Colorful Foods for Mental Wellness

By Deanna Minich, PhD, FACN, CNS, IFMCP
Nutritionist, Author, Researcher, Educator, Artist

It’s been said long ago by Hippocrates that “food is medicine.”

I would add that on many levels “color is medicine,” especially the colors of food. We are learning more about the presence of the several thousands of pigmented phytonutrients in plant foods, which is currently revolutionizing the way nutritional medicine is unfolding in the 21st century.

In my nutrition and functional medicine work, I approach the connection of healthy eating, reducing risk for chronic disease, and the food-mood relationship through a ‘color code’ that I developed, called the 7 Systems of Health, informed by science and inspired by integrating healing traditions of medicine, spirituality, and yoga. Each of the 7 Systems is connected to a specific color and specific physical functions and biochemistry to provide a holistic approach to a person’s lifestyle and well-being. You can read more about the 7 Systems of Health on my website,

Specific colors of food can impact physical and mental health through a variety of phytonutrients and their effect on cellular structure and function. Studies have shown that eating more fruits and vegetables is associated with greater happiness and improved mental health. Influences on mood are many, including but not limited to the environment, nutrition, stress, genetics, socioeconomic factors, and experiences in life, and as these influences change in a moment so can one’s mood. As a nutritionist, focusing on dietary patterns can help uncover the influence on mood and mental health.

Specific colors of food can impact physical and mental health through a variety of phytonutrients and their effect on cellular structure and function. Studies have shown that eating more fruits and vegetables is associated with greater happiness and improved mental health. Dietary patterns influence mood and mental health. As such, adopting a healthy, colorful approach to eating can increase positive mood, along with other physical and mental health-related outcomes.

Whether someone has a diagnosed mood disorder or other mental health condition, wish to improve a mood imbalance, or simply want to increase resiliency and minimize the risk of developing a mood disorder, colorful, healthy food choices can be a foundational starting point. The nutrients in food provide the building blocks necessary for healthy brain and neurotransmitter processes. Of special note for mental wellness are amino acids, B-vitamins, fiber, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and many more. While adequate levels of these nutrients play a key role in preventing or mitigating depression on their own, studies have reported that certain foods can have a significant impact as well, such as cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, organ meats, peppers, nuts, legumes, and seafood.

Some take-aways for holistic wellness are:

  • A general healthy eating pattern can go a long way, such as a whole-food dietary pattern
  • Focus on eating a colorful, plant-based diet (with some animal products if you choose) with as few highly processed foods as possible
  • Include foods or food groups rich in multiple nutrients, such as what I listed above
  • Many of the foods supportive of mood health naturally fit in a plant-based eating pattern
  • Blue-purple plant-based foods contain select phytochemicals for cognitive support, healthy mood balance, and neuronal health

There are numerous benefits to eating plant-based foods, especially colorful fruits and vegetables. Ensuring the consumption of a variety of healthy, colorful foods will permit sampling from thousands of phytochemicals that may help to offset an increased risk of chronic disease and mental illness. Of course, an individual’s eating patterns, situation such as allergies, and overall health should be discussed with a doctor, therapist, nutritionist, dietician, or other member of the healthcare team prior to making dietary changes. To help track the colors of food, I’m including my Food & Mood Weekly Tracker that you can download. Here’s to eating the rainbow of colors of plant-based, whole foods for optimum physical and mental health!

Nourishing wishes,


About Deanna Minich
Dr. Deanna Minich is an internationally-recognized teacher, author, scientist, speaker, and artist.
She has more than 20 years of diverse, well-rounded experience in the fields of nutrition and functional medicine, including clinical practice, research, product formulation, writing, and education. Her doctoral (Ph.D.) research focused on essential fatty acid absorption and metabolism, and her Master of Science degree (M.S.) allowed her to explore the health benefits of the colorful, plant-based carotenoids. She has authored six books on health and wellness and over forty scientific publications.

Currently, she is Faculty for the Institute for Functional Medicine and the University of Western States. She has developed an online certification program for health professionals so that they can apply the color-coded 7 Systems of Full-Spectrum Health in their practice. Her lectures are heard by patients and practitioners throughout the world. Dr. Minich’s passion is teaching a whole-self approach to nourishment and bridging the gaps between science, spirituality, and art in medicine.
Learn more about Deanna Minich on her website.

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