Eating These Popular Foods Spikes Your Risk of Depression and Anxiety, New Study Says

Keep these foods out of your grocery cart for better mental health.

A racing heartbeat, tightness in the chest, rapid breathing, irritability, negative thoughts, persistent feelings of sadness—do any of these sound familiar? If so, you may be one of the 40 million Americans affected by depression and anxiety. This number may be even higher today, considering the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that COVID caused a 25 percent increase in depression and anxiety disorders globally. Of course, many other factors could be to blame for our declining mental health, such as overuse of social media, isolation, and escalating stress from our hectic work, family, and social lives.

According to a new study published in the July 2022 issue of Public Health Nutrition, what you eat can also contribute to depression and anxiety. Researchers surveyed more than 10,000 U.S. adults and found that those with higher consumption of certain foods had increased anxiety and adverse mental health symptoms, including depression. Keep calm and read on to learn which popular foods you should keep off your plate to boost your mental well-being.

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Added sugars

Bowl of Sugar Cubes

If you eat ultra-processed foods, which the study linked with increased depression and anxiety, it's no small task to avoid added sugars . They're found in everything from cookies and cakes to ice cream and diet sodas. Even fruit juice boxes contain this sneaky ingredient. Consuming added sugars can increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes, cause tooth decay, and affect your mental health. Brittany Lubeck, RD, registered dietitian and nutrition writer, tells Best Life, "Foods that contain added sugars may taste great, but consuming too much can cause various health issues, including mental disorders."

A large-scale study published in Scientific Reports in 2017 found that increased added sugar intake from sugar-sweetened beverages and other processed foods was linked to higher rates of mental disorders such as depression. Researchers theorized that added sugar is linked with poor mental health because it promotes inflammation, which can cause depression. Additionally, added sugars can cause low blood sugar due to an overactive insulin response, potentially leading to imbalanced hormones that can cause depression.

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Red meat and processed meats

Plate of Processed Meat

Besides skyrocketing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and colorectal cancer, eating red and processed meats may also cause depression. The results from a 2020 meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed a significant association between red and processed meat intake and the risk of depression.

"The link between red and processed meats and depression may be due to advanced glycation end products (AGEs)," explains Lubeck. "These harmful proteins have been linked to inflammation, a possible factor in developing depression and anxiety."

Refined carbohydrates

Bowl of Pasta

Refined carbohydrates are foods that have been stripped of fiber and nutritional value. They include sugary breakfast cereals, white bread, white rice, regular pasta, pastries, and sweet desserts—all staples in the standard American diet that, when consumed in excess, can lead to anxiety and depression. "Like added sugars, the link between refined carbs and depression may be due to inflammation and hormonal changes induced by high consumption of refined carbs," says Lubeck.

A 2015 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that postmenopausal women who ate a diet high in refined carbs had increased rates of depression compared to those who consumed more fiber and whole grains.

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Row of Alcoholic Beverages

Since alcohol is a natural depressant, it's not surprising that it can negatively affect your mental health. "Drinking alcohol in excess can lead to inflammation in your gut and liver. This, in turn, could be another culprit of anxiety and depression," states Lubeck. For example, people with gut inflammation related to alcohol abuse experience higher rates of depression and anxiety than those without gut inflammation, according to a 2017 study published in Alcohol Research.

To minimize the mental health implications of drinking too much alcohol, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends women consume no more than three drinks daily and no more than seven per week. For men, low-risk drinking is defined as no more than four drinks per day and no more than 14 weekly.

Adam Meyer
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100% plant-based athlete. Read more
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