10 Worst Foods for Anxiety (+Stress-Reducing Alternatives)


You probably already know about the amazing food-mood connection.

What you eat (or don’t eat) can make your anxiety worse and get in the way of you living a happier, healthier life.

In last week’s article, we discussed 10 Best Foods for Anxiety (+5 sweet & simple recipes).

This week I’ve got 10 of the worst foods for anxiety, along with some natural, stress-reducing alternatives!


Best Foods for Anxiety - 5 Sweet & Simple Recipes Opt-In

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Worst Food for Anxiety #1: Candy/Pastries

It can be tempting to turn to candy or pastries for a quick pick-me-up when you’re feeling stressed.

But, the refined sugar in these treats makes them some of the worst foods for anxiety.

According to a study published in the Journal of Psychology and Behavior, sugar activates neural pathways in a similar manner to drugs.

In other words, sugar is addictive.

When you eat something sugary, you get a quick burst of energy.

But, then your blood sugar levels drop. This causes you to experience symptoms of withdrawal like anxiety and altered states of dopamine. 

Then you need more and more to maintain the “high” … it’s a vicious cycle!

If you are craving something sweet, dried fruit is a great option.

Not only does fruit contain natural (not refined) sugar but it also contains fiber, which helps to stabilize the body’s absorption of sugar.

Stable blood sugar levels = less anxiety.

As a stress-reducing alternative, I really love these dried plums. They taste like gummy candy only better!

prunes are a good substitute for candy

#2: Alcohol 

Many people think that alcohol helps calm their nerves.

It’s actually quite the opposite.

One study suggests that stress and alcohol actually ‘feed each other’.

Using alcohol to cope with stress weakens your body’s natural ability to deal with stress.

Alcohol basically makes us less resilient. Not only on an emotional level, but also on a physical level.

Drinking regularly increases your risk of developing a stress-related health issue like high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

For about four years now, I almost never drink alcohol and feel much better for it!

Worst Food for Anxiety#3: Pasta 

Refined carbohydrates like pasta are some of the worst foods for anxiety.

They cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash, leaving you feeling irritable and fatigued.

Too many processed carbohydrates can cause mood swings, headaches and anxiety.

However, it's not a good idea to completely cut carbs out of your diet.

Carbohydrates are essential to many body functions and help regulate serotonin, which reduces anxiety and boosts mood.

The key is to eat complex carbohydrates like beans, whole grains and vegetables, not simple carbohydrates like pasta, bread and cereal.

But, just because you should avoid pasta doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite pasta dishes.

There are so many healthy alternative options out there. Pasta made from chickpeas, pasta made from whole grain einkorn and red lentil pasta, just to name a few.

I’ve also made some pretty delicious meals using zucchini as a pasta alternative, like zucchini mushroom lasagna.

#4: Diet Soda 

Just because diet soda is sugar free doesn’t mean it is good for you or your anxiety.

Not only do diet sodas contain caffeine (which can cause panic attacks), but they also typically contain aspartame.

Aspartame blocks production of serotonin, which can lead to anxiety and depression.

Dr. Mercola says aspartame is “by far the most dangerous substance added to most foods today”.

It's made up of three chemicals. Aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol - all of which are extremely dangerous poisons.

Diet sodas also contain artificial colors and preservatives, which cause increased hyperactivity, according to at least one study.

Which is not a great side effect especially if you suffer from anxiety.

So, the next time you’re craving something fizzy, try swapping soda for sparkling water.

I love LaCroix sparkling water. There are yummy flavors like lemon and there’s no sugar, no aspartame, no carbs, no sodium and no calories!

lemon lacroix instead of soda - worst food for anxiety

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#5: Coffee 

Soda isn’t the only beverage that can bring on an anxiety attack.

Coffee is a potent source of caffeine, which makes anxiety worse.

It stimulates the nervous system and can trigger the fight or flight response.

If you already have anxiety, coffee can make it worse. It could even send you into a full-blown panic attack.

Even if you don’t normally have anxiety, coffee can cause you to experience symptoms of anxiety like nervousness, rapid heart rate, dizziness and sweaty palms.

And if you add sugar to your coffee, it’s even more of a recipe for disaster.

Sugar + Caffeine = Anxiety Cocktail

I love coffee, but I try to limit my intake. So, tea has been a wonderful stress-reducing alternative.

There are so many different flavors of tea to choose from. Some of the best ones for anxiety are chamomile, kava, passionflower, lavender and tangerine positive energy tea.

Try swapping one of your coffees for a tea. It’s hot, it’s aromatic, and most importantly, it helps to bring down those stress/anxiety levels.

positive energy anxiety reducing tangerine tea

Worst Foods for Anxiety #6: Beef Jerky/Pepperoni 

Processed meats like beef jerky and pepperoni contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), which makes them among the worst foods for anxiety.

MSG is a flavor-enhancing additive that tricks your brain into thinking that the food tastes better than it actually does.

