Can diet cause anxiety

Foods to Avoid If You Have Anxiety or Depression

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 14, 2021

The fiber in whole fruit fills you up and slows down how your blood takes in energy. Without that fiber, you’re just drinking nutritious sugar-water that can quickly hype you up -- and bring you down just as fast. That can leave you hungry and angry -- “hangry.” That won't help anxiety and depression. Eat your fruit whole. When you’re thirsty, drink water. 

There's no win for you here: It has all of the blood-spiking sugar of fruit juice with none of the nutrition. Sugar-sweetened drinks like soda have a direct link to depression, too. If you crave a pop, try seltzer water with a splash of juice instead. It'll give you a bubbly fix without too much of the stuff you don't need.

No sugar, so no problem, right? Not exactly. You may not have the energy crash that comes with having too much sugar, but diet soda may make you depressed. In fact, it could make you feel more down than its sugary cousin would. Too much of the caffeine that many sodas have can be bad for anxiety, too.

Wait, toast?! If it's made from white bread, yes. The highly processed white flour it's made from quickly turns to blood sugar after you eat it. That can cause energy spikes and crashes that can be bad for anxiety and depression. You can have your toast -- and eat it, too. Just use whole-grain bread.

You might know to avoid some pre-packaged dressings and marinades loaded with sugar, often listed as “high-fructose corn syrup.” But what about “light” or “sugar-free” dressings? Many get their sweetness from aspartame, an artificial sweetener linked to anxiety and depression. Check the ingredients or, better yet, make your dressing at home from scratch.  

It’s mostly tomatoes, right? Well, yes, and sugar, lots of sugar. Four grams per tablespoon, to be exact. And the “light” stuff may have artificial sweeteners that could be linked to anxiety and depression.  Try homemade tomato salsa instead. Want a little kick? Add a bit of cayenne pepper.  

If you’re not used to it, the caffeine in it can make you jittery and nervous. It could also mess up your sleep. Neither helps anxiety or depression. Caffeine withdrawal can make you feel bad, too. If you think it causes you problems, cut caffeine out of your diet slowly. If you’re OK with it, or drink decaf, coffee can actually help make you feel less depressed. 

They can cause weird heart rhythms, anxiety, and sleep issues. That’s because it’s not always easy to know the sky-high caffeine levels hidden in ingredients like guarana. These beverages often have loads of sugar or artificial sweeteners, too. Drink water if you’re thirsty. Want a sugar hit? Eat a piece of fruit.

Even a little can mess up your sleep. Not enough rest can raise anxiety and cause depression. Too many ZZZs can cause even more problems. That said, a drink could calm your nerves and make you more sociable. That can be good for your mental health. The key is dosage: A drink a day for women, and two a day for men, is the limit.

It’s the sugar, right? Well, yes, but that’s not all. It’s also loaded with around 2 grams of "trans fats" per serving. They're linked to depression. Sometimes called “partially hydrogenated oils,” they’re also in fried foods, pizza dough, cakes, cookies, and crackers. Check your labels. If you do eat fat, make it the “good” kind you get from foods like fish, olive oil, nuts, and avocado. Those can lift your mood.

This one is only for people who are sensitive to gluten. In addition to breads, noodles, and pastries, it’s also in prepackaged foods like soy sauce. If you’re sensitive to gluten, it can cause anxiety or depression. It can also make you feel sluggish and not at your best. Check labels and try to steer clear.

If you eat lots of processed meat, fried food, refined cereals, candy, pastries, and high-fat dairy products, you’re more likely to be anxious and depressed. A diet full of whole fiber-rich grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish can help keep you on a more even keel.

We all love them, and little treats now and then can help your mood. But just so you know: Doughnuts have all the wrong kinds of fats, snow-white flour with little fiber to slow absorption, and lots of added sugar. So, if you must, make them a treat, not a routine.


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American Academy of Neurology: “Hold the Diet Soda? Sweetened Drinks Linked to Depression, Coffee Tied to Lower Risk."

American Heart Association: “The Skinny on Fats.”

American Journal of Public Health: “Reducing Childhood Obesity by Eliminating 100% Fruit Juice.

Association for Psychological Science: “Moderate Doses of Alcohol Increase Social Bonding in Groups.”

British Journal of Psychiatry: “Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age.”

Case Reports in Psychiatry: “Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Hypoglycemia Symptoms Improved with Diet Modification.”

CDC: “Alcohol and Public Health.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Avoid These 10 Foods Full of Trans Fats.” “What Fruit Juice Can People With Diabetes Drink?” “Sweetened beverages and diabetes.”

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Carbohydrates -- Good or Bad for You?”

Harvard School of Public Health: “Drinking coffee may decrease depression risk in women.”


Journal of Caffeine Research: “Caffeine Withdrawal and Dependence: A Convenience Survey Among Addiction Professionals.

