5 types of foods that can make you ‘tired and stressed’ Harvard nutritionist
Have you ever had a delicious fried chicken dinner topped off by a sugary soft drink, only to feel a bit down and somewhat sluggish shortly afterward?
It goes without saying that fried foods impact your weight and heart health. But what you may not realize is that foods also have an impact on your brain, mood, and energy levels.
Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist, brain expert, and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, says the gut and brain constantly send messages to each other. As a result, the health of one directly affects the health of the other. For example, inflammation in the gut means there is less energy available to the brain and body.
“That’s because low-grade inflammation flips off a metabolic switch in the chemical pathway that produces energy,” Dr. Naidoo wrote in a health and wellness article for CNBC Make It. “The result is not only lowered energy but an increase in free radicals that damage brain tissue.”
The type of food you eat can contribute to your feelings of anxiety, depression, and lack of energy. So, to manage your mood and energy levels, it’s important to understand which foods contribute to the chronic inflammation of the gut and brain, said Dr. Naidoo, author of This Is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensable Guide to the Surprising Foods that Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More.
The following are five types of foods Dr. Naidoo says can make you “tired and stressed:”
1. Processed foods
Processed foods like cakes, cookies, frozen pizza, breads, and sugary drinks are loaded with refined and added sugar—often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup.
Excess sugar sends too much glucose to the brain, and too much glucose can cause inflammation in the brain, as well as fatigue and depression.
Dr. Naidoo recommends eating foods rich in nutrients like fresh fruits and vegetables, clean proteins like organic grass-fed beef, and wild or sustainably-caught fish.
2. Industrial seed oils
Natural oils are generally healthy but highly processed oils, such as corn, grapeseed, and soybean sunflower, can do more harm than good for the body. The processing causes oils to become high in omega-6 fatty acids which can increase inflammation.
Studies have found that people at risk for depression consume foods with higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids, and lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to reduce inflammation and promote brain health.
Dr. Naidoo suggests using extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil which research shows helps lower inflammation.
3. Added and refined sugars
Many foods have natural sugars while some manufacturers add sugar to their products, such as bottled salad dressings, fruit juices, and soups.
Added and refined sugars can make inflammation worse and contribute to mood shifts and energy swings, according to Erin Palinski-Wade, a New Jersey-based licensed and certified dietitian nutritionist.
“Added sugars cause your blood sugar to go on a rollercoaster ride of spikes and crashes, and with it, your energy also goes up and down,” says Palinski-Wade, author of Belly Fat for Dummies. “When blood sugar crashes, your mood sours, and anxiety levels can spike.”
Sugar is addictive; so, the less we eat, the better. Dr. Naidoo recommends eating whole foods that are not made with added sugars in order to reduce your dependency on sugar.
“When I’m absolutely craving something sweet, I’ll reach for a handful of blueberries or a bite of extra dark chocolate,” Dr. Naidoo wrote.
4. Fried foods
Besides contributing to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other physical health conditions, fried foods can impact our mental health.
One study examined how consuming fried foods impacted depression and resilience in 715 factory workers. The study found that people who ate more fried foods were more likely to develop depression in their lifetime.
Dr. Naidoo says that fried foods are more likely to affect your mood because the food is fried in unhealthy fats. Nutritionists are now looking more closely at “bad fats” such as margarine and hydrogenated oils, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, and “good fats,” such as avocados and olive oil, which lower the risk of disease.
5. Artificial Sweeteners
Many people use artificial sweeteners as substitutes for table sugar since they offer the sweetness of sugar, but without the calories. Sweeteners are also used by those wanting to control weight or manage their diabetes.
The safety of artificial sweeteners, however, has been called into question by researchers. One popular artificial sweetener, aspartame, has been linked to depression, anxiety, irritable moods, and other behavioral and cognitive problems.
Another study suggested frequent consumption of sweetened beverages, especially diet drinks, may increase depression risk among older adults,
The findings of other studies on artificial sweeteners are alarming. One study found that the regular consumption of diet soft drinks can be potentially toxic to the brain. The study, led by researchers at Boston University, concluded that regular consumption of artificially sweetened soft drinks was associated with a higher risk of stroke and dementia.
To reduce your risk of health complications, Dr. Naidoo suggests putting natural sweeteners like honey or agave nectar in your beverages.
5. Foods That Fight Fatigue
Dr. Naidoo provides a list of foods, vitamins, and nutrients that she personally consumes in pursuit of a “happy brain and healthy body.”
Probiotics (foods that promote good bacteria in your digestive system): Yogurt with active cultures, tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, and certain cheeses
Prebiotics (the food source for good bacteria): Beans, oats, bananas, berries, garlic, onions, dandelion greens, asparagus, artichokes, and leeks
Low Glycemic Index (GI) carbohydrates: Brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oatmeal, and chia seeds. The GI is a system to measure how quickly a food causes your blood sugar levels to rise.
Medium-GI foods, in moderation: Honey, orange juice, and whole-grain 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, passionflower and chamomile
Dr. Naidoo says that changing your diet alone is not the total answer to preventing depression and anxiety. But it can lead to positive effects that leave you feeling energized and rejuvenated.