Home » Eating Disorders » Physical Health and Mental Health, Part 1: Eating Healthfully

Physical Health and Mental Health, Part 1: Eating Healthfully

Mental health and physical health are closely related. Keeping physically fit actually helps our mental health too; because it is very hard to stay psychologically healthy when our physical health is poor. If we are physical functioning poorly it takes an emotional toll on us as well.

Caring for your body and mind may mean you’ll not only live longer, but better. Eating healthfully, exercising regularly and getting a good night’s sleep are all important aspects to both the health of our mind and body. Just as there are many effective treatments for physical illnesses, besides therapies and medications, lifestyle interventions can be beneficial to our mental health too.

The Importance of Eating Healthfully to Benefit Mental Health

You’ve probably heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” But what exactly does that mean? Put simply, food is fuel, and the kind of fuel you consume determines the types of nutrients in your system, therefore impacting how your mind and body function. In other words, if you eat poorly you’ll tend to feel poor.

Food can play a contributing role in the treatments of Depression, Anxiety, and Attention Deficit Disorder. Eating a healthy diet can actually play a part in one’s treatment plan. However, a healthy diet alone should not be considered a substitute for medication or psychotherapy.


A combination of Psychotherapy, Anti-Depressants, and a healthy diet consisting of Folic Acid, Vitamin D, and Omega-3s should all be included in one’s treatment for Depression.

Increasing one’s intake of folate has been associated with helping to reduce depressive symptoms. Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, fruits, nuts, beans and whole grains have high amounts of folate, or folic acid.

Depression rates are higher among those with a Vitamin D deficiency. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna have the most naturally occurring Vitamin D. Other foods like milk, orange juice and breakfast cereals have Vitamin D added.  Eating foods high in Vitamin D therefore, may help reduce depression.

Some studies suggest that Omega-3s may be helpful in the treatment of depression as they seem to have a mood-stabilizing effect. Omega-3 essential fatty acids may also help boost the effectiveness of conventional antidepressants. Oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, anchovies and sardines) are the most highly recommended sources of omega-3.  Omega-3s can also be found in walnuts, flax (or flaxseed oil), olive oil, fresh basil and dark green leafy vegetables.


Studies have shown that when people take Probiotics (supplements containing the good bacteria), their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook may improve.

Some Teas are known to help reduce Anxiety.  Chamomile Tea has a natural calming and soothing effect and Rooibos and African Red Bush teas seem to have a balancing effect on stress hormones.

Tryptophan has been linked to helping one to feel calm. Turkey, Soy, Eggs, and Cheese are all high in tryptophan.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, other psychotherapies, anti-anxiety medications, and a healthy balanced diet should all be included in one’s treatment plan for Anxiety Disorders.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Protein may help improve concentration and possibly make ADHD medications work for a longer period of time.  Beans, cheese, eggs, meat, and nuts can be good sources of protein.

Complex carbohydrates may help with the sleep issues some experience with ADHD.  Eating vegetables and some fruits, including oranges, tangerines, pears, grapefruit, apples, and kiwi may help one’s sleep if eaten in the evening.

Eating more omega-3 fatty acids has been linked with increased concentration as well. 

Executive functioning skills, psychotherapy, support groups, and medication prescribed by a doctor, as well as eating healthfully can all be included in the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Psychotherapy with a Therapist specifically trained in Anxiety, Depression, and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is essential in the treatment of these Mental Health Disorders.  You can search for a specialist in Anxiety and/or Depression on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website.  To find a specialist in ADHD, please visit  A healthy diet alone should not be considered a substitute for medication or psychotherapy.

Physical Health and Mental Health, Part 1: Eating Healthfully

Staci Lee Schnell, MS,CS,LMFT

Staci Lee Schnell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Clinical Fellow of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She is currently the President of the Broward Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the Coordinator for the South Broward/North Dade Chapter of CHADD. Staci is the President of SLS Therapy, Inc. as well as the Clinical Director and Owner of the Counseling and Wellness Center of South Florida. Staci received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology with a Minor in Child Development from Florida State University in 1991. Staci then went on to earn her Master of Science Degree in Family Therapy as well as a Clinical Specialist Degree in Family Systems Health Care from Nova Southeastern University in 1993.

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment
APA Reference
Schnell, S. (2018). Physical Health and Mental Health, Part 1: Eating Healthfully. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 5 Jan 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.