Foods and Drinks Linked to Anxiety

Certain foods can contribute to anxiety or trigger such feelings by producing blood sugar spikes, says Maggie Michalczyk, a registered dietitian based in Chicago.

“When you eat something that’s high in sugar, it causes your blood sugar to spike and then drop faster than it would if you had something that was more balanced with protein, carbs and fat,” Michalczyk says. “This spike and drop can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and feel almost like a panic attack for some.”

Cakes, cookies, candy, pies, soda pop and other sugary foods can lead to such blood spikes.

Additionally, a lot of the comfort foods that many people consume during stressful times can actually provoke anxiety, says Dr. Daniel Devine, a dual-board certified internist and geriatrician and co-founder of Devine Concierge Medicine. He’s based in Philadelphia.

[See: Heart-Healthy Snacks.]

Highly processed foods like breads, cakes, processed meats, cheese and ready-made meals invoke anxiety by increasing inflammation in the body, Devine says. These foods are low in fiber and are thought to disturb the normal gut microbiome. “A diet high in refined carbohydrates and fats leads to high overall levels of inflammation in the body,” reaching the central nervous system and affecting our mood. That leads to greater levels of anxiety, Devine says.

Here are six of the worst foods and drinks to consume for anxiety:

— Cakes, cookies, candy and pies.

— Sugary drinks.

— Processed meats, cheese and ready-made meals.

— Coffee, tea and energy drinks.

— Alcohol.

— Fruit and vegetable smoothies without protein.

1. Cakes, cookies, candy and pies. Foods high in sugar can create spikes in your blood sugar, which is associated with anxiety, Michalczyk says. Stay away from foods with added sugar, or reserve them for special, occasional treats. If you want something sweet, try fresh fruit, like blueberries, peaches, plums, cherries, persimmons and nectarines.

2. Sugary drinks. Soda pop and fruit juice are typically loaded with sugar. For example, a 12-ounce can of soda can contain 8 to 13 teaspoons of sugar, depending on the type. Many fruit juices are also loaded with sugar, but don’t contain the amount of fiber that fruit contains. Fiber slows your digestion, which helps you avoid blood sugar spikes.

[SEE: Heart-Healthy and Easy Fish Recipes.]

3. Processed meats, cheese and ready-made meals. These foods are associated with inflammation, which can produce anxiety. These kinds of foods are also low in fiber and are believed to disturb the gut microbiome, Devine says. Your gut microbiome is a typically diverse mix of microorganisms living in the gut. A healthy microbiome helps the body function properly.

4. Coffee, tea and energy drinks. Beverages that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea and energy drinks, can increase anxiety. “The more caffeine you consume, the greater chance of anxiety flaring,” Devine says. Research suggests that the effects are greatest in people who consume more than 5 cups of coffee a day. Caffeine activates adenosine receptors in the peripheral and central nervous systems. “Adenosine is involved in mediating the body’s fight-or-flight response,” Devine says.

5. Alcohol. Some people think that alcoholic beverages — which are depressants — can have a calming effect, Michalczyk says. But this idea can backfire, because drinking alcohol often leads to lack of sleep and blood sugar spikes, especially if you drink on an empty stomach. Drinking alcohol excessively can lead to dehydration and physical hangover symptoms, which can lead to anxiety. Collectively, hangover symptoms like dehydration, poor sleep, depletion of B vitamins and the alcohol detox process can all lead to feelings of anxiousness and worry, she says.

[See: How 16 Fruits Boost Your Health.]

6. Fruit and veggie smoothies without protein. Smoothies are a great way to get the nutrition of various fruits and vegetables. However, if your smoothie only contains fruit or vegetables without protein, you may experience a spike and fall of your blood sugar level, which can lead to feelings of anxiety, Michalczyk says.

If you’re having a smoothie, be sure to add sources of protein, such as:

— Protein powder.

— Nuts.

— Seeds.

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