After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I had to make some serious lifestyle changes. I needed to find ways to manage my bipolar by incorporating exercise, nutrition, and positivity (from surrounding myself with positive people). I knew learning to manage bipolar and living a joyful life was in my control, so I had to make these changes on my own to conquer the highs and lows.
Like other lifestyle changes, I wanted to research how certain foods can help control my highs and lows.. Some people don’t mind the high points, but I noticed it can get out of control sometimes. During these phases, my alcohol consumption and spending would go through the roof, which I’d regret afterwards. I wanted to find a fair balance so I would have better control of my mood swings and my life.
When I did my research, and talked to my psychiatrist about managing bipolar, she told me to incorporate a nutritious diet in the following ways:
- Incorporate foods that fight depression,
- Incorporate foods that are calming and help manage mania.
Below you’ll find my list of foods to avoid when living with bipolar disorder. It has been split into two categories to keep things organized. Everyone is different and some foods may not affect you the way it does me. But skim through and let me know your thoughts.
Foods I Eat Regularly
1) Walnuts (awesome)
These are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. The omega-3 found in walnuts support overall brain health. Its high quality fatty acid is normally found in fish. All you need to eat is a quarter cup.
Walnuts can also help increase the hormones, serotonin and melatonin. Both are mood boosting chemicals, as people with depression have been known to have reduced levels of both these hormones. With an increase in serotonin and melatonin, you can help elevate your food during a depressive state.
“Mood-related chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine– are low in the brain during major depressive episodes. This is commonly referred to as a “chemical imbalance” – psychcentral.com
I try to eat a handful of these everyday around dinner time. At the local grocery store, you can buy a package which lasts 3-4 days for around $4.99.
2) Fish (Salmon)
Try eating actual fish such as trout, herring, and Albacore tuna. I started to incorporate a lot more fish in my diet because it’s rich in omega-3 fats. This is the same high quality fat found in walnuts. It also increases the serotonin and melatonin in the brain. Low levels of these chemicals have been linked to depression, so eating omega-3 from fish can help.
I have also purchased omega-3 fish oil tablets on the days I don’t feel like eating fish. These can be purchased at your local nutrition store.
3) Leafy Greens
I started to eat a lot more greens like spinach, broccoli, asparagus, and swiss chard. These were items I had to pick up more at the grocery store. My doctor mentioned green vegetables contain vitamin B (folic acid); higher levels of folate can help anti-depressants work better, which I’m on to help manage bipolar.
Here’s a great study linking depression with lower levels of vitamin B12: Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12.
Some green vegetables high in Vitamin B12:
- Swiss chard
- Collard greens
I like to buy the frozen stir fry or mixed greens available at Costco or at your local grocery store. I’m usually strained for time so I don’t have time to buy fresh vegetables and then prepare them. If you have time, then I recommend the fresh, organic vegetables. Either way, add one portion to your meal once or twice per day and that’s good enough.
4) Bowl of Berries
These include blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, all of which are packed with antioxidants, and vitamin C. I read in the Journal of Nutrition, vitamin C will help regulate your cortisol levels, which is great to reduce stress. Cortisol is a hormone that is produced in your adrenal glands. When you have higher levels of cortisol in your body for long periods, it can cause stress, heart disease and depression.
A bowl of berries at night can help regulate your cortisol levels, so it’s important to include them in your diet. It’s very easy to prepare, and, for extra taste, add 3 teaspoons of low-fat Greek yogurt.
5) More Whole Grains
I started to pay closer attention to what type of carbohydrates I consume daily. There is a difference between white and brown carbohydrates, with research indicating whole grains are good for the mind. According to Eva Selhub MD, good bacteria found in whole grains can influence the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Low levels of this chemical have been linked to higher depression.
“What’s more, the function of these neurons — and the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin — is highly influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome.” – Harvard.edu
Some whole grains on my grocery list include: brown rice, barley, oatmeal, quinoa, millet, bulgur and wheat berries.
Black beans, lima beans, and chickpeas are all high in magnesium, which has a similar function to lithium. When first diagnosed with bipolar I was put on lithium to help control my mood swings and rapid cycling. However, the amount of magnesium required to control mood swings is very high so simply incorporating beans alone won’t help.
I know it doesn’t hurt to incorporate certain types of food with my medication so I started to eat beans 2-3 times per week. I’m also taking a multi-vitamin with 125mg of magnesium in it.
“Magnesium has been found to function similarly to lithium, which is often prescribed for bipolar disorder as a mood stabilizer. Adding magnesium to your diet may help to decrease the symptoms of mania or rapid cycling. Magnesium also supports good sleep, another problem spot for those with bipolar disorder. Top sources for magnesium include pumpkin seeds, spinach, swiss chard, soybeans, cashews, black beans and sunflower seeds.” – huffingtonpost.com
7) Fruits (Vitamin C)
I love fruits and eat them before going to sleep. Oranges, apples, bananas, and peaches are at the top of my list because they taste good and are packed with vitamin C. Fruits are a great way to boost your immune system because of the vitamin C, and the aroma from them is a great way to boost your mood.
Food’s I Avoid or Have Reduced
I try and avoid drinking alcohol as much as I can because it affects my mood. After looking back through the years, alcohol has been the cause of many of my mood swings. It affects your thought pattern, leading to a lot of negative energy causing stress and anxiety, both of which can trigger manic episodes. Not to mention, when I would drink, it would impact my sleep pattern because I wouldn’t be able to relax.
Alcohol is a huge downer. The next day I would have withdrawals, making me feel worse about myself. It’s important to always stay positive when managing bipolar; alcohol would have an alternative affect. If you are going to drink, I recommend keeping it at a maximum of two drinks.
9) Foods High in Trans-Saturated Fats
The connection linking obesity and depression is not one-way. For example, people who are obese tend to have a higher rate of depression, and those who are depressed tend to gain weight and become obese. Research has shown people who are obese are 24% more likely to face a mood disorder. The reason is very clear: it’s because obesity leads to painful ridicule, problems with body image, and social isolation. Therefore, people who are obese tend to blame themselves for their problems, increasing negative thoughts about themselves and others around them.
The good news is reading the label on food items can provide a lot of nutritional information you need. Follow the American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations.
I drink coffee when I’m out of the house on the road getting work done. This is limited to one cup. I’ve noticed drinking too much caffeine can give you a quick boost of energy, but disrupt your sleep patterns. We all know by now the connection between sleep and bipolar, so it’s important your sleep cycle remains intact always. Anything that causes you to have trouble sleeping should be avoided. For this reason, I have limited drinking coffee to when I’m outside of the house during the daytime only.
For those managing bipolar, it’s important you stick to a solid sleep schedule. For myself, it was one of the most important factors in triggering manic episodes. Here’s something I read during my research:
“During the highs of bipolar disorder (periods of mania), you may be so aroused that you can go for days without sleep without feeling tired the next day. For three out of four people with bipolar disorder, sleep problems are the most common signal that a period of mania is about to occur. Sleep deprivation, as well as jet lag, can also trigger manic or hypomanic episodes for some people with bipolar disorder.”- webmd.com
Managing bipolar really comes down to knowing what works for you. Over the years, I’ve narrowed it down to certain foods I should be eating and avoiding because it makes me feel good about myself.
Question: What other foods would you recommend people eat daily and/or avoid if they are bipolar? Please leave your recommendations in the comment box below.