The Five Worst Foods for Bipolar Disorder You Should Know

From salty snacks to morning cups of Joe, beware these foods if you have bipolar disorder — they may trigger mood swings and more.

Can an unhealthy diet play a role in triggering bipolar mood swings? Yes, according to recent research. In fact, certain foods — such as caffeine and sugar — can make bipolar disorder harder to manage overall.
If you choose to eliminate bipolar-offending foods from your diet, you’ll do more than keep mood swings in check and reduce periods of mania: You’ll also improve your heart health. This is important because, with bipolar disorder, you’re more at risk than your peers for heart and vascular disease.
That may be because people with bipolar disorder have been found to be:

  • Less likely to eat at least three servings of fruits and vegetables daily
  • More likely to eat only one meal a day
  • Less likely to cook or shop for healthy foods

Other explanations could include medication side effects, inadequate exercise, smoking, and lack of access to care, explains psychiatrist Jess G. Fiedorowicz, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry in the departments of psychiatry and epidemiology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Your first step? “While there has been some speculation regarding specific diets for bipolar disorder, simply eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important start,” says Dr. Fiedorowicz.

Foods and Drinks to Ditch
The fundamentals of a healthy diet include not just what to eat, but also what not to eat. You should skip these snacks that can worsen bipolar symptoms.

  • Caffeine. “Stimulants can trigger mania and should be avoided,” Fiedorowicz says. “Caffeine is an under-appreciated trigger and can additionally impair sleep,” and sleep deprivation is a notorious trigger for bipolar mood swings and mania. Caffeine can also worsen anxiety, which tends to go hand in hand with bipolar disorder and, if you’re taking antipsychotic medications, might also affect how those drugs work. Fiedorowicz adds that some over-the-counter medications — such as pseudoephedrine, found in some cough and cold medications, for instance — have stimulant properties similar to caffeine and can also trigger bipolar mood swings.
  • Alcohol. Bottom line, alcohol and bipolar disorder make a bad combination. Alcohol can negatively affect bipolar mood swings and also may interact negatively with medications. People with bipolar disorder are also more likely to become addicted to alcohol and other substances.
  • Sugar. People with bipolar disorder are at risk for metabolic syndrome, a pre-diabetes condition that may make it hard to manage blood sugar levels. Furthermore, the highs and lows that come with the sugar roller coaster could just add to bipolar mood swings, particularly mania. If you really want a sweet treat, reach for fruit.
  • Salt. If you’re on lithium, moderating salt intake can be tricky because a change in salt intake, either an increase or a sudden decrease, can affect lithium levels. Talk to your doctor about how to safely manage the salt in your diet to stay within a healthy range, often between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams a day. Equally important when taking lithium is to make sure to drink enough fluids — dehydration could cause dangerous side effects, Fiedorowicz cautions.
  • Fat. Fiedorowicz suggests following the recommendations of the American Heart Association for a healthy diet in order to limit saturated fat and trans fat in your diet. That means opting for lean protein and low-fat dairy products when choosing animal products. You might have heard that the fat in foods could alter the way your body uses medications. Generally, your medications will still be effective, but eating a lot of fried, fatty foods just isn’t good for your heart.

Building the best diet often takes teamwork — including help from your medical team. If your diet and lifestyle need a complete makeover, reach out to your doctor or dietitian for help.

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