Can Certain Foods Trigger Anxiety? Expert Weighs In

Food affects our physical health. But does it affect our mental state too? We spoke to a psychiatrist to get an answer to this question

Shubhangi Shah
Written by: Shubhangi ShahUpdated at: Oct 18, 2021 16:57 IST
Can Certain Foods Trigger Anxiety? Expert Weighs In

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Have you ever experienced feeling jittery after downing a cup of coffee? Or does your heart beat at an abnormal rate, you feel restless after having an energy drink? Or, do you suffer from a bad mood some time after you eat junk food? All these scenarios hint at a connection between food and mental state. But, is the connection so deep so as to trigger anxiety? To seek an answer to this question, Onlymyhealth spoke to Dr Jyoti Kapoor, who is a senior psychiatrist and founder of ‘Manasthali’.

“We are what we eat and our mood does get affected by the food we eat,” said Dr Kapoor. Every one of us has experienced how one feels after eating flavourful food with a delicious aroma in a peaceful environment. Similarly, certain foods make us feel bad. In fact, Ayurveda considers food as a crucial aspect of health, and sattvic food is considered to have important healing properties for mood and emotions. “The latest research in the gut microbiome and gut-brain axis also indicates how what we eat has a prominent impact on how we feel,” the doctor said. So, what are those foods that can trigger anxiety and a negative mood?

Foods That Trigger Anxiety

Caffeinated beverages are the most common foods that trigger anxiety

(Photo Credit: Freepik)

“There are various food-related triggers for anxiety,” said the psychiatrist. Below she has enlisted some such foods and their related triggers for anxiety:

  • Caffeinated Beverages

Strong coffee, colas, energy drinks, and other caffeinated beverages are the most common food items that can trigger anxiety. They cause palpitations, restlessness, irritability, and insomnia, which have a direct impact on anxiety levels in vulnerable individuals. “The pre-workout drinks have high levels of caffeine and I have seen patients who developed anxiety disorders like panic attacks after taking it,” said Dr Kapoor. 

  • Alcohol

Similarly, alcohol can also worsen anxiety and depression, especially if consumed in excess or during the withdrawal period. Also, certain alcoholic cocktails that combine energy drinks and alcohol have a high propensity to trigger anxiety.

  • Fried Foods

Fried foods consumed in excess amounts can cause indigestion, bloating, reflux, and hyperacidity. All these can trigger breathlessness, sleep disturbance, and resultant anxiety.

  • Junk Foods

These contain excess sugar. When you eat junk food, your blood sugar level shoots up instantly. It also dips at a rapid pace. This fluctuation can lead to a sudden feeling of low mood and panic as sugar falls.

  • Others

Other than these, excessive intake of cheese and processed meat also trigger anxiety. This is because these contain excess salt and preservatives, which can cause blood pressure fluctuations, palpitations, and anxiety. Also, food additives such as artificial sweeteners like aspartame and MSG have also been linked to anxiety and depression.

Also read: Signs That You Are Struggling With High Functioning Anxiety

 Foods To Calm You Down During Anxiety

There are foods that can help you cope up with anxiety

(Photo Credit: Freepik)

Now, we know that certain foods can cause anxiety. But are there any foods that do the opposite, i.e. calm you down when you get anxious? The answer is, yes. Here are some such foods:

  • Fresh and wholesome foods, such as juicy fruits can help you with this. This they do by adding complex sugars and natural flavours to your system. Berries can uplift your mood instantly. Similarly, leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and collard provide magnesium, thus helping in improving mood. 
  • Dried fruits and nuts such as walnuts and cashews contain complex sugars, as well as omega 3 fatty acids and zinc, which help in improving mood. 
  • Similarly, fermented food items such as curd add necessary bacteria to the gut, which  directly affect serotonin effect due to the gut brain axis. Serotonin is the hormone associated with mood, happiness, and the feeling of well-being.
  • Also, dark chocolate in a limited amount is known to increase tryptamine, a precursor for serotonin, thus making it a great food to calm your nerves. Hot chocolate and cocoa have the same effect. 
  • Last but not the least, nothing can beat the impact of home-cooked food, which is associated with homely comfort. There is a reason why it is called comfort food. It’s because its nutritious nature and associated memories make you relaxed. “In my experience, desi ghee ( clarified butter) has a calming effect,” said Dr Kapoor. 

Until now, we knew the impact of food on our physical health. But learning its mental health implications makes it all the more important for us to make the right choices when it comes to food. Nutritious, well-balanced food is the key to great health and a sound mind. 

(With inputs from Dr Jyoti Kapoor, who is a senior psychiatrist and founder of ‘Manasthali’)

Photo Credit: Freepik