how foods affect anxiety

How Foods Affect Anxiety

Have you ever experienced a feeling of internal panic? The sense of feeling anxious, jittery, wired and jumpy? Perhaps the sensation that you can’t really settle down? Well, you’re not alone. It’s quite possible the food or beverage you just consumed may have contributed to feeling anxious or triggered such feelings by producing blood sugar spikes.

When you eat something that’s high in sugar, it causes your blood sugar to spike and then drops faster than it would if you had something that was more balanced with protein, carbs, and fat. This spike and drop can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and feel almost like a panic attack for some.

Foods such as cakes, cookies, candy, pies, soda pop, and other sugary foods can lead to such blood spikes.  Additionally, a lot of the comfort foods that many people consume such as highly processed foods like breads, cakes, processed meats, cheese, and ready-made meals invoke anxiety by increasing inflammation in the body. This can be exacerbated during stressful times which can actually provoke anxiety. 

Since these foods are low in fiber they are thought to disturb the normal gut microbiome. Eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates and fats leads to high overall levels of inflammation in the body reaching the central nervous system and affecting our mood. This can lead to greater levels of anxiety.

Reduce Anxiety By Avoiding These Foods

1. Cakes, cookies, candy and pies

Foods high in sugar can create spikes in your blood sugar, which is associated with anxiety.  Stay away from foods with added sugar, or reserve them for special, occasional treats. If you want something sweet, try fresh fruit, like blueberries, peaches, plums, cherries, and nectarines. 

2. Sugary drinks

Soda pop and fruit juice are typically loaded with sugar. For example, a 12-ounce can of soda can contain 8 to 13 teaspoons of sugar, depending on the type. Many fruit juices are also loaded with sugar, but don’t contain the amount of fiber that fruit contains. Fiber slows your digestion, which helps you avoid blood sugar spikes.

3. Processed meats, cheeses and ready-made meals

These foods are associated with inflammation, which can produce anxiety. These kinds of foods are also low in fiber and are believed to disturb the gut microbiome. Your gut microbiome is typically a diverse mix of microorganisms living in the gut. A healthy microbiome helps the body function properly. 

4. Coffee, tea and energy drinks

Beverages that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea and energy drinks, can increase anxiety. The more caffeine you consume, the greater chance of anxiety flaring. Research suggests that the effects are greatest in people who consume more than 5 cups of coffee a day. Caffeine activates adenosine receptors in the peripheral and central nervous systems. Adenosine is involved in mediating the body’s fight-or-flight response.

5. Alcohol

Some people think that alcoholic beverages – which are depressants – can have a calming effect, but this idea can backfire, because drinking alcohol often leads to fragmented sleep and blood sugar spikes, especially if you drink on an empty stomach. Drinking alcohol excessively can lead to dehydration and physical hangover symptoms, which can lead to anxiety. Collectively, hangover symptoms like dehydration, poor sleep, depletion of B vitamins and the alcohol detox 

6. Fruit and veggie smoothies without protein

Smoothies are a great way to get the nutrition of various fruits and vegetables. However, if your smoothie only contains fruit or vegetables with high glycemic indexes, you may experience a spike and fall of your blood sugar level, which can lead to feelings of anxiety.  Adding protein to smoothies such as protein powder, nuts, or seeds can help balance the carbohydrates and decrease the likelihood of sugar spikes.

7. Artificial sweeteners. 

There are impacts on anxiety from artificial sweeteners, and diet soda or other drinks that are sold as sugar-free. Artificial sweeteners have been associated with neuropsychiatric problems.

8. Gluten

Although gluten is not usually discussed in terms of anxiety, a connection may exist. There’s a good amount of evidence showing that gluten is something that individuals with anxiety should consider maybe cutting out, or cutting back on, to see if they might have an improvement.

9. Hidden sugars

Certain foods may not taste sweet but nevertheless contain sugar. There are added and refined sugars in so many food these days. Often you don’t realize they’re in savory foods such as salad dressings, store-bought tomato sauces and things like ketchup. Hidden sugar in foods can really drive up anxiety.

10. Processed vegetable oils

If eating fast food makes you feel jittery, there’s a possible explanation. Fast-food places often use processed vegetable oils, which can actually worsen symptoms of anxiety. Corn oil and soybean oil are among those that are most concerning, she says. By contrast, avocado and olive oil are fruit oils, so they don’t fall into that category. 

If you’re taking caffeine and alcohol out of your diet, consider gradually decreasing the amount you drink to help prevent these rebound effects. Talk with your health care provider about best strategies for weaning off of medications, drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. It may also be prudent to enlist the help of a nutritionist as you make dietary changes.

