The phrase you are what you eat can also be applied to your mental health. With around 264 million people worldwide who are battling with anxiety, it’s important that they make the appropriate food choices as the wrong foods can serve to worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Granted, your diet cannot cure your mental health disorder, but there are foods that can either have a calming effect on the body or trigger anxiety symptoms. With that said, read on for foods that may be worsening your anxiety, as well as which foods you can start eating instead.

The worst foods for anxiety

1. Alcohol

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A cold glass of beer may help to ease your social anxiety, but in reality, alcohol serves to worsen your anxiety as one study found that heavy drinking can rewire the brain and increase the likelihood of experiencing anxiety disorders.

Firstly, while alcohol can help you fall asleep quicker, it can actually reduce REM sleep, which is a vital part of your sleep cycle that stimulates the areas of your brain responsible for cognitive learning and memory. Additionally, alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it dehydrates the body and a dehydrated body can cause stress and anxiety.

2. Coffee and caffeinated drinks

There are better ways to start off your morning than with a cup of coffee, especially if you battle with anxiety.

According to a review of eight studies, caffeine can aggravate symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder. This can be because caffeine not only causes you to be more jittery, but it also decreases the production of serotonin in the body, which can then leave you in an anxious and depressed mood.

3. Candy and sugar-rich foods

While nothing sounds better than getting lost in a tub of ice cream when you’re feeling down or anxious, it would best not to as added sugars can trigger your anxiety.

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According to a study in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, a diet high in sugars has been linked to emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression.

That said, it’s not only desserts and sweet treats that contain added sugars. In fact, foods such as salad dressings, flavored yogurt, granola bars, and breakfast cereal each contain hidden added sugars.

4. Soy

Soy-based foods are touted as meat alternatives for those following a plant-based diet. However, you may want to seek other milk alternatives as soy might not be great for anxiety. In fact, one animal study found that soy supplements were linked to more anxious behavior in male rats.

In addition, soybeans also contain copper, and research has indicated that in large amounts, copper can trigger symptoms of anxiety.

5. Processed foods

Chips, cereal, biscuits, noodles – eating anything processed can be one of the worst things for your health, as well as your anxiety.

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6. Canned Foods

Canned foods may be triggering your anxiety symptoms due to the fact that they might also contain Bisphenol A (BPA). According to a study, boys who were exposed prenatally to BPA may be more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression at age 10-12.

7. Diet Soda

You may think that choosing a diet soda instead of a regular one is a great way to protect your health, but the truth is that diet soda is still harmful to your health.

Diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners, most notably aspartame. The artificial sweetener has been linked to neurophysiological symptoms that include irritability, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

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6 Foods For Your Anxious Feelings

1. Turkey

Tryptophan is an amino acid found in turkey and the body uses it to produce the brain chemical serotonin, which helps regulate sleep and mood. According to researchers, tryptophan may help reduce anxious feelings.

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2. Fatty fish

Fatty fish, which include salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, and herring, are each high in omega-3. Eating these foods won’t only help to reduce your risk of heart disease, but it could also help you better manage your anxiety.

A study published in Nutrients found a positive association between omega 3 consumption and anxiety disorders. Additionally, a separate study published in the same journal found that men who ate salmon three times a week reduced their self-reported anxiety.

3. Dark chocolate

There’s a reason why dark chocolate ups your mood when you’re feeling down.

Chocolate has a high tryptophan content, which we know can help to ease anxiety feelings but it’s also rich in magnesium, which has been found to have anti-anxiety effects.

When buying dark chocolate, go for 70 percent or more and try to stay clear of brands that contain added sugars.

4. Turmeric

The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin and studies have found that curcumin can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety.

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5. Green tea

Green tea lovers unite!

For those who regularly enjoy a cup of green tea or matcha tea, you’re in luck. Green tea contains the amino acid theanine, which research has found may contain anti-anxiety properties (1).

Instead of indulging in sodas, coffee, or alcohol, try incorporating more green tea into your day.

6. Probiotic foods

Probiotic foods include pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir, and being rich in probiotics, these foods can help to boost gut health. As we know, the state of our gut influences our health, and this includes our mental health.

