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Mental Health/Nutrition

5 foods that can hurt your brain—and mental health

When we think about eating well, we often think about what we should eat to nourish our bodies, get enough energy, protect our hearts, manage our weight…and that’s all super important! But, did you know food also has a really big impact on our brain health and function, including our mental wellbeing?

Some “super foods” are great for your brain—like salmon, berries, turmeric, bone broth, and fermented veggies like sauerkraut and kimchi—because they’re anti-inflammatory, rich in antioxidants, and good for your gut (which btw is closely connected to your brain).

Meanwhile, other foods trigger inflammation in the body, starting in our guts and traveling all the way to our brains. As this inflammation increases and spreads, it begins to cause oxidative stress in our tissues and mess with our hormones—including those that regulate mood.

In fact, if you’ve been experiencing anxiety, irritability, brain fog, mood swings, or depression, there’s a good chance it’s closely tied to the status of inflammation in your body.

So what should you avoid eating to reduce inflammation, keep your brain sharp, and improve your mood + mental health?

Let’s talk anti-brain foods. Here are the 5 I recommend taking a hard pass on:

1. Sugar

No sugar-coating here: Sugar is one of the most pro-inflammatory things you can put in your body.

Essentially, sugar causes a roller coaster of blood sugar and insulin spikes, which is a sure fire way to cause inflammation. It also throws our hormones out of whack, increasing levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and can even damage neurons, cell membranes and blood vessels. Yikes.

Sugar is also (surprising no one) highly addictive. Here are a few tips for cutting back on sugar, without the rage. Plus, how to recognize added sugar on an ingredient list—it goes by at least 61 names.

2. Vegetable oils (especially partially hydrogenated oils)

Processed oils like canola oil, safflower oil, corn oil, and soybean oil are heated, manipulated, and processed until our bodies can’t recognize them. Which leads to one thing (you guessed it): inflammation.

In particular, partially hydrogenated oils are worth avoiding. Code for trans fat, these oils may contribute to lower cognitive abilities—and are bad for your heart to boot.

3. Processed foods

Highly processed foods are often loaded with preservatives, dyes, and other artificial ingredients that are pro-inflammatory and completely unnecessary to eat. Packaged foods also tend to contain trans fat, sugar, and an excess of sodium—all of which are bad for your gut, your brain and your general wellbeing.

4. Gluten (if you’re sensitive)

Chronic exposure to a food sensitivity just adds kindling to the fires of inflammation, and gluten is a common one for many people. Found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye, gluten can irritate and inflame the gut, and interfere with digestion.

If you’re not sure if you have a sensitivity to gluten or not, consider a 30-day elimination period, then reintroduce them to see how your body responds.

5. Dairy (if you’re sensitive)

Dairy contains a protein called casein, which can trigger inflammation in some. If you’re sensitive to dairy, there are SO many good non-dairy alternatives out there these days—almond milk, oat milk, coconut milk, etc. I’m also a big fan of using ghee in place of butter! I’d recommend trying a 30-day elimination period here as well if you’re unsure about whether your body and dairy get along.


Dealing with gut issues that are leading to mood-related issues? Need some strategies for sustainable and realistic anti-inflammatory eating? Please reach out with any questions…or leave a comment below!

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