Are These Foods Affecting Your Mental Health? Mental Health Awareness Month.

op Foods That may be affecting your mental health.

Every day should be Mental Health Day. However, May is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. Numerous individuals, on social media platforms share how work-related stress adversely affects their well-being. Although stress impacts our mental health, it often correlates with our eating habits. This review blog we will answer the question: Are These Foods Affecting Your Mental Health? Mental Health Awareness Month.

Mental health plays a role in our well-being influencing our actions, thoughts, and emotions.

The National Institute of Health (NIH)  reveals that in 2021, 1 in 6 adults or 58.6 million individuals in the United States are living with some form of mental illness; the number keeps growing. However, while various factors impact mental health, nutrition can play a valid role.

During this Mental Health Awareness Month let’s explore how certain foods may have negative effects on our well-being and discover ways to reduce their impact. 

How Food Affects Mental Health: Food-Mood-Body Connection.

The relationship between diet and mental health is intricate and multifaceted. However, studies indicate that some foods can directly and indirectly affect our body and consequently our mental health. Common mental health conditions includes, but is not limited to :  Anxiety, ADHD, and Depression which are often associated with sleep apnea,  mental drain, lack of energy, brain fog, and  problems concentrating. 


Food Explora’s controversial motto is “No food is unhealthy until you overeat.”  Eating a slice of cake once in a while will not wreak havoc on your body. 

However,  eating cake or foods deemed unhealthy every day or several times a week,  over time, can have negative long-term consequences on your overall health.  

 The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as the “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not just merely the absence of disease. ” 

These triangular states are all inter-connected and Health Care Professionals must draw the dots to provide appropriate intervention. 

Research shows a strong correlation between what we eat and how we feel. The brain requires many nutrients to function properly. 

An imbalance can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and memory loss.

Understanding which foods can have an impact on our mental health is crucial to maintaining our emotional and psychological well-being.

It is important to note that the foods discussed in this blog have varying effects on mental health. 

Regularly consuming these foods can have negative impacts on your mental health and wellbeing.

How Excessive Consumption of Sugar Affects Your Mental Health?

Brown sugar

Sugary Foods and Refine Carbohydrates Can Affect Your Mental Health.

Many individuals struggle with limiting their sugar and carbohydrate intake because they are found in many of the foods we love to consume.  

Sugar is like crack and cocaine. The more you eat, the more you want. Once you get hooked, it is sometimes hard to break free from its addictive claws, and the withdrawal symptoms are not to be taken lightly. In an article by Healthline, the author states that sugar stimulates the same areas of the brain as illegal drugs.

All Sugar Matters 

When most people think of sugar, the first thing that comes to mind is table sugar which we often use to sweeten our coffee and drinks, but they forget to consider other foods that have hidden sugars such as  dextrose, galactose, lactose and fructose. These  are all forms of sugars that get broken down to contribute to our blood glucose sugar levels.

In addition, starch is a complex carbohydrate found in commonly consumed foods like bread, and breakfast cereals. Starches are broken down by our body into glucose sugar units. 

Furthermore, they contribute to increases in our blood glucose levels. But first, one must understand how to read the sugar content of popular food products in order to limit their consumption.

How To Calculate Grams to Teaspoons of  Sugar  On Nutrition Labels?

When you go food shopping, take some time and read the ingredient labels and nutrition facts panel. They provide valuable  nutrition information, particularly on how much sugar and carbohydrates we will be putting into our bodies.

 4.2 grams = 1 teaspoon

An 8-ounce cup of 100% orange juice has around 23 grams of total sugar. To convert 23 grams of sugar to teaspoons, divide it by 4.2. Therefore, one cup of 100% orange juice contains around six teaspoons of sugar.  

What is the RDA of Sugar? Let the Nutrition facts be your guide.

The Dietary Guidelines For Americans (DGA) 2020-2025 is what I call the blueprint for what all healthy US residents of all lifespans should eat and drink to maintain or promote a healthy lifestyle. 

They suggest that adult’s daily Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of sugar be less than 10% of their daily caloric consumption. 

For example, if your recommended daily caloric intake is 2000 calories/day, then 10%, or approximately 200 calories, should come from added sugar.  

