According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, anxiety is a mental illness with a significant impact on our thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and overall lives. Panic attacks are probably the scariest part of living with anxiety, causing sudden and intense feelings of fear over short periods of time. As with all areas of health, our dietary choices can worsen anxiety and trigger panic attacks. Below are the 5 foods you should avoid if you are prone to anxiety.
1. Caffeine: Most people are aware that caffeine is mostly present in coffee, energy drinks, teas, and chocolate. Dietitians of Canada explain that caffeine excites the nervous system and has the ability to improve alertness for short periods of time. Keeping that in mind, the Canadian Mental Health Association states that when someone is suffering from anxiety, specifically panic attacks, they can experience a racing heart and shortness of breath.
Now, Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., a professor in the departments of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Livestrong in an interview that caffeine can trigger and even worsen anxiety and panic disorders because it can cause jitters, irregular heartbeats, nervousness, and headaches. To back up his statement, the National Institute of Mental Health recommends that people who are suffering from anxiety disorders should avoid caffeine. In addition, psychologist Norman B. Schmidt, Ph.D., told Livestrong in an interview, ‘If you tend to be a high-strung, anxious person, using high doses of caffeine can be risky.’
2. Alcohol: The American Addiction Centers explain that some individuals will resort to alcohol consumption in order to try and deal with anxiety. People might assume that because alcohol is a depressant and often has a sedative effect on people, it could be used to unwind. However, the National Center for Biotechnology Information explains that using alcohol to help reduce anxiety will often backfire on people. In fact, they also mention that prolonged alcohol consumption can actually cause anxiety.
In addition, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that around 15 million U.S. adults, or 7% of the population, have a social anxiety disorder in any given year. They also mention that about 20% of people with social anxiety also suffer from alcohol abuse, so if you are suffering from social anxiety, it is best to stay away from alcohol unless you are confident you can consume it in moderation.
3. Sugar: According to Dr. William Cole, senior clinic director of Cole Natural Health Centers, current research has found that high levels of serotonin can make anxiety worse. Sugar is one of the main sources that can raise levels of serotonin. A study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry was conducted to see if there was an association between serotonin synthesis and social anxiety disorder.
For the study, 18 patients with social anxiety disorder underwent PET imaging along with 19 healthy controlled participants. PET imaging is a nuclear imaging technology that allows you to see the metabolic process in the body. Results showed that there were increased serotonin levels in the patients suffering from social anxiety disorder.
4. Trans Fats: Trans fat, which is also known as hydrogenated fat, is considered one of the worst foods for your diet, but what many don’t know is it’s also bad for your moods. According to a study published on PLOS, trans fat is associated with an increased risk of depression. Spanish researchers followed over 12,000 Spanish university graduates who had no depression symptoms for a total of six years. They monitored their intake of various types of fat and their occurrence of depression.
Researchers found a substantial relative increment (48%) in depression risk among the highest category of intake. Researchers added that one of the reasons trans fats could increase depression symptoms is because of inflammation and altered functioning of the endothelial cells that line the blood cells.
5. Gluten: Celiac Disease, which is an immune-mediated disease dependent on gluten, was reported to be associated with depression and other related mood disorders, according to a study published on PubMed. Another study mentioned on PubMed found that the gluten-sensitive elderly population was twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression when they were compared to the control group.
Before adding or removing certain foods from your diet, I would suggest that you consult your physician first to see if you suffer from any mental health disorders. From there, I would consult a dietitian or nutritionist and have them help you create a proper diet that will not contribute to your mental health disorder.
“You are what you eat” is more than just a common saying. Numerous studies show that your diet is closely connected to your mood and overall mental well-being. For instance, after you treat yourself to a mouth-watering pizza or burger with fries, you get a feeling of temporary satisfaction that slowly fades after a while. Dietary choices can especially affect people with depression and anxiety by altering the body’s stress response. The brain needs optimal nutrition to fuel its functions, including the regulation of our mood.
For example, in 2021, clinical nutrition researchers from Edith Cowan University in Australia published a study proving that a plant-based diet is associated with lower stress levels. This study included 8,600 participants, out of which some consumed more than 470 grams of fruit and vegetables daily, while others ate less than 230 grams. The first control group experienced 10% lower stress than the second one, which proves the link between mental well-being and diets richer in fruit and vegetables.
The modern, fast-paced way of life encourages dietary choices centered around highly refined foods with little nutritional value over foods containing more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants - such as fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Although food might not be the direct cause of our mood and mental health, a diet that mostly contains highly processed foods can contribute to stress and anxiety.
Some foods can cause blood sugar dysregulation, which prompts your body to release more adrenaline and puts you in fight-or-flight mode. All of this feels like a roller coaster ride for your brain, leading to high anxiety levels and possible panic attacks. Therefore, if you have anxiety, it is recommended to avoid high-sugar foods.
In addition to high-sugar meals, scientists have found a link between increased stress levels and consumption of processed meats and alcoholic or caffeinated beverages. These foods and drinks can lead to increased release of cortisol, the primary hormone responsible for stress regulation. On the other hand, whole and unprocessed foods contribute to maintaining normal cortisol levels.
If you struggle with high stress and anxiety levels, experts advise you to follow a diet high in healthy fats, whole grains, and lean proteins. By providing you with the nutrients you need, these foods can decrease your stress levels and boost your self-esteem.
Chocolate-based sweets are among the most popular and beloved foods in the world. People of all ages enjoy milk chocolate and treat it as a source of happiness and pleasure. However, some people can experience increased stress levels after this yummy dessert.
Chocolate can worsen anxiety in some people for several reasons. First of all, it contains caffeine, a stimulant that tends to increase stress levels. Furthermore, most types of chocolate contain sugar, and spikes in blood sugar can lead to anxiety episodes. Finally, some people’s nervous system may be sensitive to additional chemicals in milk chocolate.
If you are prone to anxiety episodes after eating milk chocolate, we recommend that you eat it in moderation or avoid it. Alternatively, you can try dark chocolate, which usually contains less sugar and caffeine.