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Bipolar 101: Good and Bad Foods

Is there anything I can eat to make my bipolar better? Is there anything I should avoid?

Answered by:

Tanveer Padder, M.D.

Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

A healthy diet is important to our physical health, but it can improve our mental health as well. When we're struggling with depression, bipolar, or anxiety disorders, it's difficult to maintain a healthy diet, but the right foods and nutrients can actually make us feel better! The simple secret to eating a diet that's going to improve our mental health is adding healthy foods like fish and poultry, whole grains and fruits and vegetables to our diet, while significantly decreasing sugars and simple carbohydrates. Research has shown that there isn't a miracle diet for bipolar disorder. In general, they recommend avoiding fad diets and sticking to the basics, like eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and grains and sticking to fewer foods loaded with fats and sugar and avoiding alcohol.

Good foods for bipolar:

  • Eat a variety of foods: To be well nourished, each day you need to eat a variety of foods that contain balanced amounts of nutrients.
  • Balance the food you eat with physical activity and maintain or improve your weight: If a person eats food containing more calories than his body needs for energy, the extra calories may be stored as fat. In order to lose weight, use more calories than you consume. Physical activity is the only way to burn calories.
  • Choose a diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and grain products: Because fruits, vegetables, and grains are loaded with vitamins and minerals and have little or no fat, they are good dietary choices. An additional benefit of eating these foods is that they increase the fiber in your diet.
  • Get plenty of folic acid: Foods rich in folic acid can lift your mood. Find this vitamin in green leafy vegetables (like spinach and turnip greens), legumes (black beans, lentils, and peas), citrus fruits and juices, and fortified cereals and grain products.
  • Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold-water fish such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon, may significantly reduce depression and anxiety.
  • Power up with protein: Protein is important, especially at breakfast, when your body is ready to convert it into long-lasting energy. Add fruit for a balanced meal. protein can reduce cravings for foods that cause fatigue and depression.
  • Seek out selenium: This mineral has been shown to reduce feelings of depression and is essential for healthy immune function.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking a lot of water is good for your mental health.

Foods to avoid:

  • Ditch coffee: When we’re depressed we’re likely to want the "lift" we get from drinking coffee, but it can contribute to anxiety, mood swings, and nervousness.
  • Cut fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol: Some dietary fat is needed for good health. In fact, fats supply energy and help the body use vitamins A, D, E, and K. However, high-fat diets have been associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer.
  • Stay away from highly-processed foods: They have had most of the nutrients removed in their preparation. A fresh orange is always better for you than a glass of juice made from concentrate. Brown rice is healthier than instant rice.
  • Steer clear of sugars: Foods made with simple sugars or carbohydrates provide very little vitamins or minerals. Sugar is the #1 food additive and is often listed on labels under names not familiar to most people.
  • Go light on salt: Sodium is a mineral found in salt that occurs naturally in some foods. Sodium plays an important role in regulating body fluids and blood pressure. Although the body needs only 6 grams of salt (or 2,400 mg of sodium) per day, most people consume more than that amount.
  • Stop drinking alcohol: Mixing psychotropics with alcohol or drugs is a very dangerous combination. there are a number of ways they can make the bipolar worse or trigger an attack. People with bipolar disorder should be especially careful about drinking alcohol because it is known to interact with many medications taken to treat bipolar disorder. Mixing medication and alcohol can also cause symptoms to worsen. It is best to completely avoid the use of alcohol.

Dr. Padder is a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He is currently medical director of two mental health clinics in Columbia, Maryland, and a consulting psychiatrist at Howard County General Hopsital, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Write to Dr. Padder at

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