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Poor mood foods

The wrong diet when you’re feeling stressed or depressed could make you feel worse. Find out which foods you should leave out As a nation, we’re pretty stressed, with 85% of GPs in the UK reporting a rise in patients reporting stress and depression symptoms in the past five years.1 Meanwhile, anxiety and depression among workers has increased by nearly a third, according to a 2017 report by the UK Council for Psychotherapy.2 Yet tucking into certain foods when you’re feeling lousy could impact your brain to make your mood worse. Meanwhile, skipping meals during stressful times doesn’t help either – a dip in blood glucose levels can lead to increased depression, irritability and fatigue, leaving you less able to cope with whatever life throws your way.3

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Here are the types of food and drink to avoid when you’re feeling low:

Refined carbs

A diet high in refined carbohydrates, such as white rice, cakes, pastries, white bread and sugary drinks, could raise your risk of anxiety and depression. In a 2015 study, researchers at Columbia University reported that refined carbs, which are high on the glycaemic index, cause a spike in blood sugar. This effect triggers your hormones to take steps to reduce your blood glucose levels – in turn leading to mood changes, tiredness and depression.4 A different study, published in 2016 by the journal Case Reports in Psychiatry, reported that a diet of mainly refined carbohydrates was linked to the development of generalised anxiety disorder, with symptoms including excessive worrying and muscle tension.5

Too much caffeine

Your coffee break may be key to your morning ritual but it’s important to get the right balance. Overdo the caffeine and you risk anxiety, a feeling of jitteriness and trouble sleeping, according to the results of a 2016 study by Korea’s Kyungpook National University School of Medicine.6 Conversely, a study by the Institute of Medicine found that a caffeine intake of between 200mg and 250mg a day (just over two cups of coffee) could potentially elevate your mood - with 600mg (roughly six cups) the trigger for an increase in anxiety.7,8

Overdoing the alcohol

It might be called drowning your sorrows, but a 2005 study in American Journal of Public Health found that heavy drinkers experienced higher levels of depression than non-drinkers or people who drank only moderately.9

Saturated fats

Eating foods high in saturated fat and sugar, such as burgers and cakes, can actually affect your behaviour, making you more resentful. In a 2013 study, researchers at the USA’s University of Vermont fed young adults a diet high in either saturated fats or monounsaturated fats. At the end of the three-week trial, the researchers reported that those eating saturated fats were more angry and hostile than the other group.10

Salty foods

Think carefully before you reach for the salt shaker. While salt alone can’t cause your low mood, too much can trigger dehydration – and even mild levels of dehydration is associated with a disruption in mood.11 In a 2014 study in PLOS One, cutting back on water intake increased participants’ anxiety and fatigue, and reduced their energy levels.12 So, if you are eating a snack of salty pretzels, make sure you keep the water jug close by.

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Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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1. Royal London. GPs report symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression are on the increase in the UK. Available from:
2. Independent. Anxiety and depression among UK workers up nearly a third in four years, figures show. Available from:
3. Mind. Food and Mood. Available from:
4. Gangwisch JE, et al. High glycemic index as a risk factor for depression: analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative. Available from:
5. Aucoin M & Bhardwaj S. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Hypoglycemia Symptoms Improved with Diet Modification. Available from:
6. Jin M-J, et al. The Relationship of Caffeine Intake with Depression, Anxiety, Stress and Sleep in Korean Adolescents. Available from:
7. Penetar DM, et al. Effects of Caffeine on Cognitive Performance, Mood, and Alertness in Sleep-Deprived Humans. Available from:
8. Healthline. How Much Caffeine in a Cup of Coffee? A Detailed Guide. Available from:
9. Paschall MJ, et al. Moderate Alcohol Use and Depression in Young Adults: Findings From a National Longitudinal Study. Available from:
10. Kien CL, et al. Substituting dietary monounsaturated fat for saturated fat is associated with increased daily physical activity and resting energy expenditure and with changes in mood. Available from:
11. Popkin BM, D’Anci KE and Rosenberg IH. Water, Hydration and Health. Available from:
12. Chao L. Effects of Changes in Water Intake on Mood of High and Low Drinkers. Available from:

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