Foods The Help Ease Anxiety

In many cases, medication is often required as a main course of treatment, however, there are several strategies you can also use to help reduce anxiety symptoms. From exercising to breathing techniques, to brain-boosting foods, there are a variety of options that may help support brain function and lower the severity of your symptoms. Below are several science-backed foods and beverages that may provide anxiety relief.

1. Salmon

Salmon contains nutrients that promote brain health, including vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients may help regulate the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which can have calming and relaxing properties. A diet rich in EPA and DHA is associated with lower rates of anxiety. 

It’s believed these fatty acids may reduce inflammation and prevent brain cell dysfunction that is common in people with anxiety. Vitamin D has also been studied for the positive effects in reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms. One 2020 meta-analysis showed vitamin D supplementation was associated with lower rates of negative mood disorders. 

For the most benefit, try adding salmon to your diet 2–3 times per week.

2. Chamomile

Chamomile is an herb that may help reduce anxiety. It contains both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help lower inflammation associated with anxiety. 

Though the mechanisms aren’t clear, chamomile is believed to help regulate neurotransmitters related to mood such as serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). 

One 38-week randomized study in 179 people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experienced a significantly greater reduction in symptoms after consuming chamomile extract (1,500 milligrams daily) compared to those who did not.

3. Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice that contains curcumin, a compound studied for its role in promoting brain health and preventing anxiety disorders. 

Known for its high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin may help to prevent damage to brain cells related to chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.

Animal studies suggest curcumin may increase the conversion of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) — an omega-3 found in plants — to DHA more effectively and increase DHA levels in the brain.

A small randomized crossover study, consuming one gram of curcumin per day for 30 days was shown to significantly lower anxiety scores, compared to a placebo. 

That said, incorporating turmeric into your diet is certainly worth a try. To increase curcumin absorption, try pairing it with black pepper.

4. Dark chocolate

Incorporating some dark chocolate into your diet may also be helpful for easing anxiety.

Dark chocolate contains flavonols, such as epicatechin and catechin, which are plant compounds that act as antioxidants.

Some research suggests that the flavanol’s found in dark chocolate may benefit brain function and have neuroprotective effects. In particular, flavonols may increase blood flow to the brain and enhance cell-signaling pathways 

These effects may allow you to adjust better to the stressful situations that can lead to anxiety and other mood disorders.

Some researchers also suggest that dark chocolate’s role in brain health may simply be due to its taste, which can be comforting for those with mood disorders 

Dark chocolate is best consumed in moderation, as it’s high in calories and easy to overeat. Enjoy a 1.0- to 1.5-ounce serving at a time.

5. Yogurt

If you suffer from anxiety, yogurt is a great food to include in your diet.

The probiotics, or healthy bacteria, found in some types of yogurt may improve several aspects of your well-being, including 

Though still an emerging field of research, probiotics may support the gut-brain-axis — an intricate system between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. In particular, research suggests healthy gut bacteria may be linked with better mental health.

Further, probiotic foods like yogurt may promote mental health and brain function by reducing inflammation and increasing production of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, such as serotonin.

In one study, anxious individuals who consumed probiotic yogurt daily were better able to cope with stress than those who consumed yogurt without probiotics 

It’s also important to note that not all yogurt contains probiotics. For the benefits of probiotics, choose a yogurt that has live active cultures listed as an ingredient.

6. Green tea 

Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that’s been studied for the positive effects it may have on brain health and anxiety reduction. 

In one double-blind, randomized study, participants that consumed a beverage containing L-theanine reported significantly lower subjective stress and decreased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone linked with anxiety 

These effects may be due to L-theanine’s potential to prevent nerves from becoming overexcited. Additionally, L-theanine may increase GABA, dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that have been shown to have anti-anxiety effects 

Moreover, green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant suggested to promote brain health. It may play a role in reducing certain symptoms by also increasing GABA in the brain.

Interestingly, the combination of L-theanine, EGCG, and other compounds found within green tea appear to play a synergistic role in promoting calmness and alleviating anxiety and may be more effective together than as separate ingredients.

In addition, the foods listed below have not been studied specifically for their anti-anxiety effects, they’re rich in nutrients thought to improve related symptoms.

  • Turkey, bananas and oats. These are good sources of the amino acid tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin in the body and may promote relaxation and anxiety relief.
  • Chia seeds. Chia seeds are another good source of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help with anxiety
  • Citrus fruits and bell peppers. These fruits are rich in vitamin C, which has antioxidant properties that may help reduce inflammation and prevent damage to cells that may promote anxiety
  • Almonds. Almonds provide a significant amount of vitamin E and healthy fats, which play key roles in brain health
  • Blueberries. Blueberries are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, such as flavonoids, that have been studied for their ability to improve brain health and thus help with anxiety

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