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Your Guide to Treating Depression

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5 Foods to Avoid When You Have Depression

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
  • Candy shop

    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
    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

    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
    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.

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Was this helpful?
  1. Depression. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus.
  2. Diet and Depression. Harvard Health Publishing.
  3. Nutritional Psychiatry: Your brain on food. Harvard Health Publishing.
  4. What Foods are Good for Helping Depression? Medical News Today.
  5. Foods that Fight Inflammation. Harvard Health Publishing.
  6. Healthy Diet can Ease Symptoms of Depression. ScienceDaily.
  7. Alcohol and Depression. Drinkaware.
  8. Li Y, Lv MR, et al. Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research: Volume 253, July 2017, Pages 373-382.
  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.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Apr 16
View All Your Guide to Treating Depression Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.