Depression is a symptom that we all feel from time to time. For some people, it can be troubling enough to negatively impact their work, relationships, and overall quality of life.
While depression is considered a diagnosis on its own, more and more doctors are getting wise to the fact that depression is often a symptom or side effect of something else related to the mind-body connection. Treatment can include therapy, medication, exercise, and diet.
Research shows that food choices can either exacerbate or minimize feelings of depression. While not a cure-all by any means, we have compiled a list of foods that are best avoided when you’re feeling down.
Paying attention to your diet in this way can lessen the frequency and duration of depressive episodes. Plus, the simple act of choosing food that lifts rather than crushes your psyche is a form of self-care that can start to turn the tide.
Sugar is like the ultimate devil in disguise. It feels so good to consume sugar in the moment, but before you know it, you’ve plummeted into an emotional and physical pit of exhaustion.
In fact, researchers have long wondered why depression, diabetes, and dementia occur so frequently together, and recent studies point to the fact that when blood glucose is elevated, your brain actually works at a suboptimal level!
Excess sugar causes a major dip in production of a protein that encourages growth of neurons and synapses, and depression is just one of several possible negative outcomes in that scenario.
10. Artificial Sweeteners
Sadly, artificial sweeteners are no better for your mood that sugar. Aspartame especially has been linked to a reduction in the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin.
When serotonin in blocked in the brain, it leads to depression, but also headaches and insomnia, which can further impact your mental stability. No artificial sugar substitute is without risk.
But since we all need a little sweetness in our lives, we recommend honey or Stevia for boosting your morning beverage without leading to a crash later.
9. Fast Food
We totally understand that when you’re depressed, the idea of cooking a fresh, healthy meal at home sounds as tough as climbing a mountain. Fast food is a handy alternative to just get something in your body. And, like sugar and alcohol, it feels pretty good at first.
However, as with many of the foods on our list, eating fast food can lead into a cycle of depression and bingeing. In fact, a 2012 study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition found that frequent fast food eaters are up to 51 percent more likely to develop depression!
Try to steer clear of fast food, and instead snack on easy but healthy choices when you’re feeling low, such as nuts, dried fruit, avocado on whole-wheat toast, or oatmeal.
A lot of people drink alcohol to forget their problems, and it can work temporarily. Sadly, many more problems are created by unthinking behavior while people are inebriated, and those are all still there in the morning.
Alcohol is a depressant that suppresses the function of your central nervous system, which plays a role in how we process emotions. So you are very likely to feel more depressed the day after drinking, which feeds into a vicious cycle of feeling lower and lower each day, and drinking more and more each night, or you may fall into the trap of needing alcohol all day long to “feel normal.”
Try to stop drinking all together to raise your bottom line level of depression, and choose more effective treatments going forward.
7. High-Sodium Foods
Too much sodium can disrupt aspects of the neurological system, which delivers the double whammy of depressed mood and body fatigue. It may also cause bloating and contribute to weight gain, both things that can make us feel uncomfortable in our own bodies.
Salt is also a likely contributor to the issues caused by fast food and other junk foods. The immune system gets depressed as well under the influence of too much salt, creating the potential for depression to lead into physical illness.
Ironically, too little salt can also cause depression, but the average person already gets way too much.
Experts don’t believe that caffeine causes depression directly, but it is troublesome because of the way it interferes with sleep.
Undisturbed sleep is vital to a healthy mind, and if you’re up all night or restless, you may go into the next day lacking the resources you need to handle things. If you are looking for ways to ease depression, experiment with avoiding caffeine and setting a strict sleep schedule.
At the very least, stay away from all caffeine after lunch, and don’t ever touch an energy drink. Some of those things have as much caffeine as 14 cans of soda! One note: if you already drink a lot of caffeine, you may want to taper off it to avoid withdrawal symptoms like headache, fatigue, and irritability.
5. Hydrogenated Oil
Depression is, in essence, a malady of the brain that causes all sorts of physical symptoms. When you eat foods made with or cooked in hydrogenated oils, it negatively affects both brain and body.
Beyond attacking heart health, the trans fats found in hydrogenated oil can clog arteries and limit blood flow to the brain, leading to depression. The circulatory system is a key piece of the mind-body connection; impede that and you are likely to suffer from low mood and a weak body.
The gluten-free trend swept though the population a few years ago, with doctors frustrated by the flood of patients in their offices, claiming to be gluten intolerant without any of the symptoms that come with it (bloating, diarrhea or constipation, gas).
However, whether or not you are able to process gluten, it does have an inflammatory effect on the body because it irritates gut microbes and thus delicate tissues in your digestive system.
Gluten consumption has been linked to depression due to this inflammatory response, so it might be worth cutting it out for awhile to see if your mood improves.9 of 13
Some studies have pointed to the protein casein, found in dairy products, as a trigger for inflammation and a driver of depression.
It doesn’t bother everyone, but is a potential avenue to explore if you’re really suffering from low mood. Try ditching dairy for 30 days and assess how you feel.
Just make sure to get enough calcium from other sources, such as oranges, apricots, kale, broccoli, or spinach.
Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are a staple in our diets because more and more commercial growers are manipulating nature’s design to produce food that looks and travels better. But is it better for us? The fact is, we don’t know.
In any case, GMOs are heavily coated in pesticides that are toxic to human cells. One of the most common and contentious pesticides is Roundup, which interferes with the body’s ability to produce essential amino acids, absorb critical minerals, and detoxify the liver.
Because the mind-body link is so strong, we recommend eating organic as much as possible if you suffer from depression.
1. Soda and fruit juice
Both of these drinks are positively packed with sugar, which we know leads to all kinds of inflammation as well as a host of health issues.
Soda has no redeeming health value and usually comes with a host of artificial colorings and preservatives as well. Some fruit juice can be okay, delivering vitamins along with the sugar, but it misses all the good fiber that can make you feel full and prevent overeating.
We recommend a low sugar diet if you are struggling with depression, but if you do want your daily allowance from juice, make it yourself at home so you know there are no added sugars lurking there.
We totally understand that making healthy choices for yourself is a tall order in the midst of depression. You may be feeling like you don’t matter at all, so why bother?
But if you experience an ebb and flow in your depression, you can take the good times to prepare your kitchen in a way that supports healthy eating when you’re too mentally exhausted to care.
You should definitely see your doctor for advice about depression that impacts your self esteem and your important relationships. Improved diet may very well be a suggested element in your overall treatment plan. We hope that you feel better soon.