The Gut Brain Connection: How Diet Affects Your Mood and Mental Health

November 25, 2023 7 mins to read

As someone in college to become a holistic nutritionist and nutritional counselor, I find the emerging field of nutritional psychology and the gut brain connection to be fascinating. This field of study reveals complex interplay between our diet, mood and over-all mental health. Dietary changes combined with certain supplements have even proven to be more effective than some medicines e.g. Saffron for depressions vs SSRI anti-depressants; whenever I’m feeling down a cup of saffron boosts my mood, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. So in this article I’m going to dig into the relationship between diet and it’s affect on mood and over all mental health.

Understanding Nutritional Psychology

Nutritional Psychology isn’t any less affective than traditional psychology…it represents a groundbreaking approach to understanding how our food choices directly impact our mental and emotional well-being; with practitioners having amazing results in improving or recovering all manner of mental health issues. Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have long embraced the notion that food affects not just our physical bodies but our minds and souls as well. Modern science is finally catching up, with research and studies providing evidence for how different foods can influence our psychological state.

The Gut Brain Connection: Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Mental Health

Your product roughly the same amount of neurotransmitters in your gut, as in your brain, which makes your gut microbiome a driver behind your mental health. The beneficial microbes living in our gut thrive on fiber in our diet, and are largely responsible for the guts influence on mood. Foods like vegetables, fermented products, and fiber-rich items feed these microbes, which in turn support our mental health through a complex relationship involving among many things neurotransmitter production like dopamine. This is where prebiotics (fibrous foods that feed gut bacteria) and probiotics (beneficial bacteria themselves) come into play. They are vital for maintaining a healthy gut-brain axis, influencing everything from our cognitive functions to daily energy levels.

Pick your probiotics carefully

Many probiotics are destroyed by stomach acid, just doing it’s job. Only specially formulated enteric coated probiotics are protected during digestion to make it down to the intestines where they can populate and support our health. This is another reason I promote Probiotic rich foods with my clients like: kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir (goats milk if sensitive to cows dairy) because they are effective at getting probiotics into the intestines. Also the strain of probiotics and the quantity of each matters as well.

My two favorite probiotic and gut health supplements are by Dr. Wallach:

The All-in-one Gut Health Bundle

If you have the budget and just want to get everything needed for optimal gut and over-all health then Dr. Wallach’s Gut Health Bundle is hands down the most comprehensive set of formulas available – over 91 essential nutrients in all the right quantities to ensure your body and brain have everything they need to operate in peak performance. If you have leaky gut or a chronic health condition I highly suggest you book an appointment because I can set you up with a specialized gut health protocol to heal your gut and improve your chronic health condition.

Neurotransmitters: The Chemical Messengers

Two primary neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, are crucial in this scenario. Dopamine, often referred to as the ‘reward neurotransmitter,’ is responsible for our feelings of pleasure and motivation. It’s fueled by foods like cacao and omega-3 rich sources like flax or salmon. Serotonin, on the other hand, is key for feeling calm and content. It’s primarily synthesized in the gut and requires tryptophan-rich foods like turkey, tofu, or warm milk.

Key Vitamins & Minerals for Dopamine & Serotonin

For Dopamine Production:

  1. Vitamin D: Helps in the synthesis of dopamine.
  2. Iron: Essential for the proper functioning of dopamine.
  3. Magnesium: Plays a role in dopamine production.
  4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Support brain health and dopamine levels.
  5. Niacin (Vitamin B3): Important for overall brain health, including dopamine production.
  6. Vitamin B6: Crucial in the synthesis of dopamine.

For Serotonin Production:

  1. Tryptophan: An amino acid precursor to serotonin.
  2. Vitamin B6: Essential for converting tryptophan into serotonin.
  3. Vitamin B12: Supports the maintenance of a healthy nervous system which is necessary for serotonin production.
  4. Folate (Vitamin B9): Helps in the synthesis of serotonin.
  5. Magnesium: Also plays a role in serotonin production.
  6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Beneficial for overall brain health, impactsserotonin levels.

Personalizing Your Plate

Understanding that each individual’s nutritional needs can vary based on their health history/status, health issues, age, health goals, unique genetics, etc….therefore it’s vital to personalize dietary choices. That’s why working with a professional is so beneficial because what works for one person may not work for another. You can book an online telehealth (video call) appointment with a holistic nutritionist or nutritional counselor for help creating a tailored holistic plan- A personalized approach that helps in fine-tuning lifestyle habits to achieve optimal psychological and emotional health.

Practical Tips for Everyday Wellness

Feeling stressed? Try incorporating ginger or nutmeg into your meals for their calming effects. If you need a mood lift, consider foods that boost dopamine production like saffron tea (my personal favorite). And for those nights when relaxation seems elusive, turn to serotonin-boosting foods like turkey or supplements like L-theanine. In addition GABA can also help as a main inhibitory neurotransmitter and lavender can also be very relaxing. Don’t forget meditation and breathing exercises!

Conclusion: You Are What You Eat

You’ve heart the saying before, but now there’s research to back it up; nutrition affects our mood and mental health. Being informed and consuming foods that provide the raw materials needed for neurotransmitter production, and those that support a healthy gut microbiome are some of the main drivers behind our mental well-being. If you want to live a more balanced, joyful and fulfilling life…stop thinking of your stomach as somewhere you dump food, and instead as a key player in your mental health.


  1. The Gut-Brain Connection: Understanding the Link
  2. The Role of Fermented Foods in Mental Health
  3. Neurotransmitters and Nutrition: A Guide


The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any health care agency or government entity in Canada or the United States.

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