Junk Food’s Effect on Mental Health, and How to Eat Better

Junk Food’s Effect on Mental Health, and How to Eat Better


Your favorite comfort food could actually be making your mood worse. Find out how to optimize your eating habits for your mental health here

We’ve been socialized to depend on junk food whenever we’re upset. If we need to recover from a breakup, we buy ice cream. When we feel stressed from school or work, we order some fast food. However, the instant gratification of sweets—or, more precisely, the habit of reaching for one as a daily pick-me-up—could have more lasting and adverse effects than a little weight gain.

A 2019 study shows that people with an unhealthy diet are more likely to report moderate to severe psychological distress symptoms. A 2022 study’s results affirmed this, stating that the people that ate more ultra-processed food, such as ice cream, were significantly more likely to report mild depression as well as more mentally unhealthy and anxious days.

We are not telling you to avoid junk food altogether—instead, practice moderation. Moderation is the key because, as research shows, eating junk food isn’t the self-care routine we think it is. So, what sorts of comfort foods should you be eating instead?

Studies suggest that we should be eating low-glycemic index foods like fruits and vegetables more for their moderate but lasting effects on our brain chemistry, mood, and energy levels. Aside from fruits and vegetables, here’s a short list of ingredients you should eat to improve your mental health.

RELATED: 7 Best Diet-Friendly Restaurants in Metro Manila You Should Visit Next 


One great ingredient for healthy home-cooked meals is salmon. For one thing, salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids, meaning that you can reap its long-term benefits for heart and brain health if you keep a consistent diet. 

For another, research shows that a Mediterranean-style dietary intervention supplemented with fish oil improves diet quality and mental health in people with depression. In a Mediterranean diet, plant foods and extra virgin olive oil serve as the main culinary fat, while there should only be a moderate intake of fish and low intakes of confectionary, red meat, and processed foods.

Firm tofu

Healthy food doesn’t always have to be expensive or hard to access. Making yourself a simple and inexpensive meal of fried firm tofu and garlic is already so much better than frying up a plate of chicken nuggets, for example, since tofu contains lots of plant-based protein, iron, and calcium. Tofu is also the go-to for burger alternatives and other savory dishes because it is versatile and takes on whatever seasoning you add to it. Research also shows that frequent soy product consumption like tofu is associated with a lower risk of depression among older adults.


Lentils are inexpensive, low in calories, and packed with protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Lentils are also rich in folate and B vitamins that help with serotonin and dopamine production, thus making them powerful brain food and mood enhancers. Adding to the list of benefits is the fact that lentils can also help in regulating blood sugar levels and are versatile enough to be transformed into many types of dishes, such as soups and salads.

Order your print copy of this month's MEGA Magazine:
Download this month's MEGA digital copy from:
Subscribe via [email protected]