You are what you eat: The impact of nutrition on Mental Health

Loz Holmes

Loz Holmes

Sam Gibson

Sam Gibson

DISCLAIMER: Neither of us are qualified nutritionists or doctors so take our recommendations with a pinch of salt and consult a health professional before making any drastic changes.

Everywhere you look, we are being bombarded with information telling us what we should eat to get the perfect body. Personal trainers, edited to perfection, tell us how to eat to achieve frankly impossible body goals. Along the way it seems we become more self-conscious, more anxious of the way we look, and ultimately more likely to feel bad about ourselves.

So what if we skipped this stage, and focused on ways we can eat to improve our mood? There is growing evidence that our nutrition has a significant impact on our mental health, and that the healthiness of our stomachs is directly linked to that of our brains. Thus, if we choose to ignore an unhealthy and profit-focused fitness industry, and don’t compare our bodies to damaging ideals, we can focus on eating genuinely healthy foods that satisfy our bodies, boost our serotonin levels and ultimately make us happier.

So what does a brain healthy diet look like?

There are a few key recommendations when it comes to eating for mental health:

1. Diversify what you eat.

By trying out new foods, particularly new fruits and vegetables, we can improve the make-up of healthy bacteria in our gut. New research has shown that, when we have a healthier gut, neurotransmitters are produced, such as dopamine and serotonin, and sent to the brain along the gut-brain axis. Here’s a list of food sources ranked based on their mental health benefits, taken from ‘The Happy Kitchen’ by Rachel Kelly:

2. Avoid sugar when possible.

As much as I love chocolate, sweets and all things sugary, I definitely notice a dip in my mood following a big sugar binge, almost like I’m hungover from all the sugar I’ve just consumed. I would never tell people not to eat sugar, do what you want if you really enjoy it, but just be conscious of the fact that sometimes we eat sugar solely because it is addictive, not because your brain craves any of the nutrients in the products that contain it.

3. Drink more water.

Whilst it seems the whole country has become obsessed with fad diets, nine out of ten people don’t drink their recommended daily water intake. If your brain isn’t hydrated, it won’t be functioning properly, and you’ll be far more likely to become depressed or anxious. It is recommended to drink between 6-8 glasses of water a day on average, and this will be more if you are larger. Recently, I have tried to bring 2 litre-bottle with me wherever I go. This may seem excessive, but for me it is a simple and effective way to ensure I’m hydrated throughout the day.


One of Loz’s personal health triumphs – an upgrade in the type of 2L bottle he brings with him everywhere he goes

Ultimately though, there remains debate over exactly what the ideal diet for mental health is. In the next part of this blog, me, Loz Holmes, and Sam Gibson, will discuss our very different diet journeys to show that there is no one right way to eat for your mental and physical health.


As part of improving my mental health, I have attempted to eat a majority plant-based diet, trying out new fruits and vegetables wherever possible, and have also attempted to cut down on my sugar intake. I’m not perfect in either of these regards, and would by no means call myself a vegan, but I try not to be too hard on myself about breaking occasionally, whilst making it my long term aspiration to eat a whole foods, plant-based diet. I try to combine this way of eating with taking probiotics. Probiotics introduce good bacteria into your gut that are further stimulated by introducing new fruits and vegetables into your diet (prebiotics).The most common probiotic is kefir, but you can get probiotics from vegan foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. I’ve found that combining probiotics with rich and diverse fruits and vegetables has really boosted my overall mood, and given me more energy throughout the day.

Moreover, whilst from what I’ve read, the main focus of anyone’s diet should be whole foods, I have found a number of supplements to have an additional benefit on my mental health. Taking things like vegan based Omega-3s and Vitamin B12 are essential when eating a predominantly plant-based diet as well as being sure to get enough iron in your diet. I have also tried out things such as brain teas, consisting of Gota Kolu, Ginkgo Biloba and Lion’s Mane, which have definitely improved my focus and lifted my mood, although the taste isn’t the best! I would also recommend Ashwagandha, a plant based supplement that has done wonders for my anxiety. Combining these supplements with a primarily plant-based, whole foods diet feels like the best move for me and my mental health, and so I hope to stick to it whilst not being hard on myself for the occasional break.


If you read my first blog, you will know that I have experimented with vegetarian and vegan diets previously. Unfortunately, neither served me well and the more typically regarded healthy foods I was eating the worse my overall health and eczema became. My diet during this time consisted of grains, green juices, oats, beans, veg (silly amounts of kale and spinach) and natural sources of sugar like fruit, honey and maple syrup. Whole food plant based, nothing processed was entering my body. So lots of the “good stuff” but an alarming lack of fat and certain nutrients. I am by no means advocating the following diet for everyone but am just talking about my personal experience . I have been on the carnivore diet for quite a while now which has helped me reclaim some of my health which was damaged by eczema and my iteration of the vegan diet. I eat what is referred to as a ”nose-to-tail” carnivore diet meaning I try to eat the whole animal, including various organ meats and less popular cuts. The carnivore diet is based exclusively on animal products and commonly leans most heavily on red meat such as beef and lamb. I won’t delve into answering the most common questions I get like “Aren’t you getting enough vitamins and minerals” , “how do you go number 2 with little to no fiber”, “Aren’t you worried about your cholesterol” but I too asked myself all these questions before and continue to throughout my journey on this diet so if anyone is interested or has any questions about the diet feel free to email us using the shortcut at the bottom of this post!

This diet is in my opinion best used as a short to medium term intervention and elimination diet. People, especially those with compromised autoimmunity such as myself, are much more likely to be intolerant to plant foods compared to animal foods (with the exception of eggs and dairy). When you strip your diet back to nutrient dense foods such as red meat and organ meats and incorporate some intermittent and extended fasting, it gives your gut and digestion a break and some time to heal. Once this healing has taken place and/or you have identified the foods you struggle with you can add more plant matter back into your diet and find your optimal diet through continued experimentation which is the direction I hope to move in. I do have moments where I wonder if I have gone mental being on such an extreme diet, but then I think of the state of the public health of the west and the state of my health after following a “balanced” diet and a vegan diet. We clearly do not have it all figured out and alternative views should be explored rather than shut down. As a diet and approach to nutrition and health that has very recently gained popularity, the carnivore diet is lacking in empirical evidence proving its effectiveness but there is a growing interest in this and a burgeoning pool of compelling anecdotal evidence where people have reversed very severe diseases. Look on the MeatRX website for testimonials about how and what a primarily animal based diet has healed.

I try to be as conscious as I can be of any bias I have when approaching the subject of nutrition but have caught myself several times becoming dogmatic in my beliefs. What I see when digesting various documentaries, YouTube videos and podcasts on both the carnivore diet and veganism. What I see in the comments on both types of videos is scores of people gleefully proclaiming the drastic health benefits they have felt from their chosen dietary intervention. This is one thing that leads me to believe that the success hordes of people are experiencing on both the extreme ends of this dietary spectrum is perhaps more to do with what you are excluding rather than what you are including.

What these two very different diet journeys demonstrate is that there is no one right way to eat. Do your own research for your own body, and we will do our best to educate ourselves on particular diets that benefit particular mental and physical health conditions. Most of all, remember to love yourself and your food choices, and ignore anyone trying to tell you different. All our love, Loz and Sam Xx

Tunes that sum up this blog:

Eat That Up, It’s Good For You-Two Door Cinema Club: From the album that got me interested in music, a classic from two door that will take you back to times much simpler than the ones we find ourselves in now.

Food-Jme: Jme has been an outspoken vegan for years now. He even appeared in a feature film called Carnage released in 2017 which depicts  a vegan utopia where eating meat is banned