Nutrition Label: Added Sugar vs. Total Sugar

The DGA  recommends that Americans limit their intake of added sugar to less than 50 grams (12.5 teaspoons) per day. 

Sweetened beverages (juice, sodas, teas, coffee), candies, snacks, and cereal account for the majority of added sugar consumption. All sources of sugar quickly adds up.  

If you are physically active, then this recommendation is reasonable. However, the more added sugar you consume outside of the RDA, the harder it will be for you to stay within your normal daily caloric intake.  

Please pay close attention to both added sugar and total grams of sugar on your food labels. Grab a box of cereal or any other food item from your food pantry and read the label.

If the nutrition facts label, for example, contains 20 g of total sugar, but only 10 grams of this total is added sugar. Then one serving represents 10 grams or 3% of the recommended Daily Value (DV) of 50 grams of added sugar. The remaining 10 grams are naturally occurring sugars.

Sugar and Inflammation

The Harvard Health Blog reports that excessive sugar consumption can cause inflammation and oxidative stress throughout the body, including the brain, which impairs cognitive performance and emotional stability.

Chronic inflammation, which is typically increased by excessive sugar consumption, is said to help play a  role in the development of depression.

Refined carbohydrates and starches, such as white bread, soft drinks, candies, pastries, pasta, cakes, and other processed foods, can produce significant blood sugar spikes. These continual blood sugar increases might cause mood swings and energy crashes.

In addition, diets high in refined carbohydrates have been associated with an increased risk of depression and other mental health problems.

How Does Caffeine Affect Mental Health?

Caffeine can provide a short-term energy boost, but excessive consumption can cause anxiety, restlessness, and sleep disruptions, all of which can have negative impacts on your mental health. too much caffeine can affect sleep. 

Lack of sleep can cause an increase in stress hormone (cortisol) production in addition to cravings for sweets or sugar, which can contribute to weight gain. Excess weight gain can affect our physical and emotional health in many ways.

Caffeine stimulates our central nervous system and blocks one of the chemicals called Adenosine that helps us to fall asleep. 

It also increases the production and release of cortisol and adrenaline in our bloodstream. These fight or flight hormones can have us feeling jittery, over-stimulated, and having trouble falling asleep.

How Much Caffeine Should We Have Each Day?

I am a huge coffee lover. I can speak from personal experience on how caffeine affects me. Everyone’s experience with caffeine is different. But for me, coffee gives me a burst of energy and helps me focus more during my work day. 

God knows many of us need every help to deal with unnecessary work-related stress and pressure.  I drink 18 to 20 ounces of homemade coffee. I try to stay within the 2.5 cups per day because like many people,  I am sensitive to caffeine. 

The US Department of Food and Drugs Administration recommends that a healthy adult limit caffeine to no more than 400 mg daily. 

They further suggest that 5 grams of caffeine for every 2.2 lbs. body weight is recommended. 

Therefore, if you weigh 200 pounds, your individualized daily suggested caffeine intake should be about 455 mg. However, everyone’s caffeine sensitivity varies, and caffeine is metabolized at varying rates.

How Much Caffeine Is In Your Favorite Drinks?

Many drinks on the market contain surprisingly high levels of caffeine. To find out how many milligrams of caffeine are in our beloved Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and grocery store beverages, see the Caffeine Chart HERE

So be cautious of how many caffeine-containing drinks you consume during the day, as they all add up. Always check your healthcare provider before consuming caffeinated beverages, especially if you have a pre-existing health or medical problem.

The Zombie-like Effects Of Energy Drinks 

Energy drinks are increasingly popular with consumers, particularly millennials. Some energy drinks contain upwards of 300 mg of caffeine per serving. 

Read your nutrition facts and look out for those energy drinks with 2 servings per container. You may be gulping down double the caffeine.

Drinking too much caffeine is not only terrible for your physical body, but it can also cause zombie-like effects on your mental health. You may find yourself walking back and forth like a zombie in your home, unable to fall asleep.

In college,  I drank a can of Red Bull before I went to the gym.  My heart pounded non-stop and I could not fall asleep. 

The cups of coffee I had earlier that day, along with the can of Red Bull, gave me my first Walking Dead experience. It was not a give me wings so I could fly experience. I never drank another energy drink again.

