5 Foods to Avoid When You Have Depression

Was this helpful?
(35)
  • Bubble gum machines

    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.

  • 1
    Alcohol
    Man drinking pint of beer

    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
    Dark Chocolate English Toffee with pecan unts

    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
    Burger and fries

    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
    bacon

    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.

  • 5
    Sodas
    Glass of soda

    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.

Was this helpful?
(35)
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Apr 16
  1. Depression. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/depression.html
  2. Diet and Depression. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/diet-and-depression-2018022213309
  3. Nutritional Psychiatry: Your brain on food. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
  4. What Foods are Good for Helping Depression? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318428.php
  5. Foods that Fight Inflammation. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
  6. Healthy Diet can Ease Symptoms of Depression. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190205090511.htm
  7. Alcohol and Depression. Drinkaware. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-and-depression/
  8. Li Y, Lv MR, et al. Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research: Volume 253, July 2017, Pages 373-382. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165178117301981
  9. Richards G, Smith A. Caffeine consumption and self-assessed stress, anxiety, and depression in secondary school children. J Psychopharmacol. 2015 Dec; 29(12): 1236–1247. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4668773/

Explore Depression
Recommended Reading
Health Spotlight
Next Up
  • For most people depression is a mix of many factors, such as social, environmental and genetic causes.
  • Many people forget to ask important questions at their doctor's appointments. You may want to print or write these questions down before your appointment so you remember to get the answers you need.
  • You know that depression is dangerous for your mental health. But did you know it’s also dangerous for your physical health? Untreated or uncontrolled depression can take a big toll on you physically. 
  • Depression can hit at any time in your life. Often, the last thing you feel like doing is exercising, but studies show it can actually help you feel better.
  • Learn how, when and why doctors prescribe antidepressants and other depression medications.

  • Genetic testing to determine treatment, or pharmacogenomics, is a form of "personalized medicine" that uses genetic information to determine which medications will be most effective for an individual person. This could help find the best antidepressants for anxiety treatment and depression treatment.
  • If you live with depression, it's important to tell your doctor about any change in symptoms, particularly if you feel especially sad or hopeless, have become addicted to drugs or alcohol, or are having suicidal thoughts. Your doctor can begin or change your treatment to help you manage depression.
  • With your doctor's help, you can gradually step up the intensity of your treatment until you find the approach that works for you.
Answers to Your Health Questions
Trending Videos