Diane May Nutrition Blog

Your Brain On Food

May 7th, 2021

May is National Mental Health Awareness month. The Covid 19 global pandemic had a huge impact on many peoples mental health, and there are a variety of things we can to to improve our mood. As important as exercise, quality sleep and social connection are, food and nutrition are vital to mood and overall mental health. The foods we eat can have a significant impact on levels of anxiety and depression. A newer area of study called nutritional psychiatry investigate how the foods we eat impact mood. A study published in the journal BMJ showed that diets such as the Mediterranean Diet are associated with better mental health than the typical western Diet. SO what should you eat more of and what should you avoid?

Foods to reduce/eliminate:

  • Reduce processed and ultra processed foods from your diet. examples include chips, sweetened breakfast cereal and frozen pizza.
  • Eliminate artificial sweeteners, such as aspertame, sucralose, saccharine and xylitol.
  • Limit the amount of sugar you intake. The maximim intake per day is 6 teaspoons for women and 8 teaspoons for men. 1 regular size soda tends to have more than 8 teaspoons of sugar.
  • Eat your fruits and vegetables, do not juice them.
  • Do not consume white refined carbohydrates. They lead to increased risk of diabetes and obesity. Make all your grains whole. Examples of white refined carbohydrates include white bread, white rice and white flour
  • Reduce saturated fat intake and eliminate trans fat from your diet. Saturated fat should not be more than 10% of your total daily calories. Examples of saturated fat include butter, bacon and full fat dairy.

Foods to increase:

  • Make sure you have at least 8-11 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. A serving of vegetables is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked and fruit is one small handfruit or 1/2 cup cut. Vary color and variety.
  • Have whole grains in portion. Examples of whole grains include 100% whole wheat, rye, barley, quinoa, and bulgar.
  • Reduce red meat and poultry. Focus on fish, shellfish and plant proteins such as soy, beans and legumes.
  • Consume enough fiber. Women should have between 21-26 grams of fiber a day and men should consume 36 grams of fiber a day. Try to avoid gummy fiber supplements.
  • Increase high Omega 3 fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackeral.
  • Reduce alcohol intake and avoid beverages with added calories.
  • Eat that dark chocolate!phytochemicals found in dark chocolate can improve mood. Make sure it is 70% dark or higher. A serving is 1 ounce.
  • Incorporate fermented food into your diet to assist with gut health. Examples of fermented foods include saurkraut, kefir, yogurt and kimchi.
  • Add healthy fats into your diet such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado. Remember to pay attention to portions, as fats are calorically dense.
  • Make sure you are well hydrated. the goal is to have 48-64 ounces of water a day.

Food plays a significant role in not only overall health, but mental health as well. Reach out to your RD for a mood boosting diet. If you are struggling with mental health and food may not be enough to support you, reach out to a therapist. Mental health is key to overall health and wellness.


Carolyn Casner

Source: EatingWell.com, May 2017

Active: 20 mins
Total: 20 mins
Servings: 4

Nutrition Profile:


Ingredient Checklist


Instructions Checklist
  • Place peppers, almonds, 2 tablespoons oil, garlic, paprika, cumin and crushed red pepper (if using) in a mini food processor. Puree until fairly smooth.

  • Combine quinoa, olives, red onion and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a medium bowl.

  • To serve, divide the quinoa mixture among 4 bowls and top with equal amounts of the chickpeas, cucumber and the red pepper sauce. Sprinkle with feta and parsley.


To make ahead: Prepare red pepper sauce (Step 1) and quinoa (Step 2); refrigerate in separate containers. Assemble just before serving.

Nutrition Facts



479 calories; protein 12.7g; carbohydrates 49.5g; dietary fiber 7.7g; sugars 2.5g; fat 24.8g; saturated fat 4.3g; cholesterol 8.3mg; vitamin a iu 1145.8IU; vitamin c 9.6mg; folate 105.8mcg; calcium 135.8mg; iron 3.5mg; magnesium 109.9mg; potassium 442.6mg; sodium 646mg; thiamin 0.2mg.