It’s also found in other foods including soy sauce, soups and packaged snacks like Doritos.

MSG is also an excitotoxin – a chemical that kills brain cells by causing them to become overexcited (aspartame is another excitotoxin).

It has been linked to increased anxiety and panic attacks, sweating, migraines, nausea, chest pain and rapid heartbeat.

Be careful – many products contain MSG, even ones that don’t list MSG as an ingredient.

That’s because MSG goes by many other names, including:

  • glutamic acid
  • monopotassium glutamate
  • yeast extract
  • textured vegetable protein
  • hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • #7: Bread 

    Bread is a refined carbohydrate – one of the worst anxiety triggers.

    Many studies have linked anxiety to gluten.

    People with celiac disease (inability to tolerate gluten) or even non-celiac gluten sensitivity often have anxiety symptoms.

    And studies have found that anxiety symptoms decrease when going gluten-free.

    There are actually tons of gluten-free options out there!

    If you don’t have a gluten intolerance but would still rather stay away from it, a healthy alternative is sprouted grain bread. (I love Ezekiel sprouted grain bread)

    Although it may contain some gluten, sprouted grain bread is more digestible because the grains are soaked and sprouted. Plus, it’s higher in fiber than flour-based bread.

    10 Worst Foods for Anxiety Pin 2

    Worst Food for Anxiety#8: Fast Food 

    French fries, fried chicken, mozzarella sticks, cheeseburgers and pizza are bad news for those of us with anxiety.

    Fast foods contain trans fats, hydrogenated oil, refined carbohydrates, artificial colors and preservatives.

    These ingredients cause blood sugar fluctuations, hyperactivity and weight gain – all of which will make your anxiety worse.

    Because the brain and the gut are inextricably linked, many mood disorders are caused or worsened by an imbalance of bacteria in your gut.

    Fast food feeds the harmful bacteria in our gut and cause them to proliferate, which lessens the amount of healthy, beneficial bacteria.

    This gut imbalance can cause anxiety, mood swings and depression. 

    One study even found that regular consumers of fast food are 51 percent more likely than rare or non-consumers to develop depression.

    If you have been regularly eating fast food, you may want to restore your gut health by eating Greek yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles.

    Worst Foods for Anxiety #9: Salad Dressing & Condiments

    High fructose corn syrup is a cheap sweetener made from genetically modified (GMO) corn. 

    It is one of the unhealthiest things you can ever consume.

    It's added to many foods including ketchup, soda, juice, cereal, yogurt and even foods that aren’t even supposed to be sweet like salad dressings.

    High fructose corn syrup has been linked to:

  • Alzheimer’s
  • Autism
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Leaky gut
  • Obesity
  • Parkinson’s disease, and of course
  • Anxiety

  • It also contains mercury, which studies have found to be associated with anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia.

    Eating a salad is a great option for reducing anxiety, just don’t top it with high fructose corn syrup!

    I make my own ketchup by combining tomato paste, water, vinegar, salt, garlic powder and dried parsley.

    I also make my own simple salad dressing with olive oil and apple cider vinegar.

    Salad

    #10: Canned Foods

    Canned foods like soup, vegetables, fruits, beans, pastas and sauces often contain bisphenol A (BPA), an additive that prevents metal corrosion.

    Many people became aware of BPA in the last decade, when it made news headlines for being a harmful chemical used in plastics.

    But, while most plastics manufacturers have changed their practices to provide BPA-free bottles, we remain at risk of BPA exposure from canned foods.

    BPA has been linked to anxiety and depression by at least one study published in the Environmental Research Journal.

    According to researchers, BPA interferes with our hormones by mimicking estrogen, a hormone that causes anxiety when unbalanced or at a high level.

    To avoid this harmful chemical, consider making your soups, beans, pastas and sauces from scratch and storing your food in glass storage containers or BPA-free plastic containers.

    I use this Anchor Hocking glass container set.

    glass containers for anti-anxiety food


    *Bonus - 20 More Worst Foods for Anxiety:

  • Bacon
  • BBQ sauce
  • Chinese food
  • Coffee creamer
  • Donuts
  • Energy drinks
  • Frozen meals
  • Fruit Juice
  • Gatorade
  • Gum
  • Hot dogs
  • Hot Pockets
  • Margarine
  • Mayonnaise
  • Meal replacement shakes
  • Microwave Popcorn
  • Pop Tarts
  • Ramen Noodles
  • Sausage
  • Sugar free Jell-O

  • Did you get my 5 Sweet & Simple Anxiety-Reducing Recipes? 

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    About the Author

    Kalliope Archondis, JD, LLM. 👋Hi! I'm Kalli, lawyer turned freelance writer and founder of 3dsuccess.org, a personal development blog dedicated to helping you reach your goals and achieve your definition of success - without all the stress & anxiety. You can read more about me & 3D Success here.