Foods To Avoid If You're Battling Depression

If you have depression or anxiety, it can be difficult to force yourself to eat a certain way or even feed yourself at all. Every activity can feel like you're moving through taffy, exerting so much effort that you start to think, maybe it's not actually worth it. That being said, the last thing you'd want to do when you're in the throes of a depressive episode — or any other time, really, if you know that you're prone to them — is something that would make your symptoms worse. 

Some of the things you'd probably be most likely to eat when battling depression are precisely the things that you should avoid. How's that for irony? If you know what you should avoid to try to keep from making things worse, at least you know that you're when you do successfully avoid them you're doing something. Sometimes that's enough — and comforting — just knowing that you're in control of something. If you're battling depression, here's what you need to know about what not to eat.

Coffee and caffeine

While it might be difficult to forgo your normal coffee, caffeinated tea, or soda, if you're dealing with depression, you may actually benefit from skipping it — at least for a little while. According to a 1978 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, out of about 80 psychiatric patients, 22 percent self-reported that they eat and drink a lot of caffeine. 

This same group — the 22 percent who ate and drank more high-caffeinated products — were found to be more prone to both anxiety and depression than their less-caffeinated counterparts. Because of that, researchers came to the conclusion that caffeine consumption and increased risk for anxiety and depression might be linked. So if you know that you're prone to depression and anxiety, you might want to lay off the caffeine or, at least, drink a little bit less.


You might think that a glass of wine or a couple of cocktails while out with friends will help cheer you up when you're feeling seriously down, but you're probably better off going with something else to boost your mood instead. 

According to WebMD, alcohol consumption and depression are strongly linked. There's some debate as to whether those who are depressed are more likely to drink more or if those who drink more are more likely to develop depression, but either way, if you're battling depression, you probably want to avoid alcohol if you can.

Artificial sweeteners

You've probably heard in the past that artificial sweeteners might not be the best dietary choice to make, even if you're not depressed, because they're, well, artificial. That being said, if you have depression, it's even more important to try to avoid non-nutritive sweeteners (artificial sweeteners' other name) if you can. 

Avoiding them can be tricky, as artificial sweeteners show up in all kinds of food products, so you need to know how to spot them on a label. Aspartame (or NutraSweet), in particular, has been linked to depression, according to a Psychology Today post by chef and nutritionist Connor Middelmann-Whitney. Sticking to real, whole foods without additives might help you avoid inadvertently making your depression worse.


You should stay away from artificial sweeteners, but, as it turns out, you really shouldn't be eating too much of the real stuff either. In 2002, researchers found that the correlation between a diet that's high in sugar and a later depression diagnosis is highly significant. 

That doesn't necessarily mean that the sugar is directly causing the later depression, as researchers pointed out in the abstract to their paper, but they do believe that there might be some truth to the idea. If you're battling depression or know that you're prone to depressive episodes, you might want to cool it on the sweet treats, at least for a while.

Processed pumpkin seeds

You've probably heard that pumpkin seeds are a pretty healthy snack, and they are, but if you've been struggling with depression, you might want to hold off consuming them on a regular basis. Tyler G. Graham, co-author of The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body, told Rodale's Organic Life that those oftentimes have an outer coating of potassium bromate, which can interfere with your thyroid's iodine absorption. 

Since your thyroid health is crucial to mood regulation, and it needs iodine to function optimally, that's bad news. If you want to hop on that pumpkin seed train without interfering with thyroid function, buy raw or roast your own from an actual squash or pumpkin.

Trans fats

Trans fats have developed a bad reputation in more recent years and, according to a 2011 study by Spanish researchers, there might be another reason that they deserve it. The researchers followed 12,059 Spanish university students over the course of approximately six years and found that 657 students reported new cases of depression (defined by a physician diagnosis and/or a new antidepressant prescription). 

They found that eating more trans fats was associated with an increase in new cases of depression. That's bad news for trans fat eaters who already are prone to depression. Stay away from trans fats if you're battling depression and you might be better off.

Processed foods

Lots of processed foods aren't good for you for lots of reasons, but they might be especially bad if you're battling depression. According to a 2009 study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, middle-aged adults who eat more processed foods (like TV dinners, fried food, convenience snacks etc.) were more likely to develop depression after 5 years, while those who focused on whole, real foods were less likely to develop depression over the same period. Limiting processed foods and focusing on real food has many benefits — one of which may be protection from depression.

Vegetable shortening

You might think that vegetable shortening would be better than, say, animal lard, but when it comes to depression, it's actually not. Psychiatrist Dr. Drew Ramsey, co-author of The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body, told Rodale's Organic Life that lard actually is the better choice because it has oleic acid — this is a monounsaturated fat (though lard has a lot of saturated fat as well), which can help protect you against depression. According to Ramsey, vegetable shortening is also high in omega-6 fatty acids, which make it hard for your brain to get the good omega-3s.

High glycemic foods

High glycemic foods like potatoes, white rice, and more are tasty and filling, but if you're prone to depression — or currently dealing with it — they might not be the best choice all the time. According to a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating more foods that have a high glycemic index might put you at a greater risk for depression. Sticking primarily to lower glycemic foods like veggies, whole grains, and nuts can help combat that. 

Luckily, you don't have to say goodbye to your favorite foods completely, it's more about moderation. You can indulge every once in awhile, but if you're battling depression, you might want to avoid these foods as much as you can.