Anxiety is a feeling (or an emotion) of worried thoughts, tension, difficulty feeling settled, having recurring concerns, says Julia Zumpano, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.
Physical signs can include dizziness, rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling and increased blood pressure.
There are many factors that can contribute to anxiety and one of them is food. “The food we eat on a daily basis not only affects our overall health, but our mood as well — and more than we realize,” says Kellyann Petrucci, board-certified naturopathic physician and nutrition expert.
With that in mind, here are the worst foods for anxiety—and what to eat instead.
Worst food for anxiety
There are several foods that can contribute to or even enhance anxiety. But one of the worst foods out there might surprise you: tacos—ones you might get from a big chain, like Taco Bell.
“Whatever you do, steer clear of tacos, pretzels and frozen meals when you feel anxious,” says Dr. Susan Albers, a psychologist with Behavioral Health at Cleveland Clinic. “These are all extraordinarily high in sodium. Excessive salt intake can increase your blood pressure, thus boosting anxiety.”
A great way to ensure you are getting plenty of folates is to incorporate broccoli, Brussels sprouts, turnip greens, spinach, lettuce, avocados and asparagus into your regular diet
Another big culprit? Soda. But energy drinks, fruit juices, alcohol and processed carbs aren’t great either. “Foods and drinks that contain refined sugars which send blood sugar levels to surge then crash,” adds Petrucci. “These drops in sugar can contribute to a feeling of anxiety.”
“I find that people of all ages feel happier, less moody and less anxious when they reduce their carbohydrate intake. An overload of carbs—especially highly-refined and processed carbs such as white bread and white rice—can affect your mood,” Petrucci says. “It’s always good to remember the more processed or refined something is, the more it is altered from its natural state, which means the worse it is for your overall health, anxiety and mental well-being.”
Best foods for reducing anxiety
According to Dr. Albers, mandarin oranges are one of the best foods for anxiety.
However, both Petrucci and Zumpano endorse salmon (and other omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish like tuna, sardines and mackerel) as some of the top foods for reducing stress and anxiety as well. “Salmon is a naturally fatty stress relief food containing omega-3 fatty acids that help curb stress hormone levels and support cognitive function,” says Petrucci.
According to Petrucci, bone broth also helps relieve anxiety and helps you sleep better. “The glycine in bone broth can lower anxiety by countering the effects of norepinephrine,” she says. In addition, bone broth is an excellent source of magnesium, which has powerful calming effects.
Petrucci also recommends eating vegetables high in folate, “a nutrient that contributes to a happy, healthy brain,” she says. “A great way to ensure you are getting plenty of folates is to incorporate broccoli, Brussels sprouts, turnip greens, spinach, lettuce, avocados and asparagus into your regular diet.”