Anxiety can happen for different reasons, some of which you have no control over. And coping with it can be quite a challenge, especially when you don’t know the triggers or what can keep you calm. For instance, consuming some foods may worsen your situation, while others may help with the symptoms. Let’s explore Foods To Avoid With Anxiety and what to eat instead.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety refers to the body’s natural response to stress. It’s often associated with an intense and persistent feeling of worry and fear. It may result in tension, restlessness, sweating, and a rapid heartbeat.
When uncontrolled, chronic anxiety and stress may lead to anxiety disorder. This occurs when the person cannot cope with normal daily activities or interact with the world around them.
About 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder, which calls for therapy, exercise, mindfulness, and, to some extent, anti-anxiety medications.
Certain foods may also help relieve anxiety or make it worse.
Foods to Avoid With Anxiety
Caffeine is the most consumed beverage in the world. According to research, caffeine intake in the US alone amounts to about 85 percent of the total population. And even though coffee may contain some benefits such as high antioxidant levels, its adverse effects may outweigh the benefits, especially for someone dealing with anxiety.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) published by the American Psychiatric Association and used in the diagnosis of mental conditions, caffeine may result in four different mental disorders, including caffeine intoxication, caffeine withdrawal, anxiety disorder, sleep disorder, and unspecified caffeine-related disorder. Read More.
Most people will tell you they feel energized when they start their morning with a cup of coffee. This is because caffeine blocks adenosine, a brain chemical that makes you feel tired. In turn, this triggers the release of adrenalin, the fight-or-flight hormone known to increase energy levels.
While this may seem like a good thing, too much caffeine may result in anxiety symptoms, including nervousness, trouble sleeping, restlessness, gastrointestinal problems, and fast heart rate, making the situation even worse for someone already dealing with anxiety.
Added sugar or dietary sugar is another common anxiety culprit that goes almost unnoticed.
Sugar causes blood glucose spikes followed by quick crushes, making your energy go up and down. Your crushing moments may cause further cravings, lethargy, and low mood. Over time, this may trigger the release of cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, causing panic attacks and anxiety with symptoms such as sadness, worry, and irritability.
Added sugar is not limited to its pure form. Some may be found in foods, and such should be avoided. Some examples include soda, pasta sauces, certain salad dressings, breakfast cereals, and ketchup.
If you have a sweet tooth, try replacing added sugar with natural sources such as fruits. See How To Stop Sugar Cravings?
3. Fried foods
Fried foods such as fries, fried chicken, doughnuts, fried onion rings, etc., are usually cooked in partially hydrogenated oils and are high in trans fats, which has been linked to anxiety and depression.
Besides, fried foods are generally difficult for the body to digest and have minimal to no nutritional benefits.
Fried foods are also commonly associated with an increased risk of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and even cancer. See Best Air Fryer Recipes.
4. Refined carbohydrates
Refined carbohydrates such as white flour, white rice, and white bread are those carbohydrates whose fiber and micronutrients have been reaped off.
They are generally high in sugar and have an increased risk for excessive weight gain, obesity, prediabetes, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
According to research, refined carbohydrates may also increase your risk of anxiety and depression, meaning it will make the situation worse for someone that already has a diagnosis. See High Fiber Gluten-Free Foods.
In one study, refined grain consumption was associated with an increased risk of anxiety and depression in women.
Whole or minimally processed carbohydrates are your best option. Not only for the sake of improving anxiety but because they are the best for promoting health and wellbeing.
5. Processed foods
Processed foods such as processed meats, high-fat dairy products, packed soups, and cheeses are greatly associated with inflammation throughout the body, including the brain. This may contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. See How To Avoid Processed Foods.
Processed foods also tend to contain high sodium levels and, if consumed regularly, may increase your blood pressure, increasing the workload on the heart. This can then trigger the release of adrenaline, which triggers further anxiety. How Much Fiber Per Day?
Although people may associate alcohol with calming of nerves, it can cause more damage than benefits. This is because it greatly affects your sleep and hydration levels which may trigger anxiety symptoms.
Regular alcohol intake may also affect your ability to handle stress, especially because it interferes with your amygdala, an area in your brain that processes negative emotions.
Likewise, it disrupts different neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin, which may worsen pre-existing anxiety symptoms or cause a new onset.
Some people may use alcohol to cope with social anxiety disorder. But this may cause alcohol dependency whenever one is in a social setup, making the anxiety symptoms worse.
Furthermore, alcohol can cause hangovers, which may cause symptoms that may make you more anxious than before, such as nausea, headaches, dehydration, dizziness, and low blood sugar levels.
Gradually, this addiction may result in total dependency with signs such as a need for a drink to get your morning started, engaging in excessive drinking about four days a week or more, requiring a drink at every social gathering, drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in a day, and inability to stop drinking.
