Although many conscientious eaters constantly think about the food we eat – how it will affect our heart, environment and, above all, our waistline – we rarely think about its effects on our brain, mood and energy levels.
But the intestines and the brain are in constant two-way communication and the health of one directly affects the health of the other.
More specifically, when inflammation is present in the intestines, less energy is available to the brain and body. This is because low-grade inflammation shuts down a metabolic switch in the chemical pathway that generates energy.
The result is not only low energy but also an increase in free radicals that damage brain tissue.
Foods that can cause anxiety and fatigue
Understanding which foods contribute to chronic inflammation of the gut and brain is a powerful step in managing your mood and energy levels.
As a Nutrition Psychiatrist, I always try to avoid these five types of foods that can make you tired and stressed:
1. Processed foods
Eat unhealthy processed foods such as baked goods and soda, which are loaded with Refined and added sugars – often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup – flood the brain with excess glucose. This “sugar flood” can cause inflammation in the brain and eventually depression and fatigue.
Instead of buying processed foods, I recommend reaching out for a nutritious-dense whole food, such as fresh or vegetables and organic grass-fed beef, and clean protein like wild or sustainably caught fish.
2. Industrial seed oil
The industrialization of the food industry has led to the development of cheap, highly processed oils made from abundant crop by-products. These include corn, grape seeds, soybeans, sunflower and palm oil.
Through processing, these oils become incredibly high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and detoxify anti-inflammatory omega-3, which promotes brain health. Studies have shown that people who eat a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids have a higher risk of depression than those who eat a diet high in omega-3.
When cooking, choose anti-inflammatory options such as extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil.
3. Added and refined sugar
While you might expect sugar to be common in pastry desserts or boxed cereals, it can also be found in amazing foods such as ketchup, salad dressings and fun items like french fries.
Added and refined sugars increase inflammation and overwhelm the body with too much sugar, which can lead to increased anxiety and mood swings.
Since sugar has an addictive effect, the less we eat it over time, the less we will crave. To reduce your sugar dependence, shop for whole foods that are not made with added sugar.
When I want something absolutely sweet, I’ll reach for a bite of a handful of blueberries or extra dark chocolate.
4. Fried food
Tempura, empandas, samosas, fish and chips, fried chicken — is your mouth still watering? I get it. Still, it pays to reduce the amount of fried food you eat.
A 2016 survey looked at 715 factory workers and measured their levels of depression, resilience and eating fried foods. Certainly, researchers have found that people who ate more fried foods were more likely to develop depression in their lifetime.
Fried foods are probably mood killers because they are usually fried in unhealthy fats. In recent years, conversations about dietary fats have changed. Now nutritionists distinguish between “bad fats” (i.e., margarine, hydrogenated oils) that are known to cause cardiovascular disease and other problems, and “good fats” (i.e., avocados, olive oils) that can help with recovery.
5. Artificial sweeteners
Sugar substitutes have become increasingly common in foods that claim to be “healthy” by helping you reduce calories.
This is worrying, because science suggests that many artificial sweeteners may contribute to depression. One study found that those who consumed artificial sweeteners, mostly through diet drinks, were more frustrated than those who did not.
Worse, several studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can be toxic to the brain, altering the concentration of mood-regulating neurotransmitters.
To reduce artificial sweeteners, include natural sweeteners like honey or agave nectar in your drinks.
Foods that fight fatigue
Here are the foods, vitamins and nutrients I try to get for a happy brain and healthy body:
- Probiotics: Yogurt, Tempeh, Miso, Sauerkraut, Kefir, Kimchi, Kambucha and certain cheeses with active culture
- Prebiotics: Beans, oats, bananas, berries, garlic, onions, dandelion spinach, asparagus, artichokes and leeks
- Low-GI Carbohydrates: Brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oatmeal and chia seeds
- Medium-GI foods, moderately: Honey, orange juice and whole grain bread
- Healthy fats: Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, almond butter and avocado
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines.
- Vitamins: B9, B12, B1, B6, A and C.
- Minerals and micronutrients: Iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and selenium
- Spices: Saffron and turmeric
- Today: Oregano, Lavender, Passionflower and Chamomile
Remember that just changing your diet will not help you completely prevent or cure depression and anxiety. But changing your eating habits can have a positive effect that makes you feel energized and rejuvenated.
Dr. A Naidu A nutritionist, psychiatrist and faculty member Harvard Medical School. He is the Director of Nutrition and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and the author of the best-selling book “This is Your Brain on Food: An Essential Guide to Wonderful Foods That Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD and more.” Follow her Twitter And Instagram.