01/26/2016 06:03 EST | Updated 01/26/2017 05:12 EST

6 Foods That May Worsen Symptoms of Depression

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Martini drink cocktail in a bar

We usually understand what foods are good for us and what foods are bad for us. But when we think of these "bad foods," we often think of how bad they are for our physical appearance like our weight and waistlines. But we don't stop to think about how they might affect our mental health.

The reality is that one in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their lives and what you eat can have a big impact on this. These are some foods that have the potential to worsen symptoms of depression and why they should be avoided.

#1. Refined Sugar

Unless you live under a rock, you know by now that sugar isn't great for you. But refined sugar has been deemed the "sweetest poison of all." It is basically raw sugar that has been "refined" into the pure white stuff we have grown to love (and hate). When raw sugar is refined, it is depleted of its vitamins and minerals. Such a product is often called "empty calories" because it contains absolutely nothing our body can use. Some even call it poison since it actually leaches vitamins and minerals from our bodies.

Eating too much refined sugar causes inflammation. Women who consume inflammatory foods such as refined sugar have a 41 per cent increased chance of being diagnosed with depression than those who consume a low inflammatory diet. Inflammation may also affect the neurotransmitters in the brain that are linked to depression.

#2. Alcohol

You probably aren't going to like what I'm about to tell you. Alcohol has a depressant effect on the brain that can really mess with your mood. Like refined sugar, it causes inflammation and depletes our nutritional stores especially thiamine and zinc. Low levels of these nutrients have been linked to low mood, irritability and even aggression. Excess alcohol can also interfere with our body's ability to produce the happiness neurotransmitter, serotonin.

#3. Red Meat

There is a lot of controversy surrounding red meat. High consumption of red meat has been linked to inflammation in the body, which again has been shown to worsen symptoms of depression.

#4. Gluten

For many people, gluten can cause inflammation within the body due to an autoimmune response. And as I've said again and again, inflammation is linked to depression.

#5. Caffeine

Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and high consumption has been linked to depression. More obviously, caffeine often keeps us awake at night and these sleep disturbances really affect our mood. That pounding headache and energy crash that we often experience when in caffeine withdrawal - yup, that also really affects our mood. And the last tidbit that I'll share is that caffeine has been shown to interfere with our body's ability to produce serotonin (the "happiness" neurotransmitter).

#6. Aspartame

High consumption of aspartame-containing foods has also been linked to depression. Aspartame contains an amino acid called phenylalanine, which may decrease serotonin levels. Aspartame is found in diet soda and artificial sweeteners.

Now, I know you may be thinking that cutting out these ingredients is impossible. But take it one day at a time. Make small shifts to reduce your intake of these foods. One less coffee a day, one less drink at night or go meat-free one day every week. These tiny steps will lead to big improvements in your mental health over time. To help you get started, we've developed meal plans that are 100 per cent free of refined sugar, alcohol, red meat, gluten, caffeine and aspartame. Check out That Clean Life to get started.

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