We all wake up in a bad mood once in a while. It’s part of life’s journey to experience ups and downs—but if you often feel anxious or depressed and can’t seem to shake it, there’s a chance your diet may have something to do with it. Food and mood are intimately linked, and there are a few key culprits that may be having a significant effect on your mental state. A diet high in processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and chemicals has been shown to have a significant impact on mental health. A 2013 study in Eating Behaviors Journal found a relationship between higher consumption of processed foods and anxiety, and another 2013 study in the International Journal of Yoga found that lower levels of refined and processed food consumption was linked to more positive attitudes. Annie B. Kay, Lead Nutritionist at Kripalu, clued us in on some of the dietary factors that can contribute to depression and anxiety, as well as some supplements and herbs that can be beneficial.
Q When it comes to anxiety and depression, what foods or substances are the most problematic?
Each individual suffering from these issues is unique, and addressing food intake and digestive issues is just one aspect of the solution. That said, processed foods, with their blend of sugar, unhealthy fats, and chemicals not found in nature, are often detrimental to those suffering from anxiety and depression. Inflammation, unregulated blood sugar levels, and food sensitivities, such as gluten sensitivity, can also contribute negatively.
Because these conditions tend to be so varied, we work with guests to set up a number of mindful experiments to address their symptoms, and work with them and their doctors to find a combination of diet, lifestyle, medication, and other medical management that works.
Q What foods or supplements can be helpful?
We always ask people with these conditions if they’ve gotten their vitamin D levels checked, as low vitamin D levels can be a significant contributor. Making sure there is a source of omega-3 fatty acid in the diet can be helpful (from oily fish, nuts and seeds, or a high-quality supplement). Coconut oil, another fat, can also help.
Turmeric, St. John’s Wort, green herbs like sage and oregano, and samE (a derivative of the amino acid methionine) have shown promise in studies of the diet-depression connection. As opposed to psychoactive medication, botanicals tend to be gentler and take a bit longer to help, but the side effects tend to be much milder, and generally they support healing at a deeper level.
Need ideas for shifting toward a plant-based diet rich in whole foods? Check out recipes from the Kripalu Kitchen.