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What foods to avoid while taking antidepressants

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Foods to avoidFoods to eat more ofOther treatment optionsSummary
What you eat can affect your mood. If you are taking antidepressants, it may be beneficial to avoid foods with added sugar while eating more foods containing healthy fats.
Medically reviewed by Nicole Washington, DO, MPH
Written by Anisha Mansuri
Updated on February 26, 2024

Your diet can have an effect on your mood, which is why the type of food you choose matters. Eating nutritious foods full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can help your brain stay healthy and perform at its best.

However, some foods, such as those containing added sugars, can negatively affect your mood and increase symptoms of anxiety and depression.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, it can be helpful to follow a diet that helps reduce your risk of depression and alleviates symptoms.

What foods should you avoid while on antidepressants?

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While no foods or drinks are off limits, it can be beneficial to limit those that make inflammation worse, as this can make it more difficult for your brain to function.

Consider limiting the following foods or drinks if you’re taking antidepressants:

Alcohol

Alcohol can often worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also found that drinking alcohol could increase the side effects of antidepressants, like drowsiness.

If you’re taking medications such as antidepressants, consider speaking with a doctor or pharmacist about when it is safer for you to drink and when to avoid it.

Caffeine

For some people, drinking caffeine may negatively affect their mood. In fact, a 2022 research review found that consuming caffeine could increase anxiety for people who have panic disorder.

A 2014 review found that high doses of caffeine were associated with an increase in depressive symptoms for those with a mood disorder.

If you regularly experience anxiety and depression symptoms, it may be helpful to limit your caffeine consumption.

“You don’t have to cut caffeine out of your diet. But it’s smart not to go overboard, especially if you have anxiety,” said Joy Alonzo, PharmD, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice at the Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel College.

Instead, Alonzo recommends sticking to 1 cup a day if you experience symptoms like nervousness, irritability, or difficulty sleeping.

Added sugar

Added sugar is the type of sugar that doesn’t occur naturally in foods. It may appear on ingredient lists under alternative names such as:

  • corn syrup
  • dextrose
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • maple syrup
  • molasses
  • sucrose

Examples of foods containing added sugars include:

  • candy
  • cakes
  • cookies
  • pastries and pies
  • sweetened beverages like soda

“The trouble with sugar, especially without much fiber, is that it releases a burst of energy,” Alonzo explained. “But there’s a crash afterward. Eating too much can cause mood changes, and it’s not good for your overall health,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends eating 10% or less of calories from added sugar each day. For example, if your diet consists of 2,000 calories a day, aim to consume no more than 200 calories of foods containing added sugars.

Aged foods

Aged foods are foods that are preserved or fermented, often to improve the taste. Common examples include certain cheeses, red meats, nuts, and oils. They often contain the amino acid tyramine.

If you’re taking antidepressants such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), tyramine may have a negative effect on your cardiovascular health. MAOIs prevent the breakdown of tyramine in the body. As tyramine helps regulate blood pressure, eating foods with high amounts while taking an MAOI may result in dangerous blood pressure spikes.

If you take an MAOI, consider speaking with a doctor about what foods to avoid.

What foods should you eat more of while on antidepressants?

“There’s a mountain of data that shows eating more whole foods and less processed foods can help reduce your risk of depression,” said Drew Ramsey, MD, a psychiatrist and founder of the Brain Food Clinic in New York City. Dr. Ramsey is also the author of “Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety.”

No specific foods or diets will take depression away overnight. However, certain foods may help ease symptoms over time.

They include:

Fatty fish

Fatty fish is high in several minerals and vitamins, such as omega-3 fatty acids. As fatty fish has anti-inflammatory properties, it may even be able to help relieve depression symptoms and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Examples of fatty fish include:

  • salmon
  • mackerel
  • tuna
  • trout

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating 2 servings (equal to 6 ounces when cooked) of fatty fish per week.

Oysters

Oysters are very high in several vitamins and minerals, such as zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6, which can play a key role in regulating the body’s stress response. A 2018 study found that foods such as oysters and mussels can help prevent and treat depressive symptoms.

“Eating foods rich in zinc has been shown to help people with depression recover better,” noted Dr. Ramsey.

Walnuts

Walnuts are another great source of omega-3s. They are also high in healthy fats and can help promote good brain and gut health.

A 2019 study looking at whether depression scores could be reduced following regular consumption of walnuts found that scores were 26% lower in people who ate a quarter cup of walnuts every day.

Leafy greens vegetables

Eating leafy green vegetables can have several health benefits, such as reducing inflammation in the body. This is important as inflammation can make it more difficult for brain cells to do their jobs. However, regularly eating leafy green vegetables can help decrease inflammation, which can, in turn, lower stress and depression levels.

Examples of leafy green vegetables include:

  • watercress
  • spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • lettuce
  • kale
  • collards

Other treatment options for depression

If you’re experiencing depression, several other treatment options can help. This includes therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help you learn how to reframe your thoughts and provide you with coping strategies.

A doctor may also suggest medications to help alleviate symptoms, such as:

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Summary

If you are taking antidepressants, it may be helpful to avoid certain foods and drinks to reduce the risk of inflammation in the brain. This includes:

  • aged foods, like certain cheeses and red meats
  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • foods containing added sugar, like candy and cake

Instead, it may be beneficial to eat more foods containing healthy fats, such as fatty fish, to help relieve depressive symptoms and reduce inflammation levels.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression that are interfering with your day-to-day life, consider speaking with a healthcare professional. They can help create a treatment plan for your individual needs to help alleviate symptoms.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.