5 Foods to Avoid if You Have Depression

There are various ways to treat depressive symptoms. The most traditional route involves talk therapy and sometimes medication. But, there are other ways to help battle depression. Self-care and changing your eating habits can be helpful too. 

Your gut health has an impact on your mental health, a far greater one than you may realize. Research shows that the microbiota living in your gut communicates with neurotransmitters in your brain and vice versa via the vagus nerve

Hence, it should make sense that what we put into our gut can impact our mental health. 

Below are five foods you should avoid to help your mental health. 

  • Fast foods

2017 paper demonstrated a link between inflammation and depression. It found that the release of inflammatory cytokines impinges upon the behavior of neurotransmitters and neurocircuits. Thus, resulting in poor behavioral functioning.  

Inflammation happens when something triggers an immune response. While external factors can cause inflammation in your body, food, particularly fast foods, can exacerbate it. Fast foods typically contain high amounts of refined and artificial ingredients. These ingredients make you more susceptible to depressive episodes. 

2011 paper published in Cambridge University Press found that those who consumed processed commercial baked goods were at a higher risk for depression. A similar study was published in 2016 regarding fried foods. 

Now, I know that giving up on these types of foods may same a bit strict. But, if you must eat processed foods, do so with moderation and sensibility. The best solution is to find healthier substitutes. 

  • Alcohol

Alcohol is another food you should avoid if you have depression. Alcohol is a depressant as it slows down your central nervous system. Because it is a small molecule, alcohol can easily cross the brain barrier and neurologically affect it. It usually contracts your brain, destroys your brain cells while it depressed your central nervous system. Additionally, it interferes between your brain receptors which causes a disconnect between your thoughts and physical actions. Long-term consumption of alcohol can cause neuro-cognitive deficiencies and neurodegeneration. 

It’s common to grab a glass of wine or champagne during celebrations, but always drink in moderation. I also understand that many people resort to alcohol as a coping mechanism. If this is the case for you, please reach out to a therapist to help you find a better and healthier way to cope with emotional distress. 

  • Salt

Salt is vital when preparing food. It helps highlight the flavor of the ingredients and makes the meal taste better. Also, some salts provide minerals to our bodies. However, in some cases, salt can be harmful to our health. Table salt especially as it is a refined salt that lacks minerals.  

This is the kind of salt the usually leads to high blood pressure and heart disease. Not surprisingly, salt can also cause other complications. 

Studies have shown that salt increases inflammation, harms gut microbiome, and affects blood flow to the brain. The use of salt can cause or worsen depression and impair cognitive function

Instead of dousing your food in salt, add a sprinkle. You could also try substituting your table salt for Himalayan or Celtic salt, which has more minerals than the alternative. 

  • Refined grains

Another food you should avoid if you have depression is refined grains. Unfortunately, most of our favorite foods like pizza, pasta, and cake are culprits of worsening mental health. However, the problem is not so much the food but the ingredients used. Most commercial foods are made using refined grains. 

Refined grains have none to very little nutritional value. What you are mainly eating is the starchy part of the grain, the endosperm.

When you eat refined grains over whole ones, you miss out on the nutrients stored in the germ and the bran. These two contain: vitamins, healthy fats, minerals, fibers, and phytochemicals, necessary things that your body and brain need to function well. 

 The endosperm primarily contains starchy carbohydrates, some proteins, and some vitamins and minerals. While most manufacturers inject the endosperm with the minerals and vitamins they initially removed, I recommended eating the whole grain. 

2020 study found that those who ate whole grains were at lower risk for depression and anxiety disorders. 

So, instead of reaching for a refined product like white bread or white rice, try whole wheat, wild rice, or quinoa. You never know. They might become staples in your meals. 

  • Artificial sweeteners and refined sugars

The last food group you should avoid if you have depression is artificial sweeteners and refined sugars. These usually come in the form of high fructose corn syrup or other substitutes like aspartame, saccharin, and acesulfame. While some of these sweeteners may not impact the calories we consume, they certainly have an impact on our health. 

Overconsumption of exceedingly saccharine foods made with artificial sweeteners can make you shun fruits and vegetables and pursue processed foods with a similar flavor profile. The reason, these sweeteners are highly addictive. A study done on lab mice proved that these sweeteners were more addictive than cocaine. Additionally, overconsumption of these sweeteners may increase your risk for obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. 

However, the most detrimental repercussion of consuming artificial sweeteners is how they affect your brain. Not only do additive sweeteners produce inflammation, but they can affect brain development. 

Most of the research surrounding the effects of artificial sweeteners on the brain is vague. However, a 1987 paper posited the possible link between a sweetener like aspartame and seizures. It found that increased consumption increases brain phenylalanine, a certain kind of amino acid, that could trigger seizures. Despite its findings, it did not assert that sweeteners were the direct cause of seizures. But, they did state that consumption of aspartame can cause seizures among susceptible people.  

Additionally, a more recent paper explored the neurobehavioral effects of aspartame and its metabolites. They measured neurophysiological symptoms caused by aspartame and warned about adverse neurobehavioral effects.

Overall, try not to consume artificial sweeteners. If you have a sweet tooth, opt for foods that contain sugar in their natural form, like fruit. 

Your mental health begins with your gut health. So, treat yourself kindly and make sure you provide your brain and body the nutrients it needs. 

Take care! 


Collins, R., & Legg, T. J. (2017, February 8). Depression & DIET: 6 foods that fight depression. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/diet. 

Eat This Not That! Editors. (2020, April 27). 15 worst foods for anxiety or depression. Eat This Not That. https://www.eatthis.com/foods-make-anxiety-worse/. 

Gangwisch, J. E., Hale, L., Garcia, L., Malaspina, D., Opler, M. G., Payne, M. E., Rossom, R. C., & Lane, D. (2015). High glycemic index diet as a risk factor for depression: analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative. The American journal of clinical nutrition102(2), 454–463. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.103846

Lenoir, M., Serre, F., Cantin, L., & Ahmed, S. H. (2007). Intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward. PloS one2(8), e698. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0000698

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Pattemore, C. (2021, June 4). 8 foods that may cause depression. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/depression/foods-that-cause-depression. 

Reardon, S. (2014, November 12). Gut–brain link grabs neuroscientists. Nature News. https://www.nature.com/articles/515175a. 

Strawbridge, H. (2020, January 29). Artificial sweeteners: Sugar-free, but at what cost? Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030. 

Tandel K. R. (2011). Sugar substitutes: Health controversy over perceived benefits. Journal of pharmacology & pharmacotherapeutics2(4), 236–243. https://doi.org/10.4103/0976-500X.85936

Tello, M. (2020, January 29). Diet and depression. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/diet-and-depression-2018022213309. 

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