Food is not just for nourishing our body. It has a significant influence on our minds. Consuming certain foods on a regular basis can either have a positive or negative impact on our mental health.
Although therapy and medication are useful in treating mental conditions, there are a few habit modifications that can help in improving the overall well-being of patients. Journaling, meditation, regular exercise, practicing gratitude, and making dietary changes are some of the nonmedical ways to improve mental health.
Depression is a serious mental condition that affects a person's mood, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Anxiety problems are a maladaptive response to chronic stress that affects a person's everyday functioning and causes them mental anguish.
Foods that Cause or Aggravate Anxiety and Depression
We should strive to consume food that is nutrient dense. Research is ongoing about the influence of micronutrients and antioxidants in alleviating depression and anxiety by modifying the body's physiology. Given this, we should know what foods to keep away from if our goal is to avoid depression and anxiety.
1. Fast Food
Fast food is often attractive as it involves no preparation and taste enhancers make them addictive. However, fast food is often nutritionally deficent, contains excess calories, artificial trans fats, extra sodium, and chemical additives that make it unhealthy for consumption.
Research shows that regular consumption of fast food results in depressive symptoms due to the high amounts of trans fats present in it. The large amounts of refined carbs in fast food causes our blood sugar levels to fluctuate often, which results in insomnia that could aggravate anxiety.
Alcohol consumption has a cultural connection as it is a part of social rituals of celebrations, prayers, etc. Its impact on neurophysiology is well known and it makes people feel better due to the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin. It can also add a jolly feeling as drinkers become less inhibited after a few rounds.
Alcohol cannot directly cause depression. It aggravates depression as it affects the neural and endocrinal pathways, which in turn influence mood and behavior. The languishing behavior after a night of hard drinking is directly attributed to this property of alcohol.
People take to alcohol as a respite from their problems, but it is a mirage that soon draws them into a vortex. It is not the right solution as it only leads to increased anxiety and depression in the long run.
3. Processed Meat
Processed meat like sausages, ham slices, and beef jerky is great comfort food for most of us due to its convenience and taste. Based on multiple studies, consuming processed meat increases the risk of experiencing depression and its symptoms. This is believed to be a side effect of high inflammation levels caused by the trans and saturated fat present in the meat.
Processed meat, like other highly processed foods, contains excessive amounts of salt, which increases the workload on our heart and kidneys. This raises blood pressure and leads to anxiety.
4. Energy Drinks
Energy drinks provide immediate bursts of energy that allow us to power through our tasks when we are tired. These drinks contain large amounts of caffeine and sugar, which affects our mental well-being.
A study shows that those who consume energy drinks on a regular basis experience stress, anxiety, and other signs of depression. They also cause sleep disturbances and other physical symptoms that worsen overall mental well-being.
5. Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are used as a substitute for sugar by those wanting to lose weight. Their main attraction is that they do not add empty calories. However, their synthetic composition has an adverse impact on the endocrine system. As they affect the secretion of hormones and neurotoxins, they cause nervous system dysfunction, which causes anxiety.
6. Excessive Salt and Sugar
We have long been aware of the dangers of excessive salt consumption and current research has shown that it causes chronic inflammation in the body and affects blood flow in the brain which causes depression.
Excessive sugar intake has also been shown to affect mental health and is linked to depression. Excessive sugar impairs neurocognitive functions and affects our ability to handle stress, which can result in anxiety.
7. Refined Grains
Refined grains have become very popular over the last century and are found in most of our foods these days. Refined grains are hollow as much of their nutritive value is lost in processing.
Regular consumption of refined grains has been shown to cause depression and anxiety, according to a study.
Anxiety and depression are serious mental health problems that can be caused by a wide variety of factors. Food that we eat could be a factor that worsens those conditions.
It is vital that we are mindful of what we eat and make conscious decisions to avoid consuming food that worsens our mental well-being.
Steve Verghese is a trained psychologist with an MSc in Counseling Psychology from the Indian Institute of Psychology and Research.
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