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Foods Not to Eat If You Have Depression or Panic

author image Jon Williams
Jon Williams is a clinical psychologist and freelance writer. He has performed, presented and published research on a variety of psychological and physical health issues.
Foods Not to Eat If You Have Depression or Panic
A plate of french fries on a cafe table. Photo Credit zoff-photo/iStock/Getty Images


Your body is constantly repairing itself using nutrients, minerals and vitamins from food you ingest to replenish the chemical building blocks that are necessary for day-to-day functioning. Within moments after you eat or drink something, your internal chemistry changes. Not surprisingly, what you eat affects how you feel both in the short and in the long run. If you suffer from depression or panic, there are certain foods you should avoid. These foods can adversely affect how you feel by influencing metabolic processes, overexciting the nervous system or by triggering immune system reactions.

White Food

With a few exceptions, such as cauliflower, most white food is not good for your anxiety, panic or depression. For the most part, white foods are simple carbohydrates. Food such as processed white bread; white rice; potatoes; white flour products such as pasta, cakes and biscuits; and sugar should be avoided or minimized if you have depression or panic. These foods can contribute to a condition called insulin dumping. If you are accustomed to consuming a lot of simple carbohydrates, even a little bit of it can trigger the pancreas to release too much insulin.

The surge of insulin, called post-prandial reactive hyperinsulinemia, quickly disposes of the blood sugars, escorting them into cells to be metabolized. A cascade of hormones is then released, including epinephrine, which contributes to excitation of the nervous system. According to various sources, including author Phylis Balch in “Prescription for Nutritional Healing,” WrongDiagnosis.com and DrStandley.com, the resulting state of low blood sugar can cause or mimic symptoms of anxiety, panic and depression.

Ironically, even though you may have recently eaten and your body just metabolized blood sugar to supply a source of energy to your cells, the surge of insulin also triggers hunger—particularly cravings for carbohydrates. For many people, anxiety, depression and panic--triggered by an insulin surge--leads to the consumption of more carbohydrates, which then triggers more insulin surges and more compulsive eating.

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Fried Food

When you fry foods, you generally take simple carbohydrates—such as potatoes— and then super heat them at very high temperature in saturated fats. Combining poor food choice with unhealthy cooking processes makes fried food especially troubling for people with depression or panic.

In addition to the problems created by insulin dumping described above, eating fried foods clogs arteries with fat and reduces blood flow throughout the body, including the flow of blood to the brain. The parts of the brain that regulate mood and stress response cannot operate optimally when deprived of neurotransmitters, oxygen, enzymes, nutrients and other chemicals that are carried by blood into the brain.

Candy, Carbonated Soft Drinks, Junk Foods, Pastries and Cake

Sugar is sugar. Even if food isn’t white, if it is made with refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup or some other simple carbohydrates, it can create the same problems noted above with white food. Many junk foods, such as chips and crackers, are fried.

Products with Aspartame

You can’t necessarily avoid possible negative effects of soft drinks on mood by simply using low-calorie products. Most low-calorie sodas use the artificial sweetener aspartame. According to author Phylis Balch, aspartame may block the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is involved in the regulation of mood. Results can include anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Food Allergies

Food allergies may contribute to depression, anxiety and panic symptoms. Foods that are known to trigger allergic responses in some people include milk and dairy products, wheat and wheat products, processed foods and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. One way to determine if certain foods trigger mood-related or other allergic responses in you is to remove the offending foods from your diet for several weeks. Then, one by one, try each food product and monitor how you respond. If you have anxiety, panic, or other negative responses, remove the food from your diet. Alternatively, you can keep a food diary, noting what food you eat and how you feel, or you can speak with your physician about being tested for food allergies.

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