Does diet affect anxiety? If so, what should I eat, and which foods should I try to avoid?
People who suffer with anxiety should remember a few simple rules:
- Low blood sugar, poor hydration, use of alcohol, caffeine, and smoking can also precipitate or mimic symptoms of anxiety.
- Eating regular meals and preventing hypoglycemic states are therefore important.
- Adequately hydrating with plain water is best, at least six to eight glasses a day.
- While nicotine does not cause anxiety, withdrawal from nicotine can mimic anxiety, and people with anxiety may smoke to soothe themselves. It may become a problematic behavior, as nicotine can also raise blood pressure and heart rate, which are also symptoms of anxiety.
- People who feel anxiety may lean on alcohol to calm their nerves, but excessive drinking can lead to its own set of emotional and physical problems.
- Many sodas contain caffeine and have a high sugar content. Being aware of these factors and substituting plain water or sparking water for soda can be a healthier option.
- Working toward a well-balanced diet with adequate fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats remains a good recommendation for those who struggle with anxiety. Avoiding processed foods and foods high in sugar means the body experiences fewer highs and lows of blood sugar, which helps to further reduce feelings of anxiety. Very simply put, a sugar rush can mimic a panic attack.
For example, eating a frozen dinner and ice cream will affect you differently than eating chicken and broccoli with a pasta made from whole grains or quinoa. The second meal includes whole, unprocessed foods, and you control the amount of sugar, if any, added to the meal. It takes longer for your body to metabolize these foods, which helps you feel fuller for longer and keeps blood sugar levels steady, rather than yo-yoing up and down.
Does sugar increase anxiety symptoms?
Yes! And there are many hidden sugars in the foods we eat, including savory foods. Many people don’t realize this. One example is a popular store-bought tomato basil sauce. One half-cup serving (and very few people would eat just half a cup at a meal) contains 12 grams of sugar, which is 3 teaspoons (4 grams sugar = 1 teaspoon). Food labels in the US use grams, and many people do not really know how to interpret these. Recipes use ounces, pounds, teaspoons, and tablespoons, so this conversion becomes important for the consumer. So, if you used 1-1/2 cups of the pasta sauce, you would be consuming 36 grams or 9 teaspoons of sugar just from the sauce in your meal!