South Beach Alcohol Drink Mental health

Does Alcohol Affect Metal Health?

Does Alcohol Abuse Lead To Mental Health Issues or Mental Health Issues Lead to Alcohol Abuse?

The relationship between alcohol and mental health is complex. The National Institute Of Health (NIH) raises a very interesting, but debatable questions above.

 I believe the answer to both questions is yes. Many people turn to alcohol to deal with depression and alleviate feelings of sadness, anxiety, and guilt. 

On the other hand, it can be argued that alcohol abuse can lead to mental health problems such as depression and other mood disorders.   

The author explains that Alcohol-induced depression occurs when people who abuse alcohol stop drinking and they experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, and anxiety.

On the reverse side,  the author references a condition called Depression-Induced Alcoholism where alcohol is used to self-medicate to fight feelings such as guilt, and loneliness. 

Yes, alcohol consumption has a short-term “mood-lifting effect” but can become detrimental to one’s mental health and well-being long term.

To learn more about alcohol Abuse Disorder and how much is safe to drink, check out my April Alcohol Awareness blog: A Call For Responsible Drinking.

Can Artificial Sweeteners Affect Your Mood?

Many diet foods and beverages with added artificial sweeteners are marketed to those who want to lose weight by cutting back on sugar. However, some studies suggest that some of these sweeteners can potentially have negative impacts on mental health. 

Most Artificial or Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) including saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame are often synthesized in laboratories. Stevia, monk fruit, and xylitol (which can be found in many chewing gums), are all-natural NNS. 

They are newer and more popular among customers who incorporate them into their diets for health benefits.

Artificial Sweeteners Affect Good Gut Bacteria?

A Review Article shares that certain sweeteners, particularly aspartame, have been linked to headaches, mood swings, and even depression in some people. 

Even though more research is needed, some studies indicate that artificial sweeteners may disrupt gut bacteria balance in some people, which is linked to poor mood management and overall mental health.

Verywell Mind has published a detailed piece on how a healthy gut can support good mental health. Our digestive tract and brain are more connected than we realize. This is one of the reasons why so many researchers are intrigued to study their relationship. 

The gut-brain connection has to some degree, direct and indirect associations with our neurological, endocrine, and immunological systems. 

Anything that disrupts gut microbial equilibrium can also interfere with the normal functioning of our physical and mental capacity.

Possible Link Between Artificial Sweeteners and Depression in Women.

Dr. Julie Chan describes how a new study conducted between 2003 and 2017 found a possible link between artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose) and depression in women aged 42 to 62.

The study discovered that women who consumed at least 9 servings of artificially sweetened ultra-processed foods (artificially sweetened beverages, ultra-processed meats, dairy, sauces, and snacks) per day were 50% more likely to develop depression.

She hypothesized that artificial sweeteners do not directly cause depression, but rather interfere with the process of producing Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) in the brain. 

This powerhouse molecule is essential for producing the feel-good chemicals: serotonin and dopamine, both of which promote happiness. The interruption in regular production of these molecules seems to be associated with depression.

She advised that, while artificial sweeteners benefit various groups of people, it is important not to consume too much food sweetened with NNS because additional research is needed to further explore the effects of NNS.

How Trans Fats/Hydrogenated Oils "Inflame" Your Mental Health?

Trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and Saturated fats, found in many fried and processed foods, have been linked to poor brain function and an increased risk of many mental health and cardiovascular problems. 

Trans fats are naturally found in some foods particularly red meats and full fat dairy.

Because of their link to cardiovascular disease, food companies and restaurants have eliminated trans fats from their menu ingredient or products, as mandated by the FDA in 2015. 

However, many of the foods we eat today include hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil in their ingredient lists.

Fortunately, the FDA revised its regulations in December 2023 to recognize that Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHO) are no longer generally recognized as safe (GRAS)

These include but are not limited to peanut butter, canned tuna, margarine, shortening, bread rolls, and buns. I am not sure how this will translate into food production in the coming years, but it’s a tremendous step toward healthier consumers.

What Foods contain are PHO?

According to Outside Magazine, pre-packaged baked goods, potato or corn chips, margarine, and vegetable shortening are the most popular food products containing this PHO. 

