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Good News for the Blues: Dietary Changes May Help Alleviate Depression

Breakthrough Research Suggests Diet Can Improve Mental Health Outcomes

A healthy diet may improve mental health.
A healthy diet may improve mental health. ©Yaroslav Shuraev/Pexels

For anyone grappling with mental health challenges, particularly depression, there is a beacon of hope, and it just might be on the dinner plate. Dr. Christopher Palmer’s latest read, Brain Energy, connects how food choices influence brain health and, consequently, mental states. He is not alone in this thought; a harmonious choir of scientific voices is singing a similar tune about the bond between diet and mental well-being.


So, what are Dr. Palmer and others saying about this connection? Essentially, nutrients consumed—or lack thereof—can directly affect brain metabolism and, in turn, mood, energy levels, and overall mental health.


The Link Between Brain Energy and Mental Health


Palmer’s book, Brain Energy, can be boiled down into one overall concept. The body’s mitochondria and how well they function can affect a person’s health in almost every possible way. Throw off the function of these human cell powerhouses, and health can be negatively affected. When brain cells are affected, this can cause mental health issues.


What was the most surprising thing Palmer found when researching? “That all of the risk factors for mental illness relate directly to metabolism and mitochondria. As a scientist and clinician, that was shocking,” Palmer told The Earth & I.


Many different factors can throw off mitochondria, but the easiest to control—and one of the most researched—is what humans put in their bodies.


The Research Behind Diet and Mental Health


The turning point in Palmer’s research came when he decided to treat a patient with schizoaffective disorder using a ketogenic diet. Within months, the patient’s chronic auditory hallucinations and delusions began to subside, and eventually, by Palmer’s estimates, the patient went into 90% to 95% remission. This led Palmer to a theory that mental disorders are metabolic disorders.

The keto diet.
The keto diet. ©Istock/OlgaMiltsova

The success of the ketogenic diet may not be surprising to anyone who has lived with epilepsy. The diet has been a treatment for the disease for over 100 years, and many studies over the past decades have found that the diet is a useful treatment.

Scientists are looking into how gut health, vitamin deficiencies, fasting, and more can positively or negatively affect a person’s mental health.

Since epilepsy is a disease linked to the mind, it is not a large jump to suspect that diet may be able to treat mental illness, as well. Palmer is not the only one with this suspicion. Many other scientists are looking into how gut health, vitamin deficiencies, fasting, and more can positively or negatively affect a person’s mental health.

For example, a study in 2023 found that there may be a link between low riboflavin levels and poor mental health. Many studies have also found there may be a link between poor diet and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), though more research is needed to determine what diet may improve SAD symptoms. Dozens of studies have also found a link between the Mediterranean Diet and good mental health.

Harvard Mediterranean Diet food pyramid.
Harvard Mediterranean Diet food pyramid. ©Wikimedia

Additional Factors That Can Influence Mental Health

While diet can play a large role in mental health, it is not the only factor. Palmer points out in his book that many things can positively or negatively affect mental health, such as genetics, medications, drugs, alcohol, hormones, pollution, inflammation, sleep, physical activity, and stress. All of these can affect mitochondria function, which directly affects brain function.

Diets That Can Help Boost Mental Health

All of this research is great, but what can someone do to improve their mental health today? “The first thing I tell people is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution for all people,” says Palmer, who is the founder and director of the Metabolic and Mental Health Program and director of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education, both at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.


“Different people do well with different diets and different lifestyle choices, so it's important to understand the science, as I outline in Brain Energy, all of the treatment options, and then figure out what works best for you,” says Palmer. “If I tell everyone to eat more broccoli, I can guarantee you that that advice won't be all that helpful for most people. It's a little more nuanced than that.”


“If I tell everyone to eat more broccoli, I can guarantee you that that advice won't be all that helpful for most people. It's a little more nuanced than that.”


For anyone looking to fix their diet to aid their mental health, here are a few things that studies have found to be potentially helpful:

  • Give the keto diet a shot. This diet focuses on foods high in fat and low in carbohydrates (sugars). This diet breaks down fats and produces ketones that energize cells.

  • Try the Mediterranean Diet. This diet is centered on eating fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fish, white meats, and olive oil. “These foods bring a repertoire of nutrients with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties, and several of these work together to support brain integrity and chemistry,” said Lina Begdache, a dietitian, nutritionist, and assistant professor of Health and Wellness Studies at Binghamton University in New York. “Research has also shown that the Mediterranean Diet supports resiliency, which protects from mental health decline,” she told The Earth & I.

  • Try to avoid processed foods, meat from animals injected with growth hormones, and other toxins that can be found in foods. “These factors affect brain health at different levels,” said Begdache. “Some of them work by inhibiting the production of certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin, which regulates mood. Others promote inflammation by reducing the ability of the blood-brain barrier to control the entry of toxins into the brain. Another concern is that pesticides or their metabolites may later affect the functions of gene (expression) which eventually lead to several neurological diseases.”

  • Increase fiber intake, as this has been found to help with depression and anxiety.

  • Consume more polyphenols if struggling with depression. Some foods that contain polyphenols include legumes, citrus, grapes, tea, coffee, nuts, soy, and spices.

It turns out that diet can play a pivotal role in managing and possibly alleviating symptoms of depression. This idea is not just food for thought; it is becoming a substantial theory backed by growing evidence that suggests healthier eating patterns could lead to healthier mental states.


Imagine if tweaking what is on the plate could brighten a person’s mood and offer a new avenue for managing depression. This concept opens a new realm of possibilities for those seeking solace from the grips of this disorder. It is a reminder that sometimes, hope can come from the simplest changes, like switching up the menu. Exploring and understanding this link goes well beyond the topic of food; it is a potential lifeline for millions. So, here's to nourishing both body and mind, one meal at a time.


*Alina Bradford is a safety and security expert who has contributed to CBS, MTV, USA Today, Reader’s Digest, and more. She is currently the editorial lead at


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