Foods That Can Trigger Depression Symptoms

February 14, 2022

Depression is a disorder characterized by various biological, psychological and environmental factors that contribute to the abnormal activity of certain neural signaling pathways, which may cause feelings of sadness, fatigue, lack of interest, low self-esteem, and in some cases, thoughts of suicide. Although many medications and therapies are available to help treat depression, diet plays a significant role in brain health. Foods high in refined sugars and carbohydrates contribute to depressive symptoms while organic fruits and vegetables alleviate them.


Most individuals start the day with a cup of coffee to increase their energy in the morning. Caffeine, however, can become addicting, which may increase feelings of anxiety, nervousness, and depression. It can also increase an individual's heart rate and feelings of uneasiness and make them feel jittery. Not to mention, caffeine can interfere with an individual's sleeping pattern as well. If an individual believes caffeine is triggering symptoms of depression, they should slowly cut caffeine out of their diet, and try alternative beverages instead. Green tea is an excellent alternative as it contains high amounts of anti-inflammatory properties while providing a lower amount of caffeine. Turmeric tea is even better for improving an individual's mood as well.


Alcohol might seem like a good way to wind down at the end of the day, but it might also contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety in many individuals. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it reduces serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for stabilizing the mood. Even a little bit of alcohol can affect an individual's sleep, and not enough rest increases their chances of experiencing depression and anxiety. Alcohol also stimulates the brain to increase feelings of stress and anxiety. In place of beer or other glutinous alcoholic drinks, opt for a glass of red wine (if necessary) followed by a glass of mineral water.

Artificial Sweeteners And MSG

Research shows the additives aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG) alter the balance between neurotransmitters in the brain, which may contribute to depression. One study found aspartame collects in cells and causes DNA damage. Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, cannot be easily digested by the human body, and when in the body, wreck havoc. For one, artificial sweeteners confuse hormones and change the body's microbiome, and can lead to many metabolic syndromes like insulin resistance and diabetes. Drinking beverages that contain artificial sweeteners have been linked to obesity, which may also contribute to feelings of depression. Overall, artificial sweeteners and sugar in general causes inflammation, which is one of the most severe risk factors for depression. In place of these foods and drinks, individuals should choose herbal teas and alkaline mineral antioxidant water to help flush toxins from the body and promote psychological wellness.

Processed Foods

Processed foods contain highly processed ingredients with little nutrition to offer. They are highly inflammatory and may cause a disruption in neural receptors, increasing the likelihood of depression. Individuals should stay clear of fried foods, deli meats, hot dogs, packaged foods such as granola bars, and any food with food colorings or dyes as these have been linked to an increase in hyperactivity and behavioral disorders. Instead, they should opt for organic, grass-fed meats and wild caught fish, and make homemade granola bars at home instead of purchasing them at the store. Also, individuals should incorporate more whole fiber-rich grains as well as fresh fruits and vegetables into their diet to stay mentally and physically strong.

Refined Sugar

Americans love sugar, as studies show the average American consumes a whopping 164 pounds of sugar per year. Although a little treat once in a while might make individuals feel good temporarily, they should be cautious when eating these scrumptious treats! Foods high in refined sugar, such as candy, sweets, cookies, doughnuts, and juice, have a damaging effect on blood sugar because they are highly processed and contain no fiber. They send a rush of sugar to the bloodstream that causes insulin levels to skyrocket. Blood sugar levels drop a short time later as these foods contain no nutritional value, which often causes irritability, depression, and anxiety. Sugar affects the brain in three distinct ways: it creates inflammation, derails hormones, and starves the brain and damages important structures in the body, such as cell membranes and blood vessels. Many of these treats, such as doughnuts, contain unhealthy fats, little to no fiber, and are loaded with added and artificial sugars. Instead, individuals should opt for the natural sweetness of berries, which have been shown to have a protective effect on blood sugar levels when eaten with high glycemic foods, such as white bread.


In the case of margarine versus butter, the real stuff is always a better option. Margarine and other butter alternatives are often made with highly inflammatory ingredients including omega-6 fatty acids, which inhibit natural mood enhancers such as omega-3 fatty acids. Grass-fed butter contains higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed to boost brain health. Ghee and coconut oil are also good choices for replacing margarine because they contain 'good' monounsaturated fats.

Agave Nectar

Agave nectar first became popular when it was advertised as a healthy option for high-fructose corn syrup. But most store-bought agave syrup is highly processed, just like high-fructose, and does not offer any health benefits. Agave syrup has the highest amount of fructose of any store-bought sweetener, including high-fructose syrup. Besides triggering symptoms of depression, it has also been shown to increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, which causes high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and obesity.

Foods That Contain GMOs

Conventional foods are foods that are not organic, meaning they have been treated with pesticides and other chemicals to keep pests away from them during the growing process. Many conventional fruits and vegetables contain neurotoxins that have been shown to affect an individual's mental health and cause nutritional deficiencies. These toxins disrupt the microbiome, which affects the production of vital amino acids such as tryptophan, the absorption of minerals, and detoxification of the liver. Pesticides also disrupt the good bacteria found in the gut, which is known as the 'second brain.' Gut health is an important part of maintaining a healthy brain. Individuals should choose organic foods whenever possible.