Food companies use the hydrogenation process, which involves adding hydrogen to fat molecules, to change the texture and lengthen the shelf life of their products. This process saves manufacturers a significant amount of money on food production. 

Adding hydrogen to vegetable oils causes them to thicken and spread more easily, as evidenced in margarine butter, which is used in many baked goods sold in stores today. However, hydrogenated oils or trans fats can harm brain health. 

PHO Consumption and Brain Inflammation

Trans fats and hydrogenated oils have been shown in numerous studies to produce inflammation in the body, which can impair brain function and memory.

In her article “How Trans Fat Sabotages Your Mental Health,” Akanksha noted that trans fat, a type of partly hydronated oil (PHO), interferes with the neurons that connect with the brain. 

This disruption can set off a chain reaction of events that promotes brain inflammation and subsequent memory problems.

cooking oils> How trans fats affect mental health

What Foods Are Best for Good Mental Health?

From my experience in the Health and Nutrition field, most people are exposed to so much health and nutrition-related information on the World Wide Web or social media. 

They acquire enough knowledge or have an idea of what to eat or do to promote and maintain a healthy life. But they just lack the motivation to do so. 

For some families, their socioeconomic status and other factors hinder them from achieving their health goals. 

Consistently working towards achieving optimal health as defined by the WHO  (physical, mental, and social well-being) can lead to better health outcomes. 

These trios are like a horse and carriage, you can’t have one without the other for the best overall health. 

It was discussed previously that certain foods can have a bad impact on your mental health. Here are some dietary adjustments you can make to help improve your mental health.

(1) More Fiber-Rich Foods = Lower Carbohydrate Uptake

Eating both soluble and insoluble fiber, which are usually present in fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, is beneficial not just for decreasing blood sugar and cholesterol levels. 

However, it also promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Research suggests that a healthy gut leads to a healthy mind.

Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that cannot be digested or broken down by the human body. The more fiber you eat with your meals the less likely your blood sugar will spike. 

This is very helpful for people living with Diabetes or those who want to lose or maintain their weight.  

Refer to the nutrition label below obtained from a box of cereal. If one serving has 38 grams of total carbohydrate (CHO),  but also has 8 grams of dietary fiber (soluble and insoluble). 

Since fiber cannot be digested, you need to take away the 8 grams of fiber from the total because it was already calculated in the total.

38 grams CHO – 8 grams dietary fiber = 30 grams net carbohydrate.

This is one of the reasons why Dietitians and Nutritionists encourage the use of the  MyPlate eating plan which encourages more fiber intake at mealtime.

What is the DGA Recommended Daily Fiber Intake?

The Dietary Guidelines For Americans (DGA) are considered the blueprint for healthy eating. Fiber requirements vary among age groups, gender, pregnancy, and those with certain medical conditions. However, 28 to 35 g per day is the average recommended amount of fiber for healthy adults.

The general rule of thumb for estimating your customized fiber requirement is to get 14 g of fiber for every 1000 kcal you need each day. Below are the recommended daily fiber intake for men and women:

Women 18 – 50 years: 25 -28 grams fiber /day

Women 50 years + older:22 grams fiber /day

Men 18-50 years: 31-34 grams fiber/day

Men 50 year + older: 28 grams fiber/day

(2)  Include More Omega 3-fatty Acids.

Omega-3s, which may be found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, are vital for brain health and can help alleviate depression and anxiety symptoms.

(3) Enjoy More Probiotic Rich Food Gut Health

Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi are all prebiotic and probiotic rich foods. They help promote a healthy gut microbiome, which can be good for mental wellness.

(4) Limit Highly-processed Sugar Rich Foods

Cutting back on highly processed and sugary foods like pastries, sugary cereal, cakes, cookies, sweetened beverages, and sugar snacks, can assist in regulating your blood sugar and prevent mood swings. 

If you have a sweet tooth like me, make your own healthier sweet treats at home. Try my   Maple Chia Oat Oats Banan Bread or my Kiwi Cake Square recipes. 

Include a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats in your meals. Your local Farmer’s Market is a good place to food shop. 

To save money on frozen vegetables and fruits, look for them on sale or buy in bulk. Prepare and freeze for later use in smoothies, stir-fries, and stews.

(5) Practice Mindful Eating

Pay attention to how different foods make you feel, and try to eat in ways that support both physical and mental wellness. 

