Bad news for people who reach for processed foods when they’re in a rush or feeling down: those “guilty pleasure” foods may not be bringing you as much pleasure as you think. Although sugary or carb-heavy foods might provide some instant gratification, they can end up doing more harm than good in the long run. Here are 5 foods that you should steer away from—or at least eat in moderation—in order to avoid getting into a mental slump.
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French Fries (and Other Foods Full of Saturated Fat)
It’s all too easy to give in to the lure of French fries, especially if you feel like you don’t have time to cook and have kids who are clamoring for fast food. Unfortunately, French fries are high in saturated fat, which is difficult for your body to digest. As your body works to digest those fries, you may find yourself feeling dull and sluggish for the rest of the day—and that’s just the short-term effect. A study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found evidence suggesting that women who consume the highest amount of saturated fat have worse cognitive functioning and memory over time.
Bagels (and Other High-Carb Breakfast Foods)
A fresh bagel with cream cheese might be a delicious occasional treat, but it’s not something you should eat for breakfast every morning. High carbohydrate breakfast foods like bagels, pancakes, and French toast increase your levels of tryptophan, that same chemical in turkey that makes you feel sleepy after your Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, researchers at MIT found that people who eat a carb-filled breakfast have tryptophan levels four times higher after two hours than those who eat a protein-filled breakfast. If you’ve been feeling low on energy lately, your breakfast might be the culprit.
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Packaged meats like hot dogs and sliced deli meat may make for a convenient lunch, but they also contain nitrates, which have been linked to migraines, low moods, and swollen ankles (which might just put you in a worse mood). Nitrates can be found in basically all manufactured meat because they’re a preservative used to keep that meat fresh, so try to avoid these products or at least look for versions that are labeled as nitrate-free.
This one should go without saying, but I’m still going to mention it because of the numerous negative effects alcohol can have on your mental health. While a couple of drinks might create positive feelings for a little while, it’s important to remember that alcohol is a depressant and may be particularly harmful when regularly used by someone who already has issues with anxiety, depression, or impulsivity. Alcohol interferes with the processes of memory, may disrupt normal sleep patterns, and can even lead to rebound anxiety after initial relaxation, just to name a few of the negative effects.
Cookies and Other Sweets
Eat a handful of Oreos or a cupcake and you might feel a temporary boost in your mood, but that feeling will be short-lived. When you “crash” after this initial sugar rush, you’ll experience a dip in your mood and may crave more sweet foods to make up for that dip. This obviously creates a vicious cycle, so don’t get it started in the first place. Eating fruit is a good way to get the sugar you need without the crash and burn effect.
The good news is that while certain foods may dampen your mood, other foods can actually help improve it. As mentioned above, fresh fruits are a good choice, as are vegetables, fish, and healthy snacks like unsalted almonds. A healthy, balanced diet can help you feel more alert and ready to tackle your day.
Juliana Weiss-Roessler is a freelance writer and mom who co-owns the business Weiss-Roessler Writing with her husband. She frequently writes about how to minimize your impact on the environment.