Nutritional psychology (NP) is the area of study encompassing the intersection between the psychological, behavioral, and nutritional sciences. Within nutritional psychology, the diet-mental health relationship (DMHR) is explored from the perspective of how nutrition influences how we think, feel, behave, sense, and experience.
NP is informed by the discipline of psychology, which seeks to understand the inner workings of people, including their emotions, feelings, motivations, values, and experiences, and how they can better function in the world. NP is also informed by the discipline of nutrition, which examines how diet and nutrients affect our health and how we can use food and nutrients to help us live better, stronger, and longer. In relation to psychology, nutrition helps us to understand how what we eat influences how we feel – including our emotions, moods, sensations, motivations, and experiences.
Mental health professionals understand the psychological, cognitive, and behavioral components that lead to positive mental health. Dietitians and Nutritionists already possess an understanding of the effects of diet on health. Nutritional psychology (NP) is the area of study residing within the intersection of psychology and nutrition. Knowledge of this intersection is required to understand the diet-mental health relationship (DMHR).
A plethora of research exists to illuminate the interconnections between dietary intake and all aspects of psychological functioning. Yet these findings have, until now, lacked a unified home. Professionals, including psychologists, therapists, nutritionists, psychiatrists, physicians, and students majoring in the psychological and nutrition sciences, have had limited access to formal university-level education and awareness of this evidence base. Today’s mental healthcare system is ill-equipped to apply these findings to drive positive change in the global mental health landscape.
CNP exists to fill this void. We are consolidating the world’s research in all aspects of the DMHR and using it to inform the development of concepts, methods, language, and tools for placement within the education and training system for mental health and nutrition professionals. We are contributing towards advancing the establishment of a nutritional component within mental healthcare by 2030.
The nascent field of nutritional psychiatry is establishing a strong link between diet and clinical mental health outcomes.1 Nutritional psychology is a distinct and complementary area of study that encompasses the psychological, behavioral, and nutritional sciences.2 Within nutritional psychology, the diet-mental health relationship (DMHR) is explored from the perspective of nutrition and its interconnection with how we think, feel, behave, sense, and experience.
While research in nutritional psychology does not exist, the field is informed by an existing and robust evidence base within numerous areas of study across the psychological, behavioral, social, nutrition, brain, and health sciences, among others. Research from these disciplines informs language development, tools, concepts, and methods characterizing the diet-mental health relationship within nutritional psychology3, 4.
The areas of study included within nutritional psychology include emotion5, 6, behavior7-10, psychological functioning, mood, and well-being11-18, cognition and brain19-23, sensation, perception, and internal experience (interoception)24-31, stress, distress, resilience, and quality of life32-36, pain and pleasure37-41, dietary intake regulation and substance use42-45, aggression, violence, and trauma46-48, sleep, fatigue, and performance49-55, psychosocial environment and lifestyle56-59, and personality60, 61.
The Center for Nutritional Psychology (CNP) is the founding organization in nutritional psychology. Created in 2015, our goal is to begin capturing the growing evidence base in NP, which can serve to inform the development of language, methods, and concepts for placement within the psychological and behavioral sciences. Our objective is to facilitate the improvement of the human condition through diet.
Visit CNP’s publicly available online research libraries to view nutritional psychology’s growing evidence base. New studies (and abstract summaries) are added daily!
Advancing our understanding of the diet-mental health relationship (DMHR)
The field of nutritional psychology is interdisciplinary and draws from the fields of psychology, neuroscience, nutrition, physiology, food science, education, and many others to build a framework for a comprehensive understanding of the diet-mental health relationship (DMHR). This framework allows us to gain awareness of the complex and interrelated role that food, nutrients, and dietary intake patterns play in shaping our psychological experiences, processes, and functions.
The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction
Connecting what we eat with how we feel
Examining the role that family, culture, community, society, and socioeconomic status play in relation to our dietary-nutrient intake patterns.
The relationship between our dietary intake patterns and mood, emotions, and affect (e.g., resilience, flourishing, creativity, negativity).
The relationship between our dietary intake patterns and resulting thoughts, emotions, and interoceptive experiences that influence our behaviors.
NP is applied and uses findings from research, combined with innovative education, to increase awareness of the psychological, behavioral, cognitive, sensory-perceptual, interoceptive, and psychosocial aspects of nutrition as they relate to mental health.
Nutritional psychology is aligned with the principles of integrative health, and is an avenue for mental health providers to further participate in the integrative health movement.
Integrative health is the movement in healthcare towards a holistic, patient-centered approach. This movement’s primary objective involves treating the patient as a whole person, rather than just a constellation of symptoms. The core philosophy of this movement is that each patient represents a unique, complex, and interwoven set of influences that affect the intrinsic functionality of that individual. Each of these influences must be addressed to achieve wellness.
NP is also aligned with principles of whole health — the emerging transformational approach to health and wellbeing that empowers and equips people to take charge of their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, and live their lives to the fullest.
Evidence for a link between diet and mental health is consistently growing. Research demonstrates that diet plays an important role in the mental health of individuals and societies around the globe. The essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients found in whole, unprocessed foods support the body’s biochemical and physiological processes. These processes have changed little over time, yet our dietary intake patterns have shifted considerably towards a Westernized “Standard American Diet.”
As the gap between our body’s physiological needs and our dietary intake patterns widens, the importance of considering nutrition as a piece of the puzzle in the world’s mental health crisis continues to grow. The Center for Nutritional Psychology exists to address this need through unifying research efforts related to the diet-mental health relationship, developing formal curriculum to support individuals in understanding this relationship, and advocating for the training of students and professionals in the field of nutritional psychology.
CNP’s five Nutritional Psychology Research Libraries house links to thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies and publications informing the diet-mental health relationship (DMHR). This multidisciplinary research demonstrates the far-reaching effects dietary intake has on all aspects of psychological health and well-being. It illustrates not only the role nutrition plays in our psychological, cognitive, sensory-perceptual, interoceptive, and psychosocial health, but that improvement in dietary intake can result in positive mental health outcomes.
Using nutritional psychology research, we are working towards a singular lens through which we can all view the DMHR and, in doing so, better prepare health professionals to accommodate the world’s evolving needs.