Foods that increase 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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Eat This Not That to Reduce Stress and Anxiety| Banner Health

When you get stressed or anxious, do you reach for something salty or sweet, or do you lace up and go for a walk or run? For many who feel stressed or anxious, especially during times like these, our natural instinct is to reach for foods (and drinks) for comfort and maybe even for an escape.

However, often the very things we choose to gulp down (chips, cookies, alcohol) are only providing us short-term relief and may actually increase anxiety and depression in the long run. There’s a reason for this, according to Karen Hemmes, a registered dietitian at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix.

How food affects stress and anxiety

“Eating foods such as processed meats, high sugar foods, caffeine and alcohol, which provide little nutritional value, have been associated with more psychiatric symptoms and can increase cortisol levels—our primary hormone responsible for stress,” she said. “A diet high in whole foods and low in processed foods can help maintain healthy cortisol levels.”

Research has shown that increases in stress and cortisol have been linked to an increased risk of developing obesity, metabolic syndromes, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, depression and other disorders of the brain.

Certain foods may also reduce stress and anxiety. “Eating a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats can help decrease stress and anxiety and boost mood and self-esteem,” Hemmes said. “These foods provide your body with the nutrients you and your brain need to function properly.”

Foods that help reduce stress and anxiety

While there is no specific diet that can cure stress and anxiety, there are some foods that may help. Here are some foods worth trying to help improve your well-being:

A Mediterranean-type diet high in omega-3 fatty acid

Consuming omega-3 rich foods along with supplemental fish oil may reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. Such foods include:

  • Fish: salmon, tuna and sardines
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds
  • Avocados
Foods high in vitamins A, C and E

Foods high in antioxidants such as beta-carotene (vitamin A), vitamin C and vitamin E can help prevent cell damage to the brain. Such foods include:

  • Vegetables: asparagus, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli and leafy greens like spinach and kale
  • Fruits: strawberries, citrus fruits, papaya, cantaloupe and apricots
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds and sunflower seeds
Foods high in vitamin B

Several studies have linked high doses of vitamin B with reduced symptoms of stress. Foods rich in vitamin B can also aid in heart and brain function. Such foods include:

  • Lean proteins: chicken, fish, eggs and turkey
  • Fortified cereals
  • Nutritional yeast
Prebiotic and probiotic foods

“Serotonin, a key hormone that regulates our mood, feelings and well-being and happiness, is primarily made in our guts,” Hemmes said. “Therefore, having healthy gut microbiome can help reduce stress and anxiety. Eating prebiotic and probiotic foods can help with that.” Such foods include:

  • High fiber foods: raspberries, whole grains and beans
  • Fermented foods: kefir, aged cheese, sauerkraut and kombucha
Magnesium-rich foods

Research has found that magnesium may help with brain functions that reduce stress and may even be helpful in the treatment of mild anxiety.

“When we’re stressed, it can cause us to excrete magnesium in our urine,” Hemmes said. “Having low magnesium levels may contribute to anxiety, panic disorders, insomnia, fatigue and hyperemotionality (being overly emotional).”

Foods rich in magnesium include:

  • Fruits: bananas and avocados
  • Vegetables: broccoli and spinach
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds
  • Legumes: lentils, beans, chickpeas and peas
  • Dark chocolate
Foods (and drinks) that are stress- and anxiety-provoking

If you’re feeling stressed, try to avoid these foods:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Sugary drinks and foods
  • Processed foods, such as chips, cookies, frozen foods and ready-made meals
  • Foods high in trans fats and excessive saturated fats, such as fried foods, red meat, full-fat dairy, butter and baked goods

But if you do dabble in a few of these items, remember, moderation is key!

Don’t rely on food alone to de-stress

We are what we eat, but when it comes to managing stress and anxiety—food alone isn’t the answer.

“Activities like regular physical exercise, getting enough sleep and treating any underlying mental health problems are important too,” Hemmes said.

Talk to your doctor or a behavioral health specialist if you’re struggling to manage stress and anxiety in your life. The right health care provider can help you better understand what might be triggering your anxiety and stress and make healthy diet and lifestyle changes to combat them. To find a Banner Heath specialist near you, visit

Related Articles:

  • Can the Right Foods Help You Beat Your Seasonal Allergies?
  • Healthy Snacks to Satisfy Your Sweet and Salty Cravings
  • Intuitive Eating: Listening to What Your Body Wants to Eat
  • Food and Mood: Is Your Food (or Lack Thereof) Making You Hangry?

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9 foods that reduce stress and anxiety

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1. Salmon

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Salmon contains many nutrients that promote brain health. These are vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acids.

Omega-3s, EPA and DHA help the body produce the hormones dopamine and serotonin, which have a calming and relaxing effect. And the absorption of vitamin D avoids neurocognitive dysfunction, promotes brain health, and also promotes calm.

In one experiment, researchers from the University of Bergen (Norway) found that people who ate Atlantic salmon meat three times a week for five months experienced less stress than those who preferred chicken, pork or beef. In addition, their heart rate and heart rate variability improved.

2. Chamomile

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Traditionally, chamomile tea is believed to help calm the nerves, and this is the case when folk wisdom is confirmed by science. Chamomile is high in antioxidants, which have been shown to reduce inflammation and may reduce the risk of anxiety.

Studies show that chamomile can help relieve anxiety, even for people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. And one experiment showed that subjects who consumed chamomile extract for eight weeks experienced a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety.

3. Chocolate

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The fact that chocolate reduces stress and in general is one concentrated “happiness hormone” is known to everyone. It increases the level of serotonin, which reduces stress and anxiety. In addition, dark chocolate contains flavanols, which improve brain function, help it adapt to stressful situations and relieve anxiety.

