The foods we eat are so closely linked to our mental health that an entirely new field—nutritional psychiatry—has emerged to study the effects of diet on conditions like depression. The current evidence concludes that what you eat can affect your likelihood of becoming depressed or worsen an existing depressive episode. Find out what you need to know about diet and depression, depression-causing foods, and depression foods to avoid.
Many depressed people feel a desire to “drown their sorrows” in alcohol, but booze tends to make depression worse, not better. Alcohol in all forms is a depressant that lowers the inhibition threshold in the brain. This effect might make you feel happier and more confident at first, but eventually alcohol disrupts the chemical balance in your brain even further, causing feelings of depression, sadness, anxiety, or anger. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause depression, and it can worsen a depressive episode in an already depressed person. Best to steer clear.
2 Sugary Snacks
That container of ice cream in the freezer may look very tempting when you’re feeling depressed, but consuming sugary snacks might make your depression worse. Eating something sugary causes a spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash that makes you feel tired, irritable, and, yes, depressed. Furthermore, insulin dysregulation might be implicated in the depression-and-overeating cycle. To medicate your depression with food, choose whole fruits like apples instead of ice cream, cookies, or cake. Your mood will thank you for it.
3 Fast Food
The precise link between eating refined foods, such as a fast food burger and fries, and depression risk is not yet known, but researchers have established that the Western dietary pattern—typically higher in refined grains and other processed foods—contributes to an increased risk for developing depression, compared to a healthier dietary pattern. To reduce your risk of developing depression due to diet, avoid fast foods, processed meats, packaged snack foods, and refined grains. Replace them with whole grains like oatmeal, plus plenty of fresh vegetables.
4 Saturated Fats
When you’re feeling depressed, avoid eating processed foods made with trans fatty acids, which can promote inflammation and worsen your symptoms. Many processed foods, from boxed snack crackers to lunch meats, contain trans fats that might exacerbate a depressive episode. Other types of saturated fats to avoid depression include those found in red meats, full-fat dairy products, butter, lard, and tropical oils like coconut oil. These types of fats also promote weight gain and poor heart health—both of which can affect brain function and mood.
Sugar-sweetened sodas make the list of depression foods to avoid not just because of their sugar content, but because they promote systemic (body-wide) inflammation. Systemic inflammation negatively affects the brain’s ability to function effectively, including its ability to cope with stress and depressive symptoms. Instead of sipping a regular soda when you’re feeling down, try a sugar-free, caffeinated variety. Some evidence points to caffeine as a mood booster. You could even ditch the soda entirely and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea instead.