What Foods Negatively Affect Mental Health?

What Foods Negatively Affect Mental Health?

What foods negatively affect mental health? Did you know if you have depression, you can help your symptoms by avoiding certain foods?

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 a far more significant impact on your mental health than you may realise.

Research from clinical psychopharmacology and neuroscience shows that the microbiota living in your gut communicates with neurotransmitters in your brain and vice versa via the vagus nerve. So it makes sense that what we put into our gut can impact our mental health.

Here are five foods you should avoid to help your mental health:

Fast Food

A 2017 paper on immunology by Andrew Miller and Charles Raison demonstrated a link between inflammation and depression. It found the release of inflammatory cytokines impinges upon the behaviour of neurotransmitters and neural circuits, which results in poor behavioural 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, making you more susceptible to depressive episodes.

A 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 by SpringerLink regarding fried foods.

Giving up these types of foods may seem a bit strict. But if you must eat processed foods, do so with moderation and sensibility. The best solution is to find healthier substitutes.

Refined Grains

Another food you should avoid if you have depression is refined grains. Unfortunately, most of our favourite foods like pizza, pasta, and cake are culprits of worsening mental health.

Most commercial foods are made using refined grains, which have very little nutritional value. This is because you’re mainly eating 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, fibres, and phytochemicals. Necessary things that your body and brain need to function well.

The endosperm primarily contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins, and some vitamins and minerals. While most manufacturers inject the endosperm with the minerals and vitamins they initially removed, it’s best to eat whole grains.

A 2020 study in PubMed.gov by Deborah Gibson-Smith and others 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.


Salt is vital when preparing food. It helps highlight the flavour of the ingredients and makes the meal taste better. Also, some salt provides minerals to our bodies.

However, in some cases, salt, table salt especially, can be harmful to our health as it is a refined salt that lacks minerals. This is the salt that 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 microbiomes, and affects blood flow to the brain. The use of salt can also cause or worsen depression and impair cognitive function.

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


Alcohol is another thing you should avoid if you have depression. It 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 and destroys your brain cells while it depresses 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.

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.

Refined Sugars & Artificial Sweeteners

The last food group in our what foods negatively affect mental health round-up 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 sweet foods made with artificial sweeteners can make you shun fruits and vegetables and pursue processed foods with a similar flavour profile because 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 II 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 from the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health posited the possible link between sweeteners like aspartame and seizures. It found that increased consumption increases brain phenylalanine, a certain kind of amino acid that could trigger seizures. It did not assert that sweeteners were the direct cause of seizures but did state that aspartame consumption can cause seizures among susceptible people.

Additionally, a more recent paper by Arbind Choudhary and others in PubMed.gov 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.

So now you know what foods negatively affect mental health. Your mental health begins with your gut health. So treat yourself kindly and make sure you provide your brain and body with the nutrients it needs.

Have you noticed how you feel if you change what you eat? Let us know in the comments below.

Welcome to Vivre Le Rêve, an online lifestyle magazine for all those who are or who want to be living the dream! I’m Rose, the lifestyle editor here at Vivre Le Rêve.