How Inflammatory Foods Can Affect Your Mood
We know that chronic inflammation plays a role in depression, anxiety, and mood and following an anti-inflammatory way of eating can help you feel better. Here’s what you need to know and how to get started.
If you’ve paid any attention to how you feel after you eat, you probably know that some foods make you feel better than others. Maybe you’ve noticed that when you have fried foods you feel a bit gassy, or if you eat dairy you get a bit constipated. Harmless enough, right? So, most of us simply eat less of those foods (or don’t and just accept the consequences as part of life) and move on with our day. Yet, what if I told you that even some of the “healthy” foods you are eating each day could be contributing to your fatigue, depression, anxiety, or lack of focus? These symptoms are not just inconvenient, but can significantly reduce your quality of life.
What I’m referring to here is inflammatory foods, or foods that promote an inflammatory response in your body. Some foods that are still “healthy” for you to eat in moderation, like corn, rice, beans, and dairy, are pro-inflammatory foods. All of us experience inflammation, but chronic levels of high inflammation in the body have been connected to a reduced immune response (so, you may get sick easier or more often) and depression (so, you may feel worse mentally and emotionally).
What is this inflammation?
Inflammation is your body’s natural response to an injury or infection. Health problems arise when we have chronic inflammation, meaning inflammation for a long period of time. In the past, inflammation has been connected to diseases related to chronic pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, or inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease. However, we now know that “chronic exposure to increased inflammation has been connected to an increase in neurotransmitters that lead to depressive symptoms ”.
Part of this connection between mental health (i.e., how you feel) and what you eat is due to the mind-gut connection. Your gut is known as your “second brain” and as I often tell my clients, “if your gut (your stomach, bowels, colon, intestines) is sluggish or not doing well then your brain will be sluggish and not doing well.”
Inflammation and Depression
Studies have shown, “adopting an anti-inflammatory diet may be an effective intervention or preventative means of reducing depression risk and symptoms,” but you don’t have to rely on scientists to tell you that. You can perform your own clinical trial on your own body. I always remind my clients to focus on how they feel when they eat a certain type of food. At the end of the day, if you eat a certain food and notice you have depression, anxiety, or any negative changes in mood (or chronic pain, for that matter) – then that food may be a contributing factor.
Many of my clients, myself and my husband included, notice a connection between eating inflammatory foods like beans (legumes), rice and corn (grains), milk and cheese (dairy) and feeling more tired, irritable, lethargic, fatigued, depressed or down, and anxious.
What is an anti-inflammatory diet?
An anti-inflammatory “diet” is really a way of eating, rather than a specific diet or meal plan and has been made popular by Dr. Andrew Weil, MD. This way of eating focuses on eating fresh, whole foods that are less likely to trigger or worsen inflammation, like fresh fruits and vegetables. The diet also includes high quality animal protein and complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes.
The diet avoids fried food and processed foods with unhealthy oils like canola oil. As a health coach who helps clients reduce inflammation, I’ve seen clients benefit most when they also limit or avoid beans (legumes), eggs, dairy (including butter), and adopt a grain-free way of eating, thus avoiding grains (rice, corn, wheat, etc).
Here is a list of foods to eat to reduce inflammation:
High quality animal protein (max 30% of your diet- Wild caught salmon, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised, organic turkey and chicken, etc.)
Coconut, olive, and avocado oil
All nuts and seeds (except peanuts which is a legume)
All greens (lettuce, kale, spinach, etc.)
All vegetables (especially sweet potatoes as the main source of complex carbohydrates)
All fruits (especially avocado for healthy fats and low-glycemic fruits like apples, berries, and grapefruit)
Here is a list of foods to avoid to reduce inflammation:
Dairy (including eggs, milk, cheese, butter, etc.)
Grains (including corn, rice, quinoa, oats, gluten/wheat, etc.)
Legumes (including beans, soy, etc.)
Canola or vegetable oil
Fast food, processed or packaged foods
Remember, that everyone’s body is different. As you are a bio-individual, the foods that make you feel bad may be different than your spouse, partner, or friend. I recommend that you experiment with different foods and track how you feel. Create a “food and feeling” journal where you log everything you eat and drink for 2 weeks and how you feel (about an hour later). Look for patterns and trends and become a food detective with the goal of getting to know your body and reducing any of your negative symptoms.
And as always, I recommend that if you have any serious health conditions and you are making significant changes to your diet and lifestyle, that you work with a health coach, nutritionist, or dietician. Consult your physician regarding any possible dietary changes that may affect your medications.
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