Back to Blog List

The Best Foods to Support Mental Health May Depend on Your Age


The foods we eat can affect our mental well-being, but the types of foods we need to help maintain and improve mental health may be different for young adults than for older adults, according to a new study from State University of New York at Binghamton.

The researchers at Binghamton, led by Lina Begdache, Ph.D., looked at the effects of foods and exercise on mental health and found differences depending on a person’s age. They conducted an anonymous internet survey through various professional and social media platforms that included questions relating to food groups that have been associated with neurochemistry and neurobiology.

man cooking

They found that among young adults (age 18-29) mood appears to be sensitive to the buildup of brain chemicals. Eating meat (poultry and red meat) regularly leads to the buildup of two brain chemicals that are known to promote mood – serotonin and dopamine. Exercise contributes to the buildup of these chemicals also. The researchers found that young adults who ate meat less than three times a week and exercised less than three times a week showed significant mental distress compared to young adults who exercised more and ate more meat.

Among mature adults (over 30), however, they found mental well-being more dependent on consuming foods that increase antioxidants, such as fruits, and not consuming food that activate the stress response, such as coffee and high glycemic index foods (refined sugar and breads). Skipping breakfast also contributed to lowered mood. The authors suggest the differing response by age may be partly because our brains do not be completely mature until around age 30.

While one study does not provide a prescription for what to eat, it does add new detail and nuance to our understanding of how nutrition affects mood and mental health.

This research is part of a growing body of research in finding an association between good nutrition and better mental well-being and lower risk for common mental disorders like depression. Poor diet—generally defined as more saturated fats and refined and processed foods and less fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and nutrient-dense foods—has been associated with depression, anxiety and ADHD.

For example, one study focusing on children and adolescents found that a diet lower in fruit, vegetables, pasta, rice and fish and higher in sugar, candy, cola beverages, and noncola soft drinks was associated with ADHD diagnosis. Another study of adults found that improving diet through nutritional counseling sessions could improve depression symptoms.



AnxietyDepressionPatients and Families


Comments (0) Add a Comment


Add a comment

Enter the text shown in this image:*(Input is case sensitive)
* - Only comments approved by post author will be displayed here.