Is Your Food Putting You in a Bad Mood?

Heather Reseck, R.D.N.

A hard day at the office, a rude comment, heavy traffic, everyday hassles—it can all put you in a bad mood. But those aren’t the only things affecting your attitude. What you eat can also affect your mood and your risk of depression. 

People often turn to food for comfort during difficult times, but certain foods will leave you feeling worse instead of better. Consider these three types of food that can worsen your mental and emotional well-being: 

  1. Sugar and Sweeteners

Refined sugar is not merely empty calories but an antinutrient, since it pulls magnesium and B vitamins from elsewhere in the body for metabolism. Meanwhile, elevated blood sugars and inflammation take their toll on mental health. No wonder high consumption of sugar is linked to depression!

A study conducted at University College London concluded: “Our research confirms an adverse effect of sugar intake from sweet food/beverage on long-term psychological health and suggests that lower intake of sugar may be associated with better psychological health.”

In the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, symptoms of depression were associated with higher intakes of added sugars and refined grains.

Various artificial sweeteners have also been linked to depression, negative thoughts, and irritability in some people. 

For optimal health, use sugar as a condiment, not a food.

2. Processed Foods

Processing strips food of its key nutrients, such as fiber, B vitamins, and antioxidants, all while adding sugar and heat-damaged fats. For example, only 16 percent of the magnesium present in whole wheat flour remains in refined flour. 

The more processed a food, the more likely it will cause a rapid temporary rise in blood sugar and trigger addictive-like eating. A Swiss study linked the consumption of sweetened beverages, refined foods, processed meat, refined grain, high fat dairy, biscuits, snacking, and pastries with an increased risk of depression. 

In a study published in Public Health Nutrition, researchers observed a link between depression and consumption of fast food and commercial baked goods. They found the more fast food eaten, the greater the likelihood of depression. 

Vegetables and fruits are not exempt from the detrimental effects of processing. A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Psychology showed raw fruits and vegetables, but not cooked or canned ones, significantly predicted higher mental health outcomes. The top 10 raw foods related to better mental health are carrots, bananas, apples, dark leafy greens, grapefruit, lettuce, citrus fruits, fresh berries, cucumber, and kiwifruit. 

3. Animal Products

Arachidonic acid, an inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid, can inflame the brain and adversely affect mental health. It is found in highest quantities in chicken and eggs, followed by beef, pork, and fish. One study found that avoiding meat, poultry, and fish significantly improved mood within two weeks, because arachidonic acid levels were greatly reduced. 

Conversely, research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry showed that a diet rich in processed foods—processed meat, chocolates, sweetened desserts, fried food, refined cereals, and high fat dairy products—is a risk factor for depression five years later. In addition, an Australian study linked consumption of whole fat dairy products, including ice cream and cream, with increased depression, anxiety, stress, worse memory, and worse general health.

Heather Reseck is a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in plant-based nutrition. She has a passion for helping people discover through hands-on cooking classes that eating healthy can taste good. Her website is

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