Can the food you eat cause stress and anxiety? Well, it can definitely have an impact. If you’re like most people you’ve experienced stress and anxiety from time to time, but it’s unlikely that your diet alone is causing anxiety. However, if you eat the foods on this list regularly, you are contributing to and exacerbating these issues.

Science now understands that the health of your gut plays a major role in your mental-emotional well-being. The study of the connection between gut health and the brain, or the gut-brain axis, is bringing a lot of understanding to our complex human bodies.

Research has shown that 95% of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin is actually produced in the gut! And half of our dopamine is produced there as well. Taking care of our gut health and watching what we put into our bodies benefits our body, our brain, and our mood.

While food may not be directly causing your stress, there are certain foods that contribute to your anxious state and make things much worse. I would recommend cutting back, if not cutting out completely, all the foods on this list. Not only will this help you feel more calm and relaxed, but it will also benefit your entire body in other ways as well.

Here’s a list of 6 foods to stay away from:

1. Caffeine 

Ah, the beloved socially acceptable stimulant.

Caffeine really gets us going and wakes us up. It’s almost expected that we all need coffee every morning in order to face a day at work. We pour our kids glasses of soda without a second thought.

I think we forget that caffeine is a drug that alters our body chemistry and mental state. Some people can’t ingest caffeine without experiencing shaking and increased heart rate. So it makes sense that it would contribute to anxiety.

If caffeine has been part of your routine for a long time and you do choose to remove it from your diet, take it slow. There could be withdrawal symptoms such as headaches. And if you need something extra to get you going in the morning, I suggest moving your body with exercise and drinking green juice.

Also, if you are having trouble with staying alert during the day because of a lack of sleep make sure you look into increasing your levels of GABA. This will help you achieve a level of relaxed alertness.

2. Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant so you would think that it would have a calming effect and ease our stress. However, the sedative and mood-boosting effects are short-lived.

Alcohol changes the neurotransmitters in your brain such as serotonin and if you are leaning on drinking to deal with your stress for long periods of time, this will lead to more anxiety – as well as depression.

And so the cycle begins.

Alcohol (as well as caffeine) increases lactic acid in the body and as this accumulates it can lead to anxiety and panic attacks.

It’s best to use alcohol very sparingly if at all.

3. Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners

Sugar gives you anxiety

Sugar studies have suggested that eating too much sugar causes dopamine imbalances. This addictive but sweet substance can impair cognitive functions, decision-making, and memory. The effects it has on your brain make it harder to cope with anxiety. 

If you’ve been in a sugar cycle for a while and have grown accustomed to the sugar high spikes and the inevitable drop in blood sugar, you may need to wean yourself off. If you go cold turkey, withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant and even trigger anxiety so baby steps might be a good idea.

Fruit can help you curb cravings. If you’re really looking for your sugar fix, snack on some blueberries instead!

I’ve recently cut out all sugar except small amounts of fruit and I have seen amazing benefits, the most apparent of which is lower levels of anxiety.

You would be surprised where sugar is hidden in processed foods: pickled garlic, french fries, salad dressing, mixed nuts, etc. It can really add up quickly! Pay attention to the labels.

Artificial sweeteners can be particularly dangerous. Aspartame, for example, “has been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems. Possible neurophysiological symptoms include learning problems, headache, seizure, migraines, irritable moods, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.”


4. Processed Food, Trans Fats & Hydrogenated Oils

Fast food, cookies, crackers, conventional peanut butter, non-dairy coffee creamers, donuts, ice cream, deli meats, margarine – the list is long. All of these foods are no good for your body in all sorts of ways and for different reasons but they do have one thing in common – they contribute to your anxiety.

In fact, “in 2013 the FDA determined that partially hydrogenated oils are not generally recognized as safe for use in food.”

There are healthy alternatives to some of these “foods” such as natural peanut butter with no added palm oils and using olive oil instead of vegetable oil, but for the most part, it’s best to slowly incorporate healthier choices and build up a different lifestyle.

5. Simple Carbohydrates

simple carbs

Simple carbohydrates behave similarly to sugar when broken down by the body. With the increase of blood sugar our insulin spikes. This is why we get hungry again within an hour of eating sugar or white bread.

Staying away from white flour (as well as sugary food) will help keep our blood glucose levels stable and prevent overeating.

Eating food from this category may cause a vitamin deficiency in thiamine or B1. When these foods are refined they are stripped of their fiber and nutritional value. During processing, these vitamins and minerals are sometimes added back in artificially.

These foods also increase lactic acid in the body which, as I mentioned earlier, can increase anxiety. Here are some foods to limit or stay away from if you have issues with anxiety:

  • white flour
  • white bread
  • crackers
  • white rice
  • table sugar

Aim to eat complex carbohydrates and vegetables instead.

Again, the diet that I’ve been on has been sugar-free and grain-free and along with its intention to heal my gut, my anxiety has plummeted.

What Can I Eat?

Everything else!

Choose food closer to its natural state and less prepackaged convenience foods. There’s no need to feel deprived. Make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats (extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts), complex carbohydrates (whole grains, vegetables, and fruit), and lean proteins (fish, beans, eggs, chicken). Start small.

Here’s a shortlist of some of the best foods that help with anxiety and mood:

  • salmon
  • fermented foods that heal the gut (plain yogurt, kimchi)
  • walnuts
  • shiitake mushrooms
  • avocado
  • berries
  • dark leafy greens

Remember to focus on limiting processed foods and healing your gut so that normal neurotransmission can occur! Your gut is smart and is sometimes called the second brain. Stay aware of what you are telling it to do through your food choices.

I want to add that your anxiety may be caused by some dysbiosis in the gut that will take more than just removing some foods from your diet. You could have leaky gut and would need to heal your gut lining so that your gut bacteria is better able to create the neurotransmitters that are responsible for feelings of wellbeing and also so your immune system is constantly overwhelmed causing chronic inflammation and possibly, your anxiety.

So I would also look into learning more about leaky gut and the steps you can take to heal it.

I will be writing more about the gut-brain axis in future posts to help us understand how we can help ourselves lower anxiety and heal our bodies.

So how many foods do you eat on this list? Have you done any experimentation with removing them? Let us know in the comments!

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