Mayo Clinic: “Generalized anxiety disorder: Is it true that certain foods worsen anxiety and others have a calming effect?”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Energy Drinks.”

PLoS One: “Sweetened Beverages, Coffee, and Tea and Depression Risk among Older US Adults,” “Dietary Fat Intake and the Risk of Depression: The SUN Project.”

Psychiatric Quarterly: “Neurologic and Psychiatric Manifestations of Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity.”

United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service.

Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism: “Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements.”

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Eating well to help manage anxiety: Your questions answered

Does diet affect anxiety? If so, what should I eat, and which foods should I try to avoid?

People who suffer with anxiety should remember a few simple rules:

  • Low blood sugar, poor hydration, use of alcohol, caffeine, and smoking can also precipitate or mimic symptoms of anxiety.
  • Eating regular meals and preventing hypoglycemic states are therefore important.
  • Adequately hydrating with plain water is best, at least six to eight glasses a day.
  • While nicotine does not cause anxiety, withdrawal from nicotine can mimic anxiety, and people with anxiety may smoke to soothe themselves. It may become a problematic behavior, as nicotine can also raise blood pressure and heart rate, which are also symptoms of anxiety.
  • People who feel anxiety may lean on alcohol to calm their nerves, but excessive drinking can lead to its own set of emotional and physical problems.
  • Many sodas contain caffeine and have a high sugar content. Being aware of these factors and substituting plain water or sparking water for soda can be a healthier option.
  • Working toward a well-balanced diet with adequate fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats remains a good recommendation for those who struggle with anxiety. Avoiding processed foods and foods high in sugar means the body experiences fewer highs and lows of blood sugar, which helps to further reduce feelings of anxiety. Very simply put, a sugar rush can mimic a panic attack.

For example, eating a frozen dinner and ice cream will affect you differently than eating chicken and broccoli with a pasta made from whole grains or quinoa. The second meal includes whole, unprocessed foods, and you control the amount of sugar, if any, added to the meal. It takes longer for your body to metabolize these foods, which helps you feel fuller for longer and keeps blood sugar levels steady, rather than yo-yoing up and down.

Does sugar increase anxiety symptoms?

Yes! And there are many hidden sugars in the foods we eat, including savory foods. Many people don’t realize this. One example is a popular store-bought tomato basil sauce. One half-cup serving (and very few people would eat just half a cup at a meal) contains 12 grams of sugar, which is 3 teaspoons (4 grams sugar = 1 teaspoon). Food labels in the US use grams, and many people do not really know how to interpret these. Recipes use ounces, pounds, teaspoons, and tablespoons, so this conversion becomes important for the consumer. So, if you used 1-1/2 cups of the pasta sauce, you would be consuming 36 grams or 9 teaspoons of sugar just from the sauce in your meal!

While your body needs a healthy balance of sugar, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to function, it is also that very balance that helps keep us healthy. Consuming sugar through natural sources such as a piece of fruit, and not fruit juice or dried fruit, affects your body differently than candy or hidden sugars in your foods.

The FDA has a new nutrition label law coming into effect which will list the added sugars on the nutrition label for consumers and provide some other helpful data.

Do anxiety symptoms improve when you cut back on sugar and feed your body the right foods?

It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor before making dramatic changes in what you eat. Involve a nutritionist (your doctor can refer you to one) if you need some extra guidance.

As with any dietary change, your body will need some time to adjust. If you are otherwise healthy and cut back on processed sugar, you may feel your anxiety slowly improve thanks to fewer ups and downs caused by the excess sugar. If you are only using diet to combat anxiety, this change may not be obvious or immediate. You may also need to speak to a doctor about a medication. An integrated treatment approach including talk therapy, mindfulness techniques, stress relief, good sleep hygiene, and a balanced diet are all equally important parts of your care.

What else should I know about diet and anxiety?

Anxiety is linked with many physical illnesses. In addition to taking guidance from your doctor about options for treating anxiety, you should augment that treatment by paying attention to how and what you eat. A review of the literature examining the effects of diet on anxiety-related behavior highlighted that foods high in fat and/or sugar, or that are highly palatable, can affect behavior in animal models, and may do the same in humans. More human studies are needed.

Some of the following tips may be useful for you:

  • eat a healthy and balanced diet along the lines of a Mediterranean diet
  • cut back on sugar and processed foods
  • cut back on caffeine, alcohol, and smoking cigarettes
  • eat foods rich in zinc, like whole grains, oysters, kale, broccoli, legumes, and nuts
  • eat foods rich in magnesium: fish, avocado, dark leafy greens
  • eat foods rich in vitamin B, such as asparagus, leafy greens, meat, and avocado
  • eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, for example, wild caught salmon
  • eat probiotic-rich foods like kefir, yogurt, and other fermented foods.

Of course, first and foremost, follow the medical advice of your doctor. Discuss diet, lifestyle, and medication changes, and keep track of your symptoms to see whether they improve.

