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Diet for Bipolar 1 Disorder: 3 Foods To Avoid and 3 To Eat

Medically reviewed by Johna Burdeos, RD
Written by Emily Wagner, M.S.
Posted on September 13, 2023

We all know the importance of a healthy diet, but how do your food choices play a role in your bipolar 1 disorder? This serious mood disorder causes periods of mania (manic episodes), depression (depressive episodes), and psychosis. It may be tempting to turn to sugar or caffeine during bipolar episodes or mood swings, but these substances can actually make your symptoms worse.

On the other hand, a diet rich in healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables can support your overall health and mood. This article will cover three foods to avoid and three you can add to your diet to help you live a healthier life with bipolar 1 disorder.

It’s important to note that there’s no such thing as a “bipolar diet,” and the best way to manage your condition is to follow your treatment plan. Together, you and your doctor — along with the help of a registered dietitian — can create a healthy eating plan that’s right for you.

3 Foods and Drinks To Avoid With Bipolar 1

When living with bipolar 1 disorder, it helps to limit or avoid foods and drinks that make mood episodes worse, interact with your medications, or raise your risk of health complications. You may want to limit your consumption of the following three types of food and drink.

1. Chocolate and Caffeinated Drinks

Many people drink coffee or other caffeinated drinks to get the energy-boosting effects, but you may want to limit caffeine when living with bipolar 1 disorder. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that acts on the brain, increasing energy levels and alertness.

Although caffeine tends to have mild effects on most people, it can make mood episodes worse in people with bipolar 1. If your mood is stabilized, it’s best to avoid drinking more than two cups daily of coffee or other caffeinated drinks, such as chocolate, tea, energy drinks, and sodas.

If you’re starting to experience symptoms of a manic or mixed episode, your doctor may recommend avoiding caffeine entirely. Caffeine can also interfere with your bipolar 1 medications, including lithium (Lithobid). Try substituting noncaffeinated herbal teas instead of regular coffee or tea.

2. Sugary Foods and Drinks

Added sugar and high-fructose corn syrup can be found in most processed and packaged foods. Many sweetened sodas, teas, and desserts contain more sugar than our bodies need to function on a daily basis.

While the American Heart Association suggests limiting daily sugar intake to 24 grams for women and 36 grams for men, people with bipolar 1 disorder may need to watch their totals more closely. A 2021 study suggests that sugar and high-fructose corn syrup may contribute to mania and impulsive behaviors. If you have bipolar 1 disorder, added sugar may make your symptoms worse. A high-sugar diet can also lead to weight gain, which is common with bipolar 1.

To help cut back on extra sugar, opt for naturally sweetened and nutritious foods to satisfy a craving for something sweet. Reach for fresh fruits or healthier snacks like natural nut butter on whole-grain toast or a smoothie made with unsweetened milk and frozen fruit.

3. Grapefruit and Grapefruit Juice

Grapefruit and grapefruit juice can be refreshing at breakfast or snack time, but did you know that both forms of the fruit can interfere with your bipolar 1 disorder medications? This is because grapefruit limits your body’s ability to process or metabolize certain drugs.

Your body breaks down many medications using a specialized protein, an enzyme known as CYP3A4. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice block this enzyme, so your body can’t process drugs properly. As a result, more of the medication stays in your body and can build up in your bloodstream.

Grapefruit and grapefruit juice may interfere with bipolar 1 medications such as:

Be sure to closely read your medication’s prescribing information or ask your pharmacist if it’s safe for you to consume grapefruit juice.

Foods To Eat With Bipolar 1 Disorder

Bipolar 1 disorder is associated with several other health conditions, including high blood pressure (hypertension), cardiovascular disease (heart disease), and diabetes. Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of premature death in people with bipolar 1.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help lower your risk of complications. While no food or diet can ”cure” your bipolar 1 disorder, a healthy eating plan can help boost your mood and physical well-being.

For starters, try to incorporate more of these three foods into your diet.

1. Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that may have beneficial effects on your heart and brain. Your body can’t make enough of these fats on its own, so it’s important to eat foods that provide omega-3s.

Doctors and researchers have looked into omega-3s for treating mood disorders, including bipolar 1 disorder. Some research suggests that these fats may help treat depressive episodes, while other studies show that omega-3 supplements help treat manic episodes.

