Psychonutrition sounds a little funny, but I can assure you I’m not talking about psychotic nutrition!
So What Is Psychonutrition?
Psychonutrition is the study and practice of using diet and nutrition to affect mental health and how the brain functions. It is a science based on research and clinical studies.
Other terms that are closely related to psychonutrition are:
- Nutritional psychiatry
- Nutritional psychology
- Mental health nutrition
- Behavioral health nutrition
With psychonutrition, you learn to eat fewer foods that lead to poor mental health (such as ultra-processed foods) and more foods that are linked to better mental health, such as
- Whole grains
- Omega-3 fats
While psychonutrition is helpful in eating disorders, substance abuse, and intellectual or developmental disorders, this web site primarily focuses on how nutrition affects the following:
- Anxiety disorder
- Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- Brain fog
- Low mood
- Mood swings
This post was written by Lindsay Delk, RDN. It is for informational purposes and is not intended to replace medical advice or instructions given by your healthcare provider.
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Methods of Psychonutrition
- Making long-term changes to your eating behavior and eating habits
- Taking supplements as needed to correct nutritional imbalances. These might include vital micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, as well as amino acids, adaptogens, and nootropics (I purchase my supplements from evitamins)
- Understanding the gut–brain axis and optimizing gut bacteria and gut health
What Is Functional Nutrition?
Psychonutrition is a form of functional nutrition, which finds and addresses the underlying root cause of a mental health problem instead of only treating the symptoms. It uses food as medicine and offers an individualized approach to nutrition therapy.
For example, a root cause of one patient’s depression might be a vitamin D deficiency that can be treated with more high-vitamin D foods and/or a vitamin D supplement.
Another patient’s root cause could be inflammation due to a diet high in ultra-processed foods. Treatment for this patient would include developing different behaviors and healthy habits of eating more whole foods in place of ultra-processed foods.
Are Your Brain and Mental Health Affected by What You Eat?
Absolutely! Everyone understands that a poor diet is a major contributor to many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. So, why wouldn’t it also be a major contributor to mental illness and brain disorders?
On the flip side, we also understand that a healthy diet can be protective against these diseases and disorders. More and more studies are showing a major connection between diet and mental health.
There is an increasing body of evidence that shows that what you do or don’t eat can affect your brain, nervous system, and mental health. This is great news if you have not gotten full relief from prescription medicines and/or psychotherapy and are looking for other ways to optimize your mental health.
Or, maybe you have just started a prescription medicine and psychotherapy, and you are looking for a way you can work on your emotional health while these other treatments start to work.
It is very empowering that you can do something to directly impact your mental wellness today!
Myths about Feeding Your Mind
- There is very little scientific evidence to show that nutrition affects your brain and mental health.
We live in an exciting time when more and more research shows several ways that diet and nutrition affect the brain and our mental well-being.
As an example, this study found that eating more fruits and vegetables was predictive of increased happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being.
Another study showed that taking a vitamin D supplement helped depression symptoms in patients diagnosed with depression.
- Prescription medications are the best treatment for mental health and should always be tried as a first line of treatment.
While prescription medicines may be necessary, it is important to take a holistic approach to mental health. Please read my article on this to understand what I mean by a holistic approach.
- Good nutrition eliminates the need for prescribed medicines.
Some may go to the extreme of only using prescription medicine for treatment. But others may go to the other extreme thinking that all brain and mental health problems are related to a lack of micronutrients or a gut imbalance.
Good nutrition is usually only one piece of the puzzle. Mental disorders are sometimes caused by genetics or imbalanced brain chemistry, which may require prescription medications.
I would again recommend a holistic approach and not refuse any part of the puzzle.
- Prescription drugs will always be more toxic and have more side effects than natural or plant-based treatments.
This is not true. Remember that “natural” or “plant-based” treatments can also have negative side effects. Actually, some plants (such as hemlock) can be fatal even in small amounts. Even water can be toxic and deadly if you drink too much of it.
- Everyone should be taking nutritional supplements to balance their biochemistry.
A basic multivitamin/mineral supplement will not hurt you under normal circumstances. But a healthy, well-balanced, plant-based diet should meet all of your vitamin and mineral needs and provides you with many benefits that a supplement cannot.
But some people may need to take supplements due to a lack of nutrients in their diet or increased needs. The only way you can really know is if your doctor orders specific tests. The tests might show that you are low in certain nutrients, or they may show that your levels are optimal.
As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, it is very important to me to provide evidence-based nutrition information. On every article I publish on this site, I provide links to high-quality research on that topic. And I suggest you look for this from all your sources of health information because we all know there is plenty of health and nutrition misinformation floating around!
So where do you find a psychonutritionist? Mental health professionals and Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RD/RDNs) can provide a psychonutrition consultation to meet the client’s needs. Along with possible medical treatment from your doctor, they can help you develop a therapy plan for optimal health. You can also join my email list to learn more about psychonutrition.