7. Fruit juices
Unlike whole fruit, fruit juices are high in fructose and lack the slow-digesting effects of fiber. Fructose is the natural sugar found in fruits; however, it can only be metabolized in the liver, which is often not the body’s preferred source of energy. This exerts stress in the body which triggers the release of the stress hormone adrenalin.
8. Dairy products
The average American consumes nearly three times the recommended amount of dairy in his or her diet, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). It’s no wonder that milk can trigger anxiety — even serious panic attacks. Dairy products are highly allergenic and can cause inflammation throughout the body, and produce an elevated level of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can impact your mood and make anxiety worse. So avoid dairy if you suffer from anxiety.
For people with anxiety, gluten can be a real trigger. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and it can cause inflammation and serious digestive problems for some people. For those with anxiety, eating gluten can lead to bloating, gas, diarrhea, and even vomiting. In addition to the physical symptoms, gluten can also worsen anxiety and panic attacks. If you suffer from anxiety, it’s best to avoid gluten altogether.
Meat is one of the worst foods you can eat if you suffer from anxiety. It’s high in saturated fat, which can increase your anxiety levels and make you feel more jittery and on edge. Plus, it’s hard to digest, so it can leave you feeling uncomfortable and bloated. Avoid eating meat if you want to keep your anxiety under control. Instead, try opting for plant-based proteins like beans or legumes, nuts and seeds, tofu, or tempeh. And don’t forget about whole grains! Quinoa is an excellent choice because it contains all nine essential amino acids your body needs but often lacks.
11. Artificial sweeteners
These are some of the absolute worst offenders when it comes to diet and anxiety. Aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame potassium… The list goes on. These ingredients are all neurotoxic, meaning they’re poisonous to your nervous system. And what do nerves do? They send messages throughout your body, including to your brain.
Your stomach may also be irritated by artificial sweeteners like aspartame. In general, these should be avoided whether you have any kind of anxiety or not.
These sweeteners can contribute to more serious health problems in addition to causing unpleasant side effects like mood swings, headaches, and weight gain.
The Best Foods to Consume If You Suffer From Anxiety
Now that you understand what foods to avoid with anxiety, what should you consume?
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the best things you can consume if you suffer from anxiety. Not only do they help improve your mood, but they also have anti-inflammatory properties that can help protect your brain. Try eating walnuts, avocados, and olive oil to get your fix of healthy fats.
There are a lot of foods out there that can help reduce inflammation and in turn, help reduce anxiety. Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods are nuts, herbs like ginger, and fruits like blueberries. Incorporating these into your diet can help alleviate some anxiety symptoms.
Eating whole grains has been linked to a reduced risk of anxiety and depression. Whole grains contain complex carbohydrates, which can help regulate your mood and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Examples of the best whole grains for anxiety include oats, brown rice, quinoa, and barley.
It’s no secret that eating your greens is good for you. But did you know that they can also help relieve anxiety? According to a study published in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry, participants who ate more leafy green vegetables had lower anxiety levels. So next time you feel stressed, try reaching for some broccoli or spinach.
According to studies, chia seeds can help reduce anxiety by promoting a healthy gut. The omega-3 fatty acids found in chia seeds can also help reduce inflammation, which can trigger anxiety. Adding chia seeds to your diet is easy – simply sprinkle them on top of your breakfast cereal or add them to a smoothie.
Fermented foods and drinks are some of the best foods you can consume if you suffer from anxiety. The probiotics in fermented foods help to promote a healthy gut, which can, in turn, help to reduce anxiety. Fermented foods and drinks also contain B vitamins, which have been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety.
Drinking kombucha, for example, has been found to produce GABA – a neurotransmitter that helps calm your nervous system. Other fermented foods include kimchi and sauerkraut.
One study even found that eating just one serving of yogurt per day can significantly reduce anxiety symptoms in women with mild or moderate depression.
Protein is an essential macronutrient that helps our bodies in many ways. It’s responsible for repairing tissue, building muscle, and creating enzymes and hormones.
Those with anxiety often have low serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating mood. According to some studies, consuming quality protein can help increase serotonin levels. The best sources of quality protein are chickpeas, lentils, peas, hemp seeds, and quinoa.
Eating right can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety, but if you don’t know what to eat, you can make matters worse. Certain foods have been shown to trigger panic attacks in people with anxiety, and if you are one of them, you’ll want to avoid these foods as much as possible.
Foods such as refined carbohydrates, fruit juices, those containing caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, and those processed or fried are among the foods to avoid if you are looking to improve the symptoms or get better.
If you are wondering what to eat, consider incorporating healthy fats, whole grains, leafy greens, high-quality protein, fermented foods, and various anti-inflammatory foods into your diet. These foods are rich in different nutrients that have been shown to fight anxiety and improve health.
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