16 Unexpected Foods That Might Be Making Your Anxiety Worse

foods that cause anxiety

If you suffer from anxiety, you aren’t alone. Anxiety disorders are very common in the United States, and they impact roughly 40 million adults every year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

When it comes to the treatment of anxiety disorders, many people turn to therapy, medication, or a combination of both. In addition to professional treatment, there are other habits — like meditation, exercising regularly, and practicing gratitude — that you can adapt to boost your overall sense of well being.

But if it seems like you’re doing all that you can to take care of yourself and your anxiety still finds a way to creep in, you might want to check your diet. According to Uma Naidoo, M.D. and Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, there’s growing evidence of the strong correlation between what we eat, our gut health, and our mental health.

When we think of serotonin, we might think of it as a chemical in our brain, but it’s estimated that 90 percent of our serotonin is made in the digestive tract, Caltech reported.

So it’s no surprise to hear that poor diet can lead to gut inflammation, which has been linked to anxiety and depression.

But if you think your diet is the reason for your worsened anxiety, maybe its time to start a food journal and see if any of these foods are making your anxiety worse.

Here are the foods that can worsen anxiety:

1. Soy


Soy-based foods are packed with protein and are often used as an alternative for meat and dairy. But according to the American Psychological Association, soy might not be great for anxiety.

And there’s science to back it.


In an animal-based study, there was evidence that soy supplements were linked to more anxious behavior in male rats.

Soybeans also contain copper.

Some argicultural products, like soybeans, to prevent copper deficiency in the plants. In large amounts, copper has been linked to increased anxiety, according to Psychology Today.

2. Milk


Milk is a great source of calcium to build strong bones and teeth, but too much dairy could mean trouble for your body. There are pros and cons to including dairy in your diet.

Unfortunately, one of the cons is that it can cause a lot of digestive issues, MindBodyGreen reports.


It’s an inflammatory food, which we all now know has been linked to increased symptoms of anxiety. There’s also the issue of hormones and dairy cows, which can also affect our mood.

3. Gluten


For some, cutting out gluten is part of a diet trend. For others, it’s because of gluten intolerance, such as Celiac disease.

It could be the culprit behind your lower moods.


Delicious, gluten-filled foods, like bread and pasta, have been linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression, especially in people with Celiac disease, Psychology Today reports.

Gluten sensitivities could make these symptoms worse.

In fact, anxiety is common for people with gluten sensitivities. When it rains it pours, right?

It’s also common to see an increase in anxiety at the first diagnosis of a gluten disorder.


It all just goes to show how much of an effect your gut has on your mind. If you find yourself reaching for something doughy as a comfort food after a bad day, maybe consider a healthier option.

4. Anything With Red Food Coloring


Nothing hits the spot in the summer like a cherry red Popsicle. Or at least that is what we used to think. Can’t anything we love be good for us?

Turns out the dyes in foods can worsen anxiety, too.


Certain dyes, especially Red #40 and Yellow #5, can cause disturbances in the nervous system – especially children’s nervous systems, according to Dr. Joseph S. Galati.

5. Energy Drinks


Energy drinks contain a lot of caffeine and can overstimulate the body. Similar to coffee, when you consume too many energy drinks, your body can imitate symptoms of anxiety, such as irritability and increased heart rate.

And it can get worse.

In one study, researchers found that consuming more than 250 milligrams of caffeine per day can also lead to restlessness, nervousness, and insomnia, which can also be linked to anxiety.

They’re also harmful to your blood vessels, liver, and more.

On top of giving you a caffeine rush (and a quick and nearly unavoidable crash), energy drinks can pose a lot of health risks for regular users. Like soda, they erode teeth. They can limit your liver function. And you don’t have to be drinking five energy drinks a day to risk anxiety or other risks.

In fact, even just one every now and then still does damage.


A study by the American Heart Association suggests that even one energy drink is enough to negatively impact vessel dilation – AKA the ability for your veins to get oxygen and nutrients to the rest of your body.

6. Processed Foods


Processed foods such as hot dogs, chips, cereal, and pretty much anything that doesn’t go bad within a week, contain fats and chemicals to preserve them.

We know these foods can taste awesome.


Our bodies are trained to crave sugars and fats in order to survive. But since we’re not in hunter-gatherer mode anymore, those excess sugars and fats can wreak havoc on your psyche.

They can be highly inflammatory

Which can disrupt our gut (and in turn our mental) health. Remember, 90 percent of serotonin receptors are actually in your gut, so it totally makes sense as to why these foods can put a damper on our moods.

A diet high in processed foods has also been associated with an increased risk of heart disease.


It may not be possible to cut out all processed foods, but looking for food with simple ingredients is a start.

Is it really all that surprising, though?

The typical Western diet is under fire for a host of reasons, and one of the big ones is mental health. Several studies have suggested that high-processed, high-sugar, and refined carbohydrates can lead to depression and anxiety.

And it doesn’t matter who you are.


Age, sex, gender, race, and education and income levels do not matter. Any person who eats a diet of mostly high processed foods is more susceptible to poor mental health.

7. Hydrogenated Oils

Marco Fischer/Pexels

Maybe you are thinking you can sneak some fast food or some late night deep-fried snacks every once in a while – and you probably can. But if you are feeling anxious more often than not, maybe it’s time to cut out the fried goods.

Try using vegetable oils instead.

