Anxiety is something many people struggle with on a daily basis. It’s often caused by stress, something a lot of us are quite familiar with. It might seem obvious that certain lifestyle changes like working less, ending toxic relationships, exercising more, taking time to unwind and relax are all ways to limit anxiety, but another major change we can easily make is to clean up our diet.
Just like there are foods that help ease anxiety, there are also foods that cause anxiety. Our diet has such a huge impact on our life, both mentally and physically! Luckily it’s something we can easily change. Start by cutting out (or limiting) all of these foods that are bad for anxiety…
Want diet & nutrition content delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for our exclusive diet & nutrition newsletter!
If you’re like me, you can’t go a day without coffee! Don’t worry, many people share a similar problem. In fact, according to the National Coffee Association, 62-percent of Americans drink coffee on a daily basis. The overall average is just over 3-cups a day per drinker. Unfortunately, this morning ritual isn’t doing any good for our anxiety.
“High levels of caffeine can not only increase anxiety and nervousness, but can also decrease the production of the feel-good chemical serotonin in the body, causing a depressed mood,” says Erin Palinski-Wake, RD, CDE, author of ‘Belly Fat for Dummies’ to Healthline.
The best way to combat this is to limit your caffeine throughout the day. Instead of having 3-cups a day, try having just one. For the most part, low doses of caffeine are safe, but if you’re consuming high doses it can have some extremely negative effects on anxiety and nervousness.
Healthline also warns that caffeine doesn’t only pertain to coffee. There are “several supplements and medications that include caffeine and can contribute to anxious feelings, including St. John’s Wort, ginseng, and certain headache medications.”
Soda is a big one on this list because not only does it contain caffeine, which we just explained is bad for anxiety, but it also contains lots of sugar (which we will dive into more later on). Sodas are sweetened with lots of sugar which has been directly linked to depression. WebMD advises choosing a seltzer water with a splash of juice when craving the fizzy sensation of a pop. This will give you that bubbly fix, but without all the added sugar.
If you think you can just swap your regular soda for a sugar-less diet soda to minimize the risk — think again! WebMD explains that just because diet soda doesn’t contain sugar, doesn’t mean it can’t cause depression. “In fact, it could make you feel more down than its sugary cousin would. Too much caffeine that many sodas have can be bad for anxiety, too.”
Fruit juice is a staple in most households, particularly those with children. But consumers should be wary about this drink. Not only is it often loaded with sugar, but it lacks any kind of nutritional value. Most products are essentially just sugar flavored water. If you’re looking for a fruity fix, you’re better off to eat some real, whole fruit with fiber instead of drinking fruit juice.
So what does this have to do with anxiety? WebMD explains that most fruit juices will quickly raise blood sugar levels and then bring them down just as fast, which can trigger feelings like anxiety.
Processed foods are among the worst foods we could possibly eat. This includes a wide range of foods from fast food, to processed snacks like crackers and chips, and processed meats like hot dogs, sausages, and various lunch meats — all of which are quite popular.
Everyday Health explains that if you’re someone who suffers from anxiety, you should try to avoid eating lots of processed foods because researchers in London found that these types of foods increase the risk for depression. “In the study, people who mainly ate fried food, processed meat, high-fat dairy products, and sweetened desserts had a 58-percent higher risk of depression than those who ate ‘whole’ foods, such as fish and vegetables.”
Aged and Fermented Foods
There are many health benefits to eating fermented foods (check out our article on Ways Fermented Foods Help Preserve Your Health), but like anything, there are also potential downfalls. Healthline explains that fermented foods can be bad for anyone who suffers from anxiety or depression.
“During the process, bacteria breaks down the food proteins into biogenic amines, one of which is histamine. Histamine is a neurotransmitter that aggravates digestion, hormones, and the cardiovascular and nervous systems,” writes Healthline. “In susceptible individuals, it can trigger anxiety and insomnia.”
Most of us already know this, but in case you didn’t, we’ve got news for you that you might not like! Candy, desserts, and added sugars are bad for us — shocking, I know! Not only do they raise blood sugar levels, lead to diabetes, and put us at a risk for a slew of other health issues, they can also contribute to anxiety. “Added sugars cause your blood sugar to go on a roller coaster ride of spikes and crashes and with it, your energy also goes up and down,” says Palinski-Wade when talking to Healthline. “When blood sugar crashes, your mood sours and anxiety levels can spike.”
Our body tries to combat this by releasing a hormone that regulates glucose in the blood and stabilizes blood sugar levels, but the sugar rush that comes from candy and sweets makes our body work even harder which causes that roller coaster of highs and lows, explains Healthline.
While the odd treat here and there isn’t bad for us, we just want to make sure we’re not consuming large amounts of sugar because they can trigger feelings of worry, irritability and sadness, says the source.
What makes sugar even more tricky to navigate is that it doesn’t always come in the form of desserts. Sugar is in a whole lot of foods we probably wouldn’t have even thought like ketchup, salad dressings, pasta, and white bread — all contain high levels of sugar. When shopping, be wary of added sugars and read the food labels.
Non Dairy Cream
Nowadays we’re seeing many people limiting not only the amount of gluten they eat, but also meat and even dairy. While there are some great health benefits to doing this, you should also be wary of some non dairy creamers. According to Healthline, many of the conventional replacements “are sources of hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fats, which are packed with LDL cholesterol and can lower HDL cholesterol.”
These types of fats are extremely bad for our health, including our mental health. They have been linked to increased depression and anxiety, as well as other mental health illnesses, says Healthline.
This one might seem odd compared to some of the other more seemingly obvious choices on this list, but for those who didn’t already know this, white bread is actually loaded with sugar and is highly processed — both of which have already been listed on here as dangerous for anxiety.
“The highly processed white flour it’s made from quickly turns to blood sugar after you eat it,” writes WebMD. “That can cause energy spikes and crashes that can be bad for anxiety and depression.” This doesn’t mean you have to completely cut out bread. Just swap the white bread for a healthier whole-grain option.
This one might seem a bit ironic because there are many people who reach for a drink when they are stressed and use it as a means to unwind. In reality, alcohol makes anxiety worse. “Although it may seem like it calms your nerves, alcohol can have a negative impact on hydration and sleep, both of which can trigger anxiety symptoms when suppressed,” says Erin Palinski-Wake, RD, CDE, author of ‘Belly Fat for Dummies’ to Healthline. Alcohol increases anxiety by changing the levels of serotonin and neurotransmitters in the brain. When the alcohol wears off, the anxiety becomes worse.
The best way to deal with alcohol and anxiety is to drink in moderation. You shouldn’t be having more than two servings a day. Consult with a doctor to find out what is right for you.
Energy drinks are just a bad idea altogether. Not only do they cause strange heart rhythms, contain lots of caffeine and sugar, but they can also cause anxiety and sleep issues. This is largely due to the high caffeine and sugar content. WebMD warns that these types of products typically hide caffeine in ingredients like guarana, so it’s hard to tell just how much caffeine you’re consuming. You’re better off to boost energy levels with things like exercise, healthy foods, and a good night’s sleep.
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone since there’s pretty much no nutritional value to most fast food, particularly the kind that is high in fat like hamburgers and french fries. Even though fast food is often cheap and easy, making it the perfect option for people with busy schedules, it could be considered expensive in terms of our health.
Eat This, Not That cites a 2012 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition which found that people who eat fast food are 51-percent more likely to develop depression than those who don’t. If you’re someone who indulges in fast food once in a while, then don’t fret. That is fine. These effects are more common among people who are eating fast food like hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, and commercial baked goods on a regular basis.