can listen to the book on tape during your morning commute.  Enjoy! 

Food For Brain Health
By Uma Naidoo, MD

B : Berries and beans
R : Rainbow colors of fruits and vegetables
A : Antioxidants
I : Include lean proteins and plant-based proteins
N : Nuts (almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts and cashews)
F : Fiber-rich foods, fish, fermented foods
O : oils (especially olive oil and canola oil)
O : Omega-3- rich foods
D : Dairy (yogurt and kefir, certain cheeses)
S : Spices

Berries and Beans

  • Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries
  • Use fresh, in season berries or frozen berries that do not have added sugar or preservatives
  • Eat beans, legumes and lentils

Rainbow Colors of Fruits and Vegetables

  • Eat many different types of fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid overeating sugary fruits like grapes and cherries
  • The most important color is green, especially dark, leafy greens (arugula, romaine, Bibb lettuce, endive and bok choy)
  • Blueberries are particularly beneficial for the brain


  • Berries and vegetables are a great source of antioxidants
  • Dark chocolate (without too much added sugar)
  • Many vitamins are antioxidants, so make sure to eat a diverse diet to get all your vitamins or take a multivitamin if you are unsure

Include Lean Proteins and Plant-Based Proteins

  • Eat well-sourced lean poultry and seafood and it is ok to occasionally eat grass-fed beef (grass fed beef has a better balance of healthy fats)
  • Consider tofu and tempeh as plant-based sources


  • Eat ¼ cup a day (but not more than this) as a snack, part of a salad, or part of a side dish

Fiber-Rich Foods, Fish and Fermented Foods

  • Fiber is a prebiotic and it can also help to keep weight down and help you feel “full”
  • Beans, legumes, lentils, fruits and vegetables are full of fiber
  • Fermented foods include kefir, miso and kimchi have natural active-culture bacteria that help your brain and gut health


  • Olive oil, canola oil (instead of vegetable oil), avocados and oily fish are a great source of healthy fat

Omega-3-Rich Foods

  • The best sources are oily fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna
  • Plant sources include chia seeds, brussel sprouts, walnuts, flaxseeds
  • You can also buy food enriched with omega-3 like milk and yogurt


  • Yogurt, kefir and grass-fed dairy products are the better choices
  • Dairy might exacerbate ADHD (in some people)


  • Turmeric, black pepper, saffron, red pepper flakes, oregano, rosemary are great for brain health
  • Black pepper makes turmeric even more bioavailable so be sure to add black pepper if cooking with turmeric
  • Saffron and turmeric are particularly great for depression and anxiety; use saffron sparingly – it is quite expensive

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