While many conscientious eaters constantly think about the food we eat – how it will affect our hearts, the environment and most importantly, our waistlines – we rarely think about its impact on our brains, moods and energy levels. .
But the gut and the brain are in constant two-way communication, and the health of one directly influences the health of the other.
Specifically, when inflammation is present in the gut, less energy is available to the brain and body. This is because low-grade inflammation triggers a metabolic switch in the chemical pathway that produces energy.
The result is not only a drop in energy, but an increase in free radicals that damage brain tissue.
Foods that can cause anxiety and fatigue
Understanding which foods contribute to chronic gut and brain inflammation is an important step in managing your mood and energy levels.
As a nutritionist psychiatrist, I always try to avoid these five types of foods that can make you feel tired and stressed:
1. Processed foods
Consuming unhealthy processed foods like baked goods and sodas, which are loaded with refined and added sugars — often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup — flood the brain with too much glucose. This “sugar deluge” can lead to inflammation of the brain and ultimately lead to depression and fatigue.
Instead of buying processed foods, I recommend opting for nutrient-dense whole foods like fresh produce or clean vegetables and proteins like grass-fed, organic beef and wild-caught or sustainably-caught fish. .
2. Industrial seed oils
The industrialization of the food industry led to the development of inexpensive, highly processed oils created from the byproduct of abundant crops. These include corn, grapeseed, soybean, sunflower and palm oils.
Through processing, these oils become incredibly high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and devoid of anti-inflammatory omega-3, which promotes brain health. Studies have shown that people who eat foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids are at higher risk of depression than those who eat foods rich in omega-3s.
Opt for anti-inflammatory alternatives like extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil when cooking.
3. Added and refined sugars
While you might expect sugar to be common in baked goods or boxed cereals, it can also be found in surprising foods like ketchup, salad dressings, and savory dishes like French fries.
Added and refined sugars exacerbate inflammation and overwhelm the body with more sugar than it needs, which can create increased anxiety and unstable mood levels.
Because sugar is addictive, the less we eat of it over time, the less we will crave it. To reduce your addiction to sugar, buy whole foods that don’t contain added sugars.
When I absolutely crave something sweet, I grab a handful of blueberries or a bite of extra dark chocolate.
4. Fried foods
Tempura, empanadas, samosas, fish and chips, fried chicken, does that make your mouth water? I understand. Still, it pays to reduce the amount of fried foods you eat.
A 2016 study looked at 715 factory workers and measured their levels of depression, resilience and fried food consumption. Sure enough, researchers found that people who ate more fried foods were more likely to develop depression over their lifetime.
Fried foods are probably mood killers because they are usually fried in unhealthy fats. In recent years, the conversation around fats in the diet has changed. Now, nutritionists distinguish between “bad fats” (i.e. margarine, hydrogenated oils), which are known to cause cardiovascular disease and other ailments, and “good fats” ( i.e. avocados, olive oil) which can contribute to well-being.
5. Artificial sweeteners
Sugar substitutes are becoming more common in foods that claim to be “healthy” by helping you cut calories.
This is alarming, as science implies that many artificial sweeteners can contribute to depression. A study has shown that people who consume artificial sweeteners, primarily via diet drinks, are more depressed than those who do not.
Worse still, several studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can be toxic to the brain, altering levels of mood-regulating neurotransmitters.
To cut down on artificial sweeteners, put natural sweeteners like honey or agave nectar in your drinks.
Foods that fight fatigue
Here are the foods, vitamins and nutrients that I try to adopt for a happy brain and a healthy body:
- Probiotics: yogurt with active cultures, tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha and some cheeses
- Prebiotics: beans, oats, bananas, berries, garlic, onions, dandelion greens, asparagus, artichokes and leeks
- Low GI carbohydrates: brown rice, quinoa, rolled oats and chia seeds
- Medium GI foods, in moderation: honey, orange juice and wholemeal bread
- Healthy fats: monounsaturated fats like olive oil, nuts, nut butters, and avocados
- Omega-3 fatty acids: fish, especially fatty fish like 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
- Herbs: oregano, lavender, passion flower and chamomile
Keep in mind that changing your diet will not help prevent or completely cure depression and anxiety. But changing your eating habits can have positive effects that leave you feeling energized and rejuvenated.
dr a naidoo is a nutritional psychiatrist, brain expert and faculty member of Harvard Medical School. She is also director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of the bestselling book “This is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensable Guide to Surprising Foods That Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More.” Follow her on Twitter and instagram.