Food has a significant impact on our physical health, but did you know that it can also affect our mental health? According to studies, certain foods can contribute to, or even cause, depression and other mental health conditions. While some foods are actual depressants (looking at you, alcohol!) most contribute to our mental health in a slightly roundabout way, primarily by increasing inflammation levels in our bodies. Studies have linked increased levels of inflammation with depression and other mental health conditions like fatigue, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, and PTSD.
Other ways that our diet can affect how we feel is by interfering with our sleep, making us feel jittery or anxious, increasing digestive issues, or providing insufficient nutrients for brain function. In this blog, we’ll explore some common depressants in food and discuss how they can impact our mental health, plus some ways you can improve your mental health overall.
Foods to Avoid When Feeling Depressed
- Alcohol: Alcohol is a depressant that can disrupt neurotransmitter levels in the brain and interfere with sleep patterns. While alcohol is often used as a way to relax and unwind, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to depression and anxiety. A common question people have is whether tequila specifically is a depressant, and the answer is still yes. The ethanol in tequila (what makes it alcohol) is the same as any other hard liquor, which makes it a depressant.
- Highly processed foods: Processed foods are often high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. These ingredients can disrupt the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Processed foods also lack essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for optimal brain function.
- Sugary foods: Sugar is a common ingredient in processed foods, but it can also be found in many other foods, such as fruit juices, cereals, and desserts. While sugar provides a quick energy boost, it can lead to a “sugar crash” that can cause fatigue, irritability, and even depression. Sugar can also cause higher levels of inflammation in the body, which can also contribute to feeling more depressed.
- Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame has been linked to cognitive problems in various studies, and while still more research is needed to fully understand the impact of artificial sweeteners on mental behaviour, some possible problems associated with aspartame are headaches, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Noncalorie sweeteners can also potentially make you hungrier throughout the day, so if you’re also struggling with overeating, they might generally be a good thing to avoid.
- High levels of caffeine: While caffeine can provide a temporary boost of energy and focus, excessive caffeine consumption can lead to anxiety, jitteriness, and even panic attacks. Caffeine can also disrupt sleep patterns, leading to fatigue and irritability.
Ways to Improve Your Mood
If you are feeling down or struggling with depression, there are several things you can do to improve your mood and feel better. Here are some suggestions that can help:
- Take care of yourself: Self-care is essential when it comes to managing depression. Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and making sure you get enough rest can all help improve your mood and energy levels.
- Connect with others: Spending time with friends and family, or joining a support group, can help alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness. Social support can be a crucial component of managing depression.
- Get outside: Spending time in nature and getting fresh air and sunlight can have a positive effect on mood. Even just a short walk outside can help improve your outlook.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can help calm the mind and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Do something you enjoy: Engaging in activities that you find enjoyable and fulfilling can help boost your mood and give you a sense of accomplishment.
- Speak to a therapist: Licensed therapists or counsellors can help you feel better and create a long-term plan for managing your depression. There are many ways to receive therapy, including online therapy through phone, video, or text. If you need to talk to a therapist, you can easily find a therapist that matches your needs through Focus.
Remember, managing depression is a journey, and it’s essential to be patient and compassionate with yourself. If you are struggling with depression, know that you are not alone and that there is help available. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare provider or mental health professional for support. Together, you can create a plan to help you feel better and enjoy life again.