Everyone has their own version of comfort food. Maybe it was a snack you enjoyed eating as a kid, or simply something that satiates your sugar craving. Regardless, it always serves the same function—to make you feel “better.” But what if all this time the very thing you think is improving your mood is actually making it worse?
No one needs to tell you how certain foods are bad for your health. When you’re feeling down in the dumps though, you’re not exactly concerned about cholesterol. Understandable. You’re feeling blue and you figure worrying about your weight can wait. And that’s precisely the problem. When you think that delicious treat is only affecting your waistline, chances are high it’s also playing havoc with the hormones and neurotransmitters that control your moods.
Sure, a little treat every now and then can bring a bit of joy to your day. The problem comes in when you begin to rely on those foods as a mental health crutch. If this is sounding a bit too familiar, you may want to take a gander at this list of 10 foods that are some of the main culprits when it comes to messing with your mood.
1. Added sugars
You’ve just suffered a bad breakup and only one thing can fill the void—an entire pint of ice cream. In the short run, the ice cream does the trick. The huge intake of sugar gives you a little high and your troubles seem gone. Then comes the crash. Many justify their indulgence, reasoning that the initial upswing is worth the inevitable drop that comes once your body begins to process all that sugar. But that’s only the start of the trouble.
Along with a drop in energy, a sugar crash can also contribute to increased anxiety and even depression. And by turning to the sweet stuff to stave your sadness, you may in fact be making it harder for your body to deal with stress. In particular, this occurs when you consume foods that contain added sugars as opposed to the more natural ones found in fruit.
The reason for this reaction, neuropsychologist Nancy Hoffman told the Daily Meal, has to do with the overproduction of insulin. “The body over-produces insulin and your blood sugar plummets,” she explained, “leaving you feeling worse than you did before… Low blood sugar can make you feel cranky and down in the dumps until you eat or drink something that causes it to rise again.”
2. Refined carbs
While we’re on the topic of sugar, let’s talk about refined carbs. Like to chow down on a big bowl of spaghetti after a hard day at work, or maybe offset your morning blues with a bagel? These foods might bring you some pleasure in the short term, but over time they could be doing your body a disservice. The reason—if you haven’t already guessed—has to do with all the sugar found in these foods.
Along with that, refined carbs have also been known to depress serotonin in the brain, which contributes to added levels of stress and anxiety. A 2015 study of over 70,000 women found that diets high in refined foods contributed to an increased risk of depression.
You’re probably sick of hearing about the stuff, but you may want to pay attention to this. Gluten, found in a whole host of baked goods, may increase inflammation in the nervous system, which in turn contributes to depression or anxiety. While these effects may be felt more by those who suffer from celiac disease, it is not limited to such individuals.
“Gluten is the primary culprit of the mood-reducing quality of wheat,” nutritionist Cassy Joy Garcia explained to Eat This. “Aside from damage done to the gut, exposure to gluten (especially in substantial amounts) has been documented to actually cause mental fog, among other undesirable inflammation-related reactions.”
4. Potato chips and French fries
Turns out both of these forms of potato snack, along with most fried foods, are rich in saturated oils. How does this negatively impact your mood? Basically, the deep frying process produces a toxic carcinogen called acrylamide.
This, along with all the salt, spells disaster for your brain and gut leading to slower digestion and general lethargy.
Margarine contains a whole load of processed fats that mess with your mood. One of the main reasons for this is the effect margarine has on the body’s insulin production, which can lead to weight gain and radical mood swings.
6. Vegetable shortening
On the topic of harmful fats, vegetable shortening used in all your favorite holiday baked goods is full of the stuff. Specifically, this ingredient is rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which deliver the exact opposite effects of the mood-lifting omega-3s found in olive oil and avocado.
7. Holiday hams and lunch meats
Another festive food to watch out for: holiday hams. Ham is chockfull of antibiotics, sugar, salt, and nitrate preservatives that contribute to the sorts of problems listed above—not the sort of thing you need when you’re already dealing with the usual array of family feuds.
Oh, and packaged lunch meat has the exact same set of problems for the same reasons.
Bet you saw this one coming. There’s nothing wrong with a drink among friends, but if you’re turning to the bottle to deal with depression, you need to rethink your self-medication strategy. Overindulging in alcohol leads to an increase in hormones that induce stress and anxiety, as well as reducing serotonin levels—all bad news for your moods.
On the topic of mood-destabilizing drinks—coffee. Yes, while a cup of joe in the morning is a great way to kickstart the brain, too much of the stuff can play havoc with your emotions. Just ask anyone suffering from caffeine withdrawal, which leads to headaches, anxiety and general drowsiness.
Here’s one you might not have expected. Agave, which many consider to be a healthier alternative to sugar, contains an excess amount of fructose, which can affect your metabolism and in turn your mood.
In the end, the old saying everything in moderation applies best. You can still eat or drink the above foods on occasion, but if you can try find enjoyment in more healthy alternatives, you might find yourself with a far more effective range of comfort foods.