The 5 Worst Foods for Your Mood, According to Experts
Much has been said about nutrition and how it intersects with mental health. We tapped psychiatrist Lauren Taylor Edwards, M.D., to learn even more about how the food we eat can affect our mood. Edwards is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in anxiety and stress-related disorders and has an interest in the effects of diet and nutrition on mental illness and treatment.
Edwards shared that diet and mood can be related. It's important to note that food is more than just the sum of its nutrients, and the food choices we make can affect our overall health—including our mental health and mood. Think of an apple and a chocolate bar, for example. Both contain sugar, but our body processes that sugar in different ways. The naturally occurring sugars in the apple are paired with fiber, nutrients and water to slow down their digestion and make them more usable to the body. The chocolate bar, on the other hand, contains added sugars and minimal fiber so our bodies burn through it very quickly. This can cause a sharp spike and subsequent crash in your blood glucose, which can lead to mood swings as well as larger health problems in the future.
There are also trillions of helpful bacteria in your gut that make up your microbiome. These little guys nosh on what we eat and can contribute to our health in many ways, from reducing chronic disease risk to decreasing our stress and anxiety. A diet that includes plenty of fiber-rich produce and limits added sugars and processed foods may boost not only your gut health, but also your mood.
Some other foods that may help boost your mood? Chocolate (to up the nutrition quotient of your chocolaty snack, try pairing it with fruit—chocolate-covered strawberries, anyone?), green tea and probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt and kimchi. Check out our full list of mood-boosting foods, and then whip up some tasty mood-boosting recipes like our One-Skillet Salmon with Fennel & Sun-Dried Tomato Couscous and Chocolate Zucchini Brownies.
Foods to Avoid for Better Mood
Instead of swearing off certain foods completely (remember, there's no such thing as inherently "good" or "bad" foods), think about moderation and balance in your overall eating pattern. "I think understanding patterns and reasoning as opposed to memorizing 'bad' versus 'good' foods is a better way to think about nutrition," explains Edwards. If you are looking to boost your mood, these are types of foods it might be worth trying to limit.
Highly Processed Foods
While you should try to steer clear of highly processed foods, that doesn't mean you have to swear off anything that comes in a package. In fact, there are plenty of times when it is totally fine to eat packaged foods (even according to dietitians). That said, think about what you are getting from the food. Processed foods such as candy bars, fast-food meals and packaged snacks can have things like added sugar, added fats and preservatives for flavor, texture and more, while packing minimal nutrition. Plus, they can have a negative impact on your gut microbiome. Not to worry, we have a few simple ways to help you cut back on highly processed foods so you can get back to feeling your best.
Edwards recommends cutting down on having sugar-sweetened drinks like soda, energy drinks or sports drinks. She says, "Without the fiber of whole foods, the sugar in drinks makes your blood glucose shoot up (which feels great at first) and then it plummets down, which makes you lethargic and cranky." For an easy swap, try adding lemon to your water or switching to seltzer. Bonus: Drinking plenty of water can help ward off mental fog and moodiness.
Edwards says, "Alcohol is fine in moderation for most people, but it is important to note that it is a central nervous system depressant and can make you feel more tired and can worsen depression after consumption." Not to mention, drinking too much can cause oxidative stress and inflammation in the gut and disrupt sleep patterns, both of which can affect your mood.
Foods That You Have an Intolerance To
If any food is making you feel physically ill, it is probably not helping your mood either (no matter what it is). If you think you have a food allergy or intolerance, it's worth making an appointment with a dietitian or doctor ASAP. (They may recommend you try an elimination diet to identify what could be causing your discomfort—here's what it is and how to do it.)
Bread can absolutely be part of a healthy diet—if you choose the right kind. As illustrated by Harvard's School of Public Health, grains are made up of three parts: the bran (fiber-filled outer layer), the germ (nutrient-packed core) and the endosperm (the starchy middle layer). While whole-wheat breads include all three parts, refined grains (for example: that plain bagel in the morning or white sandwich bread at lunch) use just the endosperm of the wheat. Regularly choosing refined products over whole-grain ones deprives your body of the beneficial fiber and nutrients that feed your gut (and brain!).
The Bottom Line
Since there is plenty of research to support the gut-brain connection, it's safe to say that the foods we eat can definitely affect our mental health. While a healthy diet isn't a magic pill for conditions such as anxiety, depression or the occasional bad mood, we can certainly reduce our risk by choosing minimally processed, fiber-rich foods that boost gut health and help tamp down inflammation in our bodies.