If you are hellbent on still having a crunchy, fried treat every once in a while (and we don’t blame you), try using vegetable oils to fry up some potatoes or other goodies at home. Safflower, olive, and avocado oils are all rich in omega-3’s, which are vital for brain functions.

8. Canned Foods


Food in metal cans can not only contain a lot of sodium, but they might also contain Bisphenol A (BPA).

You’ve likely been warned of BPA in plastic containers and water bottles.


But the chemical can also be used in the linings of canned foods, CNN reports. According to HuffPost, the exposure of BPA in children at a young age was linked to changes in brain development and an increase in symptoms of anxiety as the children aged.

9. Wheat Bran

Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2,5

We’ve all heard that whole wheat and wheat bran our good sources of fiber – and they are. But when it comes to people with anxiety and depression, they may want to skip the grains all together.

There are some anxiety-inducing compounds in Wheat Bran.


As Psychology Today reports, sugars like Amylopectin A and insecticides like Bt Toxin can really ramp up anxiety for those already experiencing it.

Maybe this whole gluten-free thing isn’t such a bad idea.


10. Spicy Food


Spicy foods such as peppers can cause acid reflux, which has been linked to an increase in anxiety, according to Very Well Mind.

GERD can also play a role in anxiety.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause side effects such as chest pains and trouble swallowing, which can make even the most adjusted folks irritated.

Now imagine that frustration combined with anxiety.


Researchers have also found that there’s a link between people with gastroesophageal reflux disease and mood and anxiety disorders. Seriously, can we catch a break here?

This is one of those chicken-or-the-egg scenarios.

The study indicates a link between the two, but it is difficult to discern which one causes the other. So how the heck are you supposed to determine whether or not your favorite spicy wings are also giving you panic attacks?

If you suffer from anxiety, try taking a step back from spicy foods to see if it helps.


If you do suffer from acid reflux, ask your doctor about other ways to alleviate symptoms that may be adding to your anxiety.

11. Coffee

Kevin Menajang/Pexels

We all know what can happen when you have too much coffee. You might start to feel jittery, and it sure doesn’t help with anxiety. The main culprit is caffeine.

Caffeine stimulates the nervous system.


This makes it possible to experience a higher heart rate and an increased breathing rate when you ingest it. We’ve all experienced the coffee jitters at least once in our lives.

Sound familiar?

Probably because these side effects are similar to symptoms of anxiety, Health reported.

“Psychologically, it’s difficult for your mind to recognize that this is not anxiety because it feels the same,” Susan Bowling, PsyD, a psychologist at the Women’s Health Center at the Wooster Branch of Cleveland Clinic told Health.

12. Candy – And Sugar In General


We get it. It feels amazing to indulge in some ice cream or have some of your favorite candy – and every once in a while, that is totally fine.

But eating too much sugar can really mess with your anxiety.


According to Healthline, when you eat too much sugar, insulin levels in the body increase to get your blood sugar levels back to normal.

But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

After you experience the high of a sugar rush, your body has to work harder to stabilize again. This means you may experience feeling irritable, jittery, and tired.

13. Diet Soda


You might opt for a diet soda instead of a regular one to cut back on calories, but it’s still not the best beverage choice. Not only can it cause acne and make you gain weight, but it can also mess with your mood, Well+Good reports.

Diet soda typically contains a controversial artificial sweetener called aspartame.


This substance is on an EPA list of potentially dangerous chemicals. This artificial sweetener tricks your brain into thinking it’s getting sugar for energy; when it doesn’t, that’s when the anxiety hits.

14. Light Ketchup And Salad Dressing

Engin Akyurt/Pexels

The condiments you use on your food could be disrupting your mental health, especially if it contains sweetener. Low-calorie ketchup, salad dressing, sauces, and condiments may use aspartame, Livestrong reports.

The artificial sweetener is linked to having neurological effects on the brain.


This can impact our mood and make anxiety worse. If you are trying to eat better for your mental health, it may be worth going for the full calories option instead of the low-cal one.

15. Conventional Non-Dairy Creamer


Switching over from dairy creamer to non-dairy creamer doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safe.

Since non-dairy creamer, it may replace dairy fats with more harmful ones.


And we aren’t just talking about the ones that affect your cholesterol. Harmful fats such as trans fats are in the form of hydrogenated oils. In one study, researchers found that the long-term consumption of trans fats was linked to increased anxiety, along with other health issues.

16. Alcohol


Since alcohol is a depressant, it might ease your anxiety for a moment — but in the long run, it can actually make your anxiety worse. According to a study by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, long-term excessive alcohol consumption can rewire the brain and increase the likelihood of experiencing anxiety disorders.

It could be an unhealthy coping mechanism.


The Anxiety and Depression Association of America also notes that about 20 percent of anxiety sufferers rely on a substance as self-medication.

If you find yourself reaching for that bottle of wine too often, consider hydrating with water instead.

As many mental health professionals warn, using alcohol or other substances simply masks the symptoms of anxiety or depression. If you do cut out alcohol from your diet (and it has been a mainstay in the past), you may experience some initial anxiety as your body adjusts to being alcohol-free.

Remember, you should always consult with your doctor when it comes to your health, both mentally and physically.

If you feel like anxiety is taking a heavy toll on your life, be sure to consult your doctor and health care professionals.

Did any of these anxiety-inducing foods surprise you?


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