If whole wheat bread causes you to feel bloated, consider switching to sourdough bread. If a high-carbohydrate meal makes you feel sluggish after eating, next time try using the MyPlate meal plan below or go for a 30-minute walk after your meals.

Try These Healthy Recipes By Clicking On Each Picture Below.

Easy Summer Salads
Bean Salad
Grilled Pollock Fish Burger
Pollock Fish Burger
persimmon salad
Fruits and Vegetable Salad
crustless Veggie Mushroom Quiche
Vegetable Quiche
Seafood and Vegetable Soup Recipe
Spicy Seafood Soup
pumpkin sweet potato smoothie
Roasted Pumpkin Sweet Potato Smoothie

Final Thoughts

Our eating habits and lifestyle choices can have various effects on our mental health. 

Many studies have shown that the foods we eat can have a significant impact on our mood, cognitive performance, and overall mental health. 

We need more research to better understand the association between diet and various types of mental illnesses, as more and more people are being diagnosed with one or more mental health conditions.

Sensible eating, Therapy and having a strong support system or close group friends all contribute to good overall mental health. 

During this Mental Health Awareness Month, and in upcoming months, consider how your dietary choices affect your physical and mental health. 

Begin by making tiny modifications to what you put in your mouth. For optimal gut health, prioritize a daily balanced diet rich in whole foods (unprocessed fruits, vegetables, whole grains), healthy fats (olive oil), lean proteins (chicken, fish), and Pro/Prebiotics (yogurt, kefir, fermented foods). 

These dietary modifications will help you improve your physical and mental well-being, paving the way for a healthier, happier life.


Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

What other foods do you think can affect our mental health?

26 thoughts on “Are These Foods Affecting Your Mental Health? Mental Health Awareness Month.”

  1. Bringing the public into a discussion between the relationship of food, mental health and social status I believe is really important- great blog 😊

  2. I am currently on an AIP diet. Auto-immune diet. And I have to cut out smoking, coffee, alcohol, sugar, oil, dairy, eggs, night-shade fam veg, gluten, grains, nuts and seeds etc etc… so after you see results. you slowly add new foods back into your diet to see if any inflammation etc comes back. so basically just meat veg and fruit. 🙂 I love your list as it goes hand in hand with what I am doing at the moment. And it has such an impact on mental health as well! So true. Love this article. Great info. Thank you.

    1. Thank for sharing the diet you are currently on. I am surprised nuts and seeds are on your do not eat list. All the best. You have inspired me to try this anti-inflammatory diet.

  3. The impact of food on my mental health is not something I think about so I’m grateful for this article. It was an interesting and informative read. Thanks for sharing!

  4. WOW! learning that a glass or orange juice contained six tespoons of sugar was a real eye opener. No wonder a doctor adised me to teer clear of fruit juice ! There is a lot of information here so I’m saving the link to reread it later when I have more time!

  5. Such a good read. Didn’t pay much attention to how food affects mental health, only on how it affects my physical, but this article has made me more aware and I’m really glad. Now I’ll be paying more attention to what I eat especially when I’m not feeling very good emotionally. Thanks for the informative read.

  6. 🌟 Food and Mood: Nourishing Your Mind on Your Travels 🌟

    As a fellow travel enthusiast, I’ve discovered that what we eat impacts more than just our taste buds—it affects our mood too! 🌎✨

    🍎 Choose Wisely: Opt for nutrient-packed foods like colorful fruits and veggies. They’re like little mood boosters! 🌿

    🥑 Gut Health Matters: Did you know your gut and brain chat? Yep! A diverse gut microbiome can enhance your mental well-being. So, eat those probiotics! 🌟

    ☀️ Sunshine Vitamin: Vitamin D isn’t just for sunny destinations—it’s essential for serotonin production. Keep those good vibes flowing! ☀️

    Bon appétit, fellow adventurer! 🍽️🌟

  7. I knew about how some of these affected mental health like alcohol and caffeine, but not the others, so it was great to learn more including which foods are best for mental health.

  8. The connection between our gut and our mental health is a strong one for sure, and it’s so important to consider what we are putting into our bodies (and minds). I have overhauled my eating habits and it has had a marked improvement on my mental outlook. Great post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *