12 Foods Experts Say to Avoid If You Have Anxiety
While anxiety plays out in the brain, it can often start in our stomach. "The foods we choose to eat have a direct effect on our mood, sleep, and physical health, all of which are connected to our behavioral well-being and the potential for feeling more anxious," Jason Doescher, MD, chief medical officer at Mobe, told POPSUGAR.
He explained that food plays a substantial role in mental health because our gut directly impacts the production of neurotransmitters. These chemical substances carry messages from the gut to the brain. Inflammation in the stomach reduces our body's ability to absorb the nutrients needed to produce key neurotransmitters.
While food sensitivities that trigger inflammation and anxiety may vary by person, POPSUGAR spoke to several experts to learn what foods are the common culprits. Keep reading to learn about 12 foods you should try to avoid if you suffer from anxiety.
Trying to add more fiber to your diet? Choose foods that don't contain wheat bran.
Dr. Doescher said that wheat bran contains high levels of phytic acid, an antinutrient that binds to mood-calming minerals, like zinc, and prevents absorption. "For those who suffer from anxiety, zinc is important, as deficiencies have been found to trigger anxiety, stress, and depression," he explained.
Before you order your next cheese platter, consider what it could be doing to your digestion. "Dairy can also inflame the digestive system, triggering an onslaught of reactions that can invoke stress in the body, including the brain," Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS, director of nutrition at Freshly, told POPSUGAR. She explained that while dairy can be quite controversial, a large number of Americans cannot properly digest it.
A low-carb diet can aid in more than just weight loss. Refined carbohydrates like bread, rice, pasta, bagels, and cereal cause your blood sugar to spike up. Maggie Michalczyk, RDN, told POPSUGAR that these large blood-sugar swings can trigger symptoms of anxiety. She recommended swapping out your favorite refined carbs for foods with higher protein and fiber levels, helping to keep your blood sugar stable and avoid the swings that bring about feelings of anxiety.
While there are many health benefits to eating fish, Stacy Goldberg, MPH, RN, BSN, founder and CEO of Savorfull, warned that large amounts of swordfish, grouper, sea bass, certain types of tuna, and other fish high in mercurycan worsen symptoms of mood disorders and decrease emotional intelligence. "Mercury is a neurological toxin that can disrupt neurotransmitter synthesis and central nervous system function as it accumulates in tissues for a long time," she explained.
Having a drink to relax may do more harm than good. "Although it may seem as though it calms your nerves, alcohol can have a negative effect on hydration and sleep, both of which may trigger symptoms of anxiety," Vikram Tarugu, MD, gastroenterologist and CEO of Detox of South Florida, told POPSUGAR. He explained that anxiety results from alcohol changing serotonin levels and neurotransmitters in the brain, and you may feel even more anxious when the alcohol is wearing off.
Is there a gluten-free option? Tsao-Lin E. Moy, MSOM, founder of Integrative Healing Arts, told POPSUGAR that studies show a direct relationship between gluten sensitivity and mood disorders. "Food sensitivity (to gluten) triggers body inflammation and can trigger a toxic response and cause emotional disturbances," she explained.
Attention all coffee-lovers: because coffee (and all caffeine) is a stimulant, it increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. These reactions are all similar to symptoms of anxiety. "It is very common to see heightened anxiety responses after caffeine intake," explained Candice Seti, PsyD., CNC.
Processed foods do more than cause weight gain. "Generally, processed foods are high in artificial and refined sugars, color dyes additives, and preservatives, all of which feed the harmful bacteria and microbes in the gut," Jenna Appel, MS, RD, LDN, owner of Appel Nutrition Inc., told POPSUGAR. She said that poor gut health is a major contributor to chronic anxiety.
Mind that sweet tooth. Dr. Scheller said that high-sugar foods, like sweets, can trigger inflammation within the digestive system. "Even if our digestion is seemingly normal, symptoms like anxiety can be associated with this low-grade reaction in the gut," she told POPSUGAR.
"Soda contains both caffeine and artificial ingredients, two triggers for those living with anxiety," explained Appel. She warned that diet soda is not a good choice either, as it contains the artificial sweetener aspartame. "Aspartame can block the production of serotonin in our brains and may even trigger additional symptoms such as headaches and mood swings," she said.
Dark chocolate can be a healthy option to satisfy a sweet tooth. But Andrea Paul, MD, medical advisor to Illuminate Labs, warned that the combination of caffeine and a chemical compound found in dark chocolate called theobromine may trigger restlessness or anxiety in people already prone to the condition. For that reason, she recommended eating it in small doses to test how your body responds.
While fried foods are often off limits when trying to lose weight, they may be a culprit for increased anxiety as well. William Li, MD, author of Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself, warned that the unhealthy fats in fried food have been linked to increased depression and anxiety.