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Cold-water fish like mackerel, tuna, sardines, and salmon
  • Fortified foods and beverages like milk, yogurt, and eggs
  • Soybean and flaxseed oil
  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Edamame

2. Whole Grains

Whole grains are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals your body needs to function. Whole grains also help regulate your blood sugar and cholesterol levels — and they can actually affect your mood.

A recent systematic review of several studies found that eating whole grains is associated with better mood and less anxiety. You may find that adding more grains to your diet may not only have heart-healthy effects but also improve your mood with bipolar 1 disorder. Examples of whole grains include:

  • Whole-wheat pasta and bread
  • Brown rice
  • Wild rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Popcorn

3. Magnesium-Rich Foods

What do pumpkin seeds, black beans, and peanuts have in common? They all contain magnesium, an important mineral that plays a role in blood sugar control, energy production, and heart health.

Interestingly, some research suggests that magnesium may also help treat anxiety and mania while improving the effects of bipolar 1 disorder treatments. Other studies have found that magnesium has an antidepressant effect and may help treat depressive episodes.

Other foods that contain magnesium include:

  • Legumes like lentils and kidney beans
  • Almonds and cashews
  • Avocados
  • Spinach
  • Fortified cereals

    Ask Your Doctor About a Healthy Diet When Living With Bipolar 1

    If you’d like to eat healthier with bipolar 1 disorder but you’re not sure where to start, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can make recommendations based on your overall health and medications. Remember, there’s no such thing as a bipolar diet that will cure your mental health condition. The best way to manage your disorder is to stick to your treatment plan.

    With bipolar 1 disorder, you may be at a higher risk of heart problems. Your doctor or dietitian may recommend following the Mediterranean diet or a heart-healthy diet focused on fish, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Many foods that support your overall health and mood can be added to this diet.

    Talk With Others Who Understand

    MyDepressionTeam is the social network for people with depression and related conditions and their loved ones. On MyDepressionTeam, more than 144,000 members diagnosed with depression and related conditions come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with depression and bipolar disorder.

    Did you modify your diet after receiving your bipolar 1 disorder diagnosis? Did any of these changes improve your symptoms or overall health? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    References
    1. Bipolar Disorder — National Institute of Mental Health
    2. The Impact of Caffeine Consumption on Clinical Symptoms in Patients With Bipolar Disorder: A Systematic Review — Bipolar Disorders
    3. Boost Your Mood With Healthier Food — American Heart Association
    4. Caffeine — Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
    5. Lithium — National Alliance on Mental Illness
    6. Added Sugar — Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
    7. Fructose and Uric Acid as Drivers of a Hyperactive Foraging Response: A Clue to Behavioral Disorders Associated With Impulsivity or Mania? — Evolution and Human Behavior
    8. Relationship Between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding — Nutrients
    9. Interventions for the Management of Obesity in People With Bipolar Disorder — Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
    10. Grapefruit Juice and Some Drugs Don’t Mix — U.S. Food and Drug Administration
    11. Grapefruit and Medication: A Cautionary Note — Harvard Health Publishing
    12. Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health — Mayo Clinic
    13. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fact Sheet for Consumers — National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements
    14. Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Mood Disorders — Harvard Health Publishing
    15. Effects of Omega-3 Supplement in the Treatment of Patients With Bipolar I Disorder — International Journal of Preventive Medicine
    16. Complex Carbohydrates — MedlinePlus
    17. Whole Grains: Hearty Options for a Healthy Diet — Mayo Clinic
    18. The Relationship Between Whole-Grain Intake and Measures of Cognitive Decline, Mood, and Anxiety — A Systematic Review — Advances in Nutrition
    19. Magnesium: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals — National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements
    20. Magnesium in Psychoses (Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorders) — Magnesium in the Central Nervous System
    21. The Role and the Effect of Magnesium in Mental Disorders: A Systematic Review — Nutrients
    22. Bipolar Disorder — Mayo Clinic

    Posted on September 13, 2023
    All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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    Johna Burdeos, RD is a registered dietitian and freelance health writer. Learn more about her here
    Emily Wagner, M.S. holds a Master of Science in biomedical sciences with a focus in pharmacology. She is passionate about immunology, cancer biology, and molecular biology. Learn more about her here

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