Alarm and power. Psychologist explains why you shouldn't starve when you're stressed

Experts give some advice on balancing proper nutrition and mental balance

Related video

Unhealthy eating patterns are a precursor to mental health problems. There is a scientifically proven link between unhealthy eating patterns - skipping meals, strict diets, fast food - with mental health problems. This is written by the tg-channel "Psychological support".

What are the risks of skipping meals or a strict diet?

In our anxious life, skipping meals is all too common. Either our mind is occupied with excessive worry and fear, or we have no appetite or desire to eat.

But skipping meals causes hypoglycemia (when blood sugar drops below normal levels), which can lead to common anxiety symptoms such as irritability, nervousness, dizziness, and weakness. According to research, repeated hypoglycemia only increases anxiety.

Diet can cause anxiety-like symptoms, especially if you cut out one of the main nutrients (carbohydrates, fats or proteins).



Try to eat every two hours five times a day (1. Breakfast, 2. Healthy snack, 3. Lunch, 4. Healthy snack, 5. Dinner)

Eat a variety of natural whole foods rich in complex carbohydrates, essential fats acids, proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Abuse of fast food or fast food

A common eating habit is fast food that can be reheated in the microwave, sugary foods, refined carbohydrates, cold meats, sauces, dressings, and foods with a long list of ingredients.

These foods preferably contain chemical ingredients and additives, and studies have shown that these ingredients can contribute to anxiety while lowering mood and altering social behavior.

The following additives are the culprits:

  • Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame are neurotoxins that have been found to disrupt the nervous system, resulting in increased levels of anxiety.

    Research has linked aspartame, an artificial sweetener, to behavioral and cognitive problems. Possible neurophysiological symptoms include learning problems, headaches, seizures, migraines, irritable mood, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.


    • Replace packaged fast foods with natural whole foods.
    • The easiest way is to make the bulk of your daily calories from vegetables and whole grains. These foods are a good source of complex carbohydrates that provide a slow release of energy, keep blood sugar levels stable, and help control junk food cravings.

    Unhealthy eating habits

    For example,

    • eating too little or overeating,
    • not eating enough vegetables, whole grains, and other natural foods,
    • eating too many processed foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt, or sugar, and
    • chewing improperly food.

    These poor eating habits can affect your intake of essential nutrients—carbohydrates, proteins, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals—that are essential for mental health and nervous system function.

    Studies have shown that certain nutrient deficiencies can affect mood and anxiety levels. Nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin C and E, magnesium, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids are deficient in people with anxiety disorders and other mental health problems.

    Photo: Getty Images


    • Eat a healthy and balanced diet rich in vegetables and whole grains, avoid processed foods
    • Eat regularly and in moderation
    • Chew your food properly to optimize your nutrient intake.
    • Exercise mindful eating, avoid phone or TV distractions.

    Food anxiety when losing weight

    If you have ever been on a restrictive diet, you may have experienced food anxiety. If this happened to you, it doesn't mean you did something wrong, it's just that restrictive diets cause it in people. For this reason, it is not recommended to do trendy diets or the famous "miracle diets" for weight loss. actually, it's better not to diet, but just change the way you eat and the way you see food when you go to feed.


    • 1 Create new healthy habits
    • 2 Great anxiety
    • 3 Small actions that will greatly affect your weight and life

    Create new healthy habits

    909 ... in the process of losing weight, this can cause feelings of anxiety and even fear, especially in relation to food. Suddenly you stop eating what you like and don't eat the amount of food you are used to, and suddenly, even if you lose weight and achieve good results, the anxiety to eat prompts you to throw out everything that you have mixed so far.

    If you are intentionally trying to lose weight, you may be concerned about the foods you eat, the calories in each food, the nutrients you should be consuming, and even thinking about specific ingredients. Creating new healthy eating habits is good, and it's what we all want, but it's not as easy as it sounds. After all, otherwise we would not have difficulties in a balanced diet!

    Severe anxiety

    Severe anxiety can lead to anxiety and/or fear while eating, which can negatively affect the mental health of a person who is on a diet or trying to lose weight for any personal reason. If this happens to you, what should you do about it? The secret is not to rush, but to act slowly, but to be sure.

    You need to focus on your health, not your weight, and take your time to reach your weight loss goal. Your main goal should be to take care of your health, but losing weight should not be your only goal for success. If this is your only goal then there is something you are doing wrong and that Your best bet is to talk to a qualified dietitian who will guide you through the process.

    Little things that will make a big difference in your weight and life

    Ideally, you should focus on those but practical behaviors that contribute to your good health... those behaviors that persist over time and help you achieve all your goals. Not only will this help you create a healthy balance with your food, but it will also help you avoid the anxiety that this can cause when losing weight.

    A therapist can also be a helpful ally in your weight loss journey, especially if you have struggled with weight problems or have had eating disorders in the past.

    Learn more