For one, research published in the journal Psychiatry Research suggested a correlation between probiotic foods and a lowering of social anxiety.

If you’re looking to improve your gut health, there’s how to do it.

When to see a doctor for anxiety

Now while these foods may help to ease your anxious symptoms, it’s important that you reach out to a specialist if you feel that your mental health is deteriorating.

References

Boyle, N. B., Lawton, C., & Dye, L. (2017). The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress-A Systematic Review. Nutrients9(5), 429. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9050429
Choudhary, A. K., & Lee, Y. Y. (2018). Neurophysiological symptoms and aspartame: What is the connection?. Nutritional neuroscience21(5), 306–316. https://doi.org/10.1080/1028415X.2017.1288340
Dietz, C., & Dekker, M. (2017). Effect of Green Tea Phytochemicals on Mood and Cognition. Current pharmaceutical design23(19), 2876–2905. https://doi.org/10.2174/1381612823666170105151800
Hansen, A. L., Olson, G., Dahl, L., Thornton, D., Grung, B., Graff, I. E., Frøyland, L., & Thayer, J. F. (2014). Reduced anxiety in forensic inpatients after a long-term intervention with Atlantic salmon. Nutrients6(12), 5405–5418. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6125405
Holmes, A., Fitzgerald, P., MacPherson, K. et al. (2012). Chronic alcohol remodels prefrontal neurons and disrupts NMDAR-mediated fear extinction encoding. Nat Neurosci 15, 1359–1361. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3204
Jacques, A., Chaaya, N., Beecher, K., Ali, S. A., Belmer, A., & Bartlett, S. (2019). The impact of sugar consumption on stress driven, emotional and addictive behaviors. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews103, 178–199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.05.021
Lee, J. B., & Kim, T. W. (2019). Ingestion of caffeine links dopamine and 5-hydroxytryptamine release during half immersion in 42°C hot water in a humans. Journal of exercise rehabilitation15(4), 571–575. https://doi.org/10.12965/jer.1938236.118
Lindseth, G., Helland, B., & Caspers, J. (2015). The effects of dietary tryptophan on affective disorders. Archives of psychiatric nursing29(2), 102–107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apnu.2014.11.008
Natacci, L., M Marchioni, D., C Goulart, A., Nunes, M. A., B Moreno, A., O Cardoso, L., Giatti, L., B Molina, M., S Santos, I., Brunoni, A. R., A Lotufo, P., & M Bensenor, I. (2018). Omega 3 Consumption and Anxiety Disorders: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health (ELSA-Brasil). Nutrients10(6), 663. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10060663
Patisaul, H. B., Blum, A., Luskin, J. R., & Wilson, M. E. (2005). Dietary soy supplements produce opposite effects on anxiety in intact male and female rats in the elevated plus-maze. Behavioral neuroscience119(2), 587–594. https://doi.org/10.1037/0735-7044.119.2.587
Perera, F., Nolte, E., Wang, Y., Margolis, A. E., Calafat, A. M., Wang, S., Garcia, W., Hoepner, L. A., Peterson, B. S., Rauh, V., & Herbstman, J. (2016). Bisphenol A exposure and symptoms of anxiety and depression among inner city children at 10-12 years of age. Environmental research151, 195–202. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2016.07.028
Vilarim, M. M., Rocha Araujo, D. M., & Nardi, A. E. (2011). Caffeine challenge test and panic disorder: a systematic literature review. Expert review of neurotherapeutics11(8), 1185–1195. https://doi.org/10.1586/ern.11.83
Wu, A., Noble, E. E., Tyagi, E., Ying, Z., Zhuang, Y., & Gomez-Pinilla, F. (2015). Curcumin boosts DHA in the brain: Implications for the prevention of anxiety disorders. Biochimica et biophysica acta1852(5), 951–961. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbadis.2014.12.005
Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a beauty and wellness writer, who has a passion for poetry, natural hair, and skin-care. With a journalism degree from Pearson's Institute of Higher Education, and identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to continuously provide the latest information, be it beauty or wellness, on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle on a day to day basis.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

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