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Brain Food – Trends Regarding Diet and Mental Health

9th of February 2021

Daniel O’Rourke, Origin Green, Global Business Graduate (BSc Public Health Nutrition)

Brain food Source.PNG

Health and wellbeing have been identified as one of the key Consumer Lifestyle Trends by Bord Bia (Bord Bia, 2019). Consumers have become increasingly aware of the influence that their diet has on their body, and the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened this awareness even further. During the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, Google searches featuring the three terms ‘food’, ‘immune’ and ‘system’ surged in the UK (Mintel, 2020) as people began to enhance their efforts of self-maintenance.


As a result of the intermittent lockdowns of 2020, high rates of loneliness, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders were reported across Irish adults (Maynooth University, 2020). While the propagation of psychiatric conditions is incredibly complex and multifactorial, it is scientifically accepted that dietary intake plays a role in mental wellbeing (British Medical Journal, 2020). Food manufacturers are starting to pay more attention to the inclusion of ingredients that are said to improve mood (Euromonitor, 2020), including probiotics that contribute to healthy gut microbiome composition. Gut microbiome interact with the brain using neural, inflammatory and hormonal signalling pathways, which research suggests may influence brain development and function (Kelly et al, 2019). Further scientific research is needed in this area, but there has certainly been increased consumer interest in the link between gut microbiome and mood (Euromonitor, 2020).


The COVID-19 outbreak has not only exposed people to daytime stresses, research has shown that it has also disrupted sleep (Altena et al, 2020), which plays a crucial role in emotion regulation (American Psychological Association, 2014). There is substantial evidence that indicates the role of different dietary behaviours have on sleep quality (St-Onge et al, 2016), and consumers are now looking for natural solutions and food with targeted functionality, including sleep-aid ingredients (Euromonitor, 2020).


These are just two examples of functional foods continuing to show opportunities for Irish food manufacturers. Euromonitor estimates that the sector was worth €733.1 million in 2020 (Euromonitor, 2021). The consumer emphasis on health and wellbeing has continued to heighten since the outbreak of COVID-19.


Note: It is important to be aware of the European Union legislative requirements associated with nutrition or health claims, which can be found on the Food Safety Authority of Ireland website here.





Altena, E., Baglioni, C., Espie, C., Ellis, J., Gavriloff, D., Holzinger, B., Schlarb, A., Frase, L., Jernelöv, S. and Riemann, D. (2020). Dealing with sleep problems during home confinement due to the COVID‐19 outbreak: Practical recommendations from a task force of the European CBT‐I Academy. Journal of Sleep Research, 29(4). Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32246787/


American Physiological Association (2014) More Sleep Would Make Most Americans Happier, Healthier and Safer. [online] Available at: https://www.apa.org/research/action/sleep-deprivation [Accessed 9 February 2021].


Bord Bia (2019), Consumer Lifestyle Trends. [online] Available at: https://www.bordbiaconsumerlifestyletrends.ie [Accessed 9 February 2021].


British Medical Journal (2020), Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? Available at: https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m2382


Euromonitor (2020), Passport – Wellness Redefined: Exploring the case for emotional wellbeing.


Euromonitor (2021), Health and Wellness: Euromonitor from trade sources/national statistics.


Kelly, J. R., Keane, V. O., Cryan, J. F., Clarke, G., & Dinan, T. G. (2019). Mood and Microbes. Gastroenterology Clinics of North America. doi:10.1016/j.gtc.2019.04.006. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31383278/


Maynooth University (2020), COVID-19 Mental Health Survey. [online] Available at: https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/research/spotlight-research/covid-19-mental-health-survey-maynooth-university-and-trinity-college-finds-high-rates-anxiety [Accessed 9 February 2021].


Mintel (2019), COVID-19 drives interest in nutritious food, but mood boost connotations can benefit treats - 11th March 2020


St-Onge, M. P., Mikic, A., & Pietrolungo, C. E. (2016). Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in Nutrition. 7(5), 938–949. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3945/an.116.012336