5 Foods That Make Anxiety Worse, Because Comfort Food Isn't Always That Comforting
It's no secret that what you eat affects how you feel, not to mention how you feel affects how you eat. The problem, though, is that oftentimes, the snacks you might be apt to reach for to make yourself feel better when you're anxious or stressed, might actually be foods that make anxiety worse. But listen: It's not impossible to find comfort foods that taste amazing and settle your nerves. You just have to get a little creative when you put together your plate.
However, it's important to note that, while there are definitely foods that are generally worse for your anxiety levels than others, Lindsey Smith, aka the Food Mood Girl, a nationally recognized author, speaker, and health coach, says it's just as crucial to remember that everybody (and every body) is different, and therefore, the foods that make you feel better during a bout of anxiety may change from person to person. "Every body is different and bio-individual, so what feels good to some person, might not jive with another," she tells Elite Daily. "Since we live in a world that labels food as 'good' and 'bad,' I think it’s crucial to start tapping into what works for you."
Smith also says that food alone won't be the main cause or the solution for your anxiety. "Before nutrition, I always like to say that you can eat as much kale and avocados as you want, but that won’t fix a broken heart or the fact that your job gives you anxiety," she explains. Taking care of your mental health — whether you do so through therapy, working out, breathing techniques, etc. — should always be a priority, Smith says, adding that it's especially important "to de-stigmatize mental health and make sure you are focusing on feeling your feelings and not masking them."
That being said, focusing on what you're putting into your body still plays an important role in taking care of your mental health. Here are five foods to avoid when you're going through a bout of anxiety.
1. That White Bread On Your Sandwich
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, foods that spike your blood sugar, like white breads and processed starch, are high on the glycemic index, and can sometimes wreak havoc not just on your stomach, but also on your stress levels, too.
Now, look, this doesn't mean you have to swear off of bread and all other starchy foods. As Rachel Kelly wrote in her book The Happiness Diet: Good Mood Food, it's not about cutting out carbs altogether; rather, it's important to vary your carbohydrates and make them "complex" by eating things like beans, quinoa, brown rice, legumes, oats, and starches from sweet potatoes, which are all low-glycemic, meaning they won't spike your blood sugar and cortisol (aka stress) levels.
What's more, these types of complex carbs are thought to have a calming effect, according to the Mayo Clinic, as eating them can trigger an increase of serotonin (aka a neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy) in your brain.
2. Your Glass Of Wine At The End Of The Day
Alcohol is indeed a depressant, but when it's digested in your body, it basically turns itself into sugar. According to Medical News Today, drinking alcohol increases insulin secretion in your body, which in turn lowers your blood sugar levels, and basically, that's not exactly great for maintaining a steady, calm mood.
"Too much consumption of alcohol is likely to give us the jitters," JR Fletcher, a nutritionist and author of the book Keto Cookbook: What Can You Eat On A Ketogenic Diet?, tells Elite Daily over email. "What follows after too much alcohol is a nervous system response in our body similar to the feeling of fright."
Keep in mind, Fletcher's saying that too much alcohol is likely to make you feel more anxious, meaning you don't necessarily have to avoid alcohol altogether. It's all about moderation, people, and if you're not quite sure what your happy medium is with your post-work glass of wine, be sure to talk to your doctor.
3. Those Bright Red Popsicles You Love To Eat In The Summer
According to Fletcher, certain dyes found in processed foods, such as soft drinks, salad dressings, fruit juices, and cheese, can be disruptive to your nervous system. "In particular, Red #40 and Yellow #5 are food dye colors that are known for causing a disturbance in nervous system functionality," Fletcher tells Elite Daily. "In turn, there is a chance that we may feel anxiety after eating these types of foods."
However, Harvard Health notes that some of the research on the negative health effects of food dyes is inconclusive. Still, if you're looking for some equally refreshing, yet healthier summer snack options, you can never go wrong with fresh fruit.
4. Coffee, Tea, And Other Hidden Sources of Caffeine
Sorry coffee lovers, but caffeine is known to heighten the fight-or-flight response in your body, and as a result, it can sometimes make a bout of anxiety feel even worse. While one cup of coffee in the morning is probably harmless, nutritionist and trainer Darin Hulslander says it might be better to skip out on the java on days when you know you're feeling a bit more anxious than usual. "Coffee, though we love it to get through our day, can be anxiety-inducing," he tells Elite Daily. "Research has shown it inhibits serotonin levels in the brain, which can cause you to feel irritable and sometimes depressed."
But it's not just caffeinated coffee or tea that you have to watch out for here. As Marina Shkayeva, a pharmacist and editor at Natural Medicines - Therapeutic Research Center, tells Elite Daily, caffeine is often hidden in foods you wouldn't expect, such as protein bars, yogurt, and certain sodas. Always make sure to read the ingredients label on your food or drink, and on those high-anxiety days, try to stick to decaf, instead.
5. Sweet Treats (I Know, I'm Sorry)
Lindsey Smith, aka the Food Mood Girl, tells Elite Daily that yes, unfortunately, candies, cookies, and even seemingly healthier snacks like muffins or dried fruit, can make your anxiety feel worse, sheerly because of all of the sugar hidden in these treats.
"There are foods that can deflate your mood long-term such as sugar, white flour, and food additives," she says. "Oftentimes, these are foods we grew up on or are easily accessible, and we don’t recognize how much we are consuming on a daily basis."
Again, eating these foods in moderation won't necessarily send you down an anxiety spiral when you're already feeling not-so-great, but if you want to play it safe with foods that have more grounding properties that can help you feel calm, Smith recommends carrots, sweet potatoes, ginger, and turmeric. She adds, "Foods high in GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid, aka a chemical that helps relieve anxiety) can help shut down brain activity and calm you down as well. These foods include tree nuts, broccoli, and bananas."
Anyone else suddenly need to take a trip to the grocery store?