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Popular Foods That Are Wrecking Your Mental Health, Say Experts

The foods you eat could be impacting your mind as much as your body.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

There is no question that the pandemic has taken a serious toll on so many people's mental health. From feelings of anxiety surrounding getting COVID-19 to dealing with the challenges of social isolation, this past year was extremely tough. It's possible, though, that the foods you're eating could be making your mental health even worse. You read that right—your diet could be directly impacting the way you're feeling, so it's important to understand exactly which foods to eat and which to avoid.

We consulted research studies and Sydney Greene, MS, RD, registered dietitian and member of our medical expert board, to determine which popular foods are doing the most damage when it comes to mental health. And to read more about mental health, check out 45 Doctors' Own Mental Health Tips.

1

Caffeine

coffee
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If you're overindulging in caffeine through coffee, chocolate, soda, or any other forms of caffeinated foods and drinks, your mental health could start to suffer.

"Excess caffeine in the diet (roughly 400 milligrams or about 4 cups of coffee) can worsen anxiety as it overstimulates areas in the brain that perceives a threat," says Greene. "In addition, caffeine can shut down areas of the brain that can help regulate anxiety."

The last thing you want if you're struggling with your mental health is for caffeine to make it difficult to manage your anxiety symptoms.

2

Alcohol

red wine
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This one may not come as too much of a surprise, but if your mental health is suffering, alcohol could be making it worse.

"The body's effort to metabolize the alcohol throughout the night affects our ability to enter a REM state, leading to an overall poorer night's sleep," says Greene. "Studies show that even a 1-hour reduction in sleep can increase our calorie consumption in a day by about 500 calories and affect irritability and mood disruptions."

Don't underestimate the power of sleep when it comes to mental health—and the way alcohol disrupts REM sleep patterns, especially when drinking at night, can make it the culprit ultimately making your mental health worse.

3

Artificial Sweeteners

artificial sweeteners
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Staying away from processed foods with artificial sweeteners could be the key to improving your mood.

"More research needs to be done to examine how artificial sweeteners affect our gut health, but preliminary studies suggest they increase harmful bacteria in the gut, which can lead to low mood and anxiety," says Greene.

With the pandemic, there are so many other reasons your mental health can suffer, the last reason you want to be feeling down is because of that processed canned soup you ate or the artificial sweetener you added to your tea.

4

Fried Foods

french fries
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The negative effects of eating fried foods when it comes to your overall health of your body and mind completely out way any of the potential positives—we can't think of any positives, honestly. From the impacts on cardiovascular health to weight gain, fried foods are truly one of the worst to be put into your body, not to mention the impact on mental health.

According to a 2016 study, the frequency of fast food consumption was correlated to lower resilience to depression. This means that by consuming fried foods often, you're putting yourself at a higher risk of developing depression. So, not only could the consumption of fried foods be wrecking your body, but it's also likely playing a role in your mental health challenges too.

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Rachel Linder
Rachel is an Associate Editor responsible for compiling the daily Eat This, Not That! newsletter, making TikTok and YouTube videos for the brand, writing articles for the site, creating original graphics and providing direct assistance to the editors when needed. Read more
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