If you’ve recently lost a loved one, moved away, had trouble finding a job or experienced uncertainty about the future, perhaps you’ve felt anxious and sad. However, if your anxiety and sadness are experienced on a deeper level or over a longer period of time, it could be a sign of depression. Did you know what you eat can affect your mood? We’ve compiled a list of some of the worst foods for depression and anxiety.

Background on Depression and Anxiety

In 2019, over 40 million adults in the U.S. (about 18% of the population) were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and more.

Meanwhile, depression is the single leading cause of disability in people aged 15-44. The most commonly diagnosed form of depression is major depressive disorder, which affects over 17 million adults per year.

While depression and anxiety must be carefully monitored by healthcare professionals and therapists to determine the best mode of treatment, people often wonder if there are changes that they themselves have control over that will lead