"Mental Health" Monday

You Are What You Eat: The Link Between Diet and Mental Health


It’s a known stereotype that college students don’t always eat the healthiest. This is especially true in the first couple years of college, when us college kids are tossed into tiny dorm rooms, and have to make due with the dining halls, prepackaged snacks stored in our rooms, and the occasional microwave meals. It becomes the norm to keep snack-y foods that won’t spoil in our rooms for late night studying or for when friends come over to hang out. It’s this constant access to “on-the-go” junk food snacks and meals, and a lack of access to fresh produce and sources of protein that can make us gain weight, have low energy levels, and overall just have us feeling “blech”.

But these foods don’t just affect our body physically. They affect our emotional and mental health as well.  Aside from the physical effects of eating unhealthy, our brain suffers too. Without the proper nutrients, the brain can’t do its job and in turn, our mental health can take a toll. To get to the root of the connection between our mental health and diet, let’s take a look at some popular snack choices made among college students.


A lot of college students drink a lot of coffee. It’s what keeps us going when we are writing papers, studying for exams, or simply just trying to get through that 8 a.m. lecture.  In fact, our generation has been credited with spending too much coffee on this caffeine infused concoction. This caffeinated beverage becomes especially accessible if we own that magical machine called a Keurig that becomes the first thing we interact with in the morning. After that first brew, though, there’s still Starbucks and Dunkin to get us through the rest of the day. And afternoon. And evening. Which begs the question, “Can you ever have too much coffee?”


A staple American snack, this black and white cookie is a favorite among hungry college students looking for a sugary fix. It’s hard to find a college kid who doesn’t enjoy this tasty treat. It’s a yummy fix for when you want something sweet and on the go, but while you may enjoy it, your brain might be suggesting otherwise. 


The most stereotypical and famous college snack choice. It’s an easy and quick dinner when it’s too late to go to the dining hall, and all it requires is a microwave, water,  and a plastic fork. How much easier could a meal get?

Goldfish/Cracker-like Foods

They may not be everyone’s favorite go-to processed food (maybe you like Cheez-itz or Cool Ranch Doritos) but it’s that easy “chip” food that you throw into your mouth while watching Netflix or writing up an essay for an 8am. It’s easy to mindlessly eat these types of foods when you are occupied while doing homework or studying, but how is it affecting your brain?


While there are college kids that pass on alcohol, a research has shown that a majority of kids “work hard, play harder” when it comes to downing booze. Whatever your drink of choice is, alcohol can certainly be a staple of the college kids diet, and already has been known to affect you both physically, and mentally.

So how does ingesting these kinds of foods impact our mental health?

  1. Frequent consumers of coffee use it as a cognitive enhancer to keep awake and alert throughout the day, and has shown benefits associated with a reduction in cognitive decline and memory disorders. But as we begin to depend on it, so much so that we’re drinking more than 4 cups of coffee a day, we may start to experience awful symptoms such as insomnia, restlessness, and even anxiety.   
  2. Foods high in sugar, like Oreos,  get absorbed very rapidly into the bloodstream which often causes a surge of energy that later wears off and has us feeling a “sugar crash”, leaving us feeling drowsy and low.
  3. As college students, our brains are still developing, and a developing brain needs nourishing food to support proteins and tissues that help to transfer information between brain and body. A diet consisting of only processed foods, like goldfish, and microwavable foam cups, a.k.a. ramen, isn’t enough to provide these important nutrients, which can cause poor communication in the body leading to mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.
  4. Beverages like alcohol can actually increase anxiety and depression, because it inhibits neurotransmitters in the brain which makes us more likely perceive outside forces as threats and thus makes us “on edge” or stressed.


The moral of the story is, if you want a happy stress-free brain it’s important to think about a balanced diet that involves limited sugary and high-fat, processed foods, and instead a greater amount of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats—like avocado! Without these nutrients, the brain may become overworked, depressed, or anxious and we all know that when we hit these points, it’s nearly impossible to function as a student in school, let alone as a human being. So take some time to focus on what you are actually putting in your body, because the key to stress relief and a happier you starts with what you put on your plate!


By: Laurie Thompson