It is traditionally believed that bitter tiles are the most useful. But studies show that the milk version is more effective in reducing anxiety. So, if you do not like bitterness, there is no point in forcing yourself to eat the “right” chocolate. However, remember that this is a very high-calorie product and it is better not to abuse it.

4. Brazil nuts

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Brazil nuts, the fruit of a tree called Bertoletia, contain a lot of vitamin E, low levels of which lead to depression.

They also have a high selenium content. This substance has antioxidant properties and has a good effect on mood. However, too much selenium should not be consumed. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 400 micrograms. So don't eat more than three or four Brazil nuts a day.

5. Turmeric

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Turmeric is a spice that contains a compound called curcumin. It is very beneficial for promoting brain health and preventing anxiety disorders. Curcumin also has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which are also good for brain cells.

In addition, the use of oriental spice reduces the body's production of inflammatory markers such as cytokines, which are responsible for increased anxiety.

6. Bananas

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Bananas contain large amounts of tryptophan, an amino acid involved in the production of serotonin in the body. This means that they contribute to relaxation and anxiety relief. In addition, bananas are full of magnesium and potassium, the lack of which leads to stress.

7. Eggs

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Eggs are an excellent source of vitamin D, the deficiency of which leads to depression and anxiety. The use of this product improves well-being and mood. In addition, eggs contain tryptophan, which, as already mentioned, is involved in the production of serotonin.

8. Yogurt

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Probiotics and other beneficial bacteria found in yogurt have a beneficial effect on mental health. Studies show that products with these components suppress free radicals and neurotoxins, helping to protect the nervous tissue of the brain.

Anxiety sufferers who consume daily probiotic yogurt have been experimentally shown to cope with stress more easily than those who consume the non-probiotic version. A product with beneficial bacteria improves the functioning of the areas of the brain that control emotions and sensations.

Keep in mind that not all types of yogurt are equally effective in reducing stress. Look for those with live, active probiotic cultures listed in their ingredients. Or make your own yogurt.

9. Green tea

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Green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant that promotes brain health and reduces anxiety. In addition, the drink contains L‑theanine, an amino acid that has a similar effect on the body. It also enhances the production of dopamine and serotonin.

Studies show that people who use L-theanine showed a reduction in the psychological stress responses associated with anxiety and a normalization of their heart rate. And another experiment confirmed: L-theanine helps to reduce the level of cortisol, otherwise called the stress hormone.

Text updated 14 January 2020 to include more scientific data from verified sources.

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12 products against stress and anxiety

When we are nervous, we often try to cope with negative emotions by trying to eat them. You know what kind of food it is: something fatty, sweet, or vice versa, salty. In general, completely useless. In the meantime, there are foods that contain vitamins, fats and micronutrients that can ease stress and support your body during difficult times.

You don't have to go on a diet of the foods listed below, but if you add 1-2 to your daily intake, you'll already be doing well for yourself and your body. And remember that in case of severe stress and anxiety, you need to consult a doctor (for example, a neurologist), who will prescribe the necessary supportive therapy.

1. Spinach

Spinach and other leafy salads are rich in magnesium. This microelement reduces anxiety and anxiety, and is also used in the treatment of attention deficit disorder. All you need is a cup of spinach leaves a day, for example, in the form of a smoothie.

2. Whole grains

All carbohydrates stimulate our brain to produce serotonin, one of the hormones that helps balance mood, sexual desire, appetite, sleep, memory and more. Eat whole grain bread, brown rice, and oatmeal to boost your serotonin levels naturally.

3. Almonds

Almonds, like spinach, contain a lot of magnesium, so if you are not a greenfinch fan, then you have a very tasty substitute for yourself. Magnesium helps to normalize sleep, wake up and get out of bed more easily and recover better during rest. Don't want to chew nuts? Try making almond milk, which can be used to make cereals and smoothies.

4. Avocado

Half an avocado contains more potassium than one banana. And potassium, by the way, helps lower blood pressure. In addition, avocados are rich in monosaturated fats, vitamins, and fiber.

5. Bananas

Still, one cannot but mention bananas, which contain a lot of magnesium, potassium and the amino acid tryptophan, which together are very helpful against insomnia. The fact is that tryptophan is closely associated with the “production” of serotonin and melatonin, the two main neurotransmitters responsible for regulating sleep.

6. Oranges

Oranges are rich in vitamin C, which reduces the "stress hormone" cortisol, blood pressure, and also strengthens the immune system. According to the University of Maryland, large doses of vitamin C reduce physical and mental responses to stress.

7. Salmon

Wild salmon is an important food source for omega-3 fatty acids. They help prevent the rise of stress hormones, fight inflammation and anxiety.

8. Nuts

Pistachios and walnuts are rich in many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B21 and vitamin E, which support the immune system. These nutrients will strengthen you when you are stressed or anxious.

9. Yoghurt

According to WebMD, diets that include probiotic foods (such as some types of yogurt) can change the body's response to stress. Gastrointestinal problems often go hand-in-hand with anxiety, and probiotics help reduce inflammation in the gut, which adds calmness during times of stress. You can read how to make healthy homemade yogurt from pharmacy sourdough here.

10. Sunflower or chia seeds

Chia and sunflower seeds contain tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes the release of the hormone serotonin in the brain. Thanks to serotonin, we experience calmness, which helps to reduce anxiety. We wrote about other beneficial properties of chia (recipes and recommendations) here.

11. Asparagus

Low folic acid levels may be partly responsible for making us feel anxious and depressed. Asparagus is rich in folic acid and all you need is one cup a day to get two-thirds of your recommended daily allowance.

12. Dark chocolate

Read more about chocolate here, and how to choose the right chocolate here.

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