Fruit Juice

Probably one of the most surprising food culprits that can trigger depression is fruit juice. Although fruit itself is full of fiber, various nutrients and slows down how the blood takes in energy, many fruit juices contain secret ingredients. Without fiber, essentially individuals are just drinking sugar-water that will give them a major energy boost and spike their insulin, but cause them to crash soon afterward. Many fruit juices are devoid of slow-digesting fiber and packed with refined fructose. As explained with refined sugar and artificial sweeteners, as fruit juice contains both of these ingredients, it is no surprise it can trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Probably one of the worst types of juice to consume is apple juice. Apple juice will spike an individual's blood sugar and trigger the stress hormone, and is loaded with fructose, which can alter how the brain responds to stress on a genetic level. Many brands of apple juice have also tested positive for arsenic, a toxin that induces anxious behavior and worsens symptoms of depression. Eat whole fruit and drink water separately, but do not combine the two and chug a glass of fruit juice!

Carbonated Drinks

It shouldn't be a shock that carbonated beverages, such as soda and diet soda, are not good for anyone and can easily trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety. Similar to fruit juice, regular soda contains copious amounts of refined sugars, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners, easily spiking an individual's blood sugar, with none of the nutrition. Sodas have a direct connection to depression as well due to its ingredients and how it can affect an individual's mental health and weight. Diet soda is not a better choice either. No sugar, no problem...except there is. For one, many individuals may not experience the energy crash regular soda causes with having too much sugar, but diet soda can worsen symptoms of depression due to the number of artificial sweeteners and preservatives, not to mention the high caffeine content most diet drinks contain.

Gluten Products

Grains like rye, barley, and contaminated oatmeal all contain proteins the body may recognize as gluten, the sticky protein found in wheat. Gluten and gluten-like proteins are some of the most inflammatory foods individuals can consume and contribute to depression. Gluten causes inflammation by irritating the gut and gut microbes as well as the intestinal tissues, and can cause gut cells to create zonulin, the leading cause of intestinal permeability or a leaky gut. Gluten can further cause inflammation and interfere with digestion by clumping food particulars together due to its stickiness. Gluten has also been connected to depression, seizures, headaches, anxiety, and nerve damage, and one study, in particular, discovered the gut inflammation that gluten causes may cause adverse effects that can lead to depression.


Not many individuals know this, but certain condiments and sauces are linked to worsening depression or triggering it. Some of these condiments include salad dressing and dips, ketchup, and soy sauce. For one, most pre-packaged dressings, dips, and marinades are loaded with sugar, listed under high-fructose corn syrup. Light, calorie-free, and sugar-free dressings also contain many artificial sweeteners like aspartame, which is linked to depression and anxiety. The best bet is to read the label before consuming or make one's own dressing. Ketchup, just like dressing and dips, is packed with lots of refined sugars, with about four grams of sugar per tablespoon. Due to the amount of sugar and sweeteners, ketchup is another culprit that can trigger depression. Finally, soy sauce can worsen symptoms of depression in individuals, especially if they are sensitive to gluten. Soy sauce contains gluten, and as previously explained, causes gut inflammation, leading to anxiety and depression.

Vegetable Oils

The standard diet of most Americans contains copious amounts of sugars, preservatives, and unhealthy fats, usually in the form of commercial vegetable oils. Numerous processed foods, such as salad dressings and store-bought cookies, contain these oils, ranging from sunflower, corn, soybean, canola, and safflower oil. These vegetable oils are considered processed due to the high-heat and high-pressure process they go through, as well as the chemical solvents that are required to produce them. Plus, many of these oils are made from genetically modified organisms as well. Essentially, our bodies do not recognize vegetable oils, especially when they are heated and distorted, causing an unfathomable amount of inflammation within the body, which can lead to depression.

Fast Food

There have been a few studies showing eating fast food is linked to an increased risk of developing depression. One published study indicates individuals who eat large amounts of fast food had a fifty-one percent greater likelihood of experiencing depression than those who ate none or very little. The researchers also reported a correlation with different doses. Individuals who ate more fast food had higher risks of depression than those who ate slightly less. There isn't enough concrete knowledge about how diet affects depression, but some studies indicate certain nutrients may help prevent it, including omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil, and B vitamins. If an individual is not sure if they're getting enough nutrients, they should talk to a doctor about what their ideal diet is.

Foods High In Sodium

Individuals who eat a lot of foods with excess sodium may be inadvertently increasing their chances of depression. Excessive sodium can cause disruptions to the neurological system, and it can also have a negative impact on the immune system, which leads to fatigue. Salt also causes individuals to retain more fluid, which can lead to uncomfortable feelings of bloating. However, other studies have shown salt may actually alleviate symptoms of depression on a temporary basis. Researchers don't necessarily think this is a good thing though. The human body's reaction to salt can sometimes mimic a mild emotional high, like with an addictive substance. Other studies have shown reducing unhealthy sodium intake can cause intense cravings.

Binge Eating Anything

Any kind of binge eating has been linked to increased feelings of depression and anxiety. Binge eating occurs when individuals overeat despite not being hungry. This behavior is often accompanied by a feeling of a loss of control. Some individuals tend to overeat out of simple habit rather than emotional distress. Not everyone who overeats out of boredom or habit has an underlying mental illness, but there are certain social factors of habitual overeaters that may predispose them to depression. If they lead a sedentary lifestyle because they lack motivation or energy, isolate themselves from social contact, or don't enjoy their usual activities, these are key signs of depression. A person who overeats in response to emotions and despite negative consequences usually has an underlying mental health issue. Binge eating disorder describes this pattern of eating, and it's usually comorbid with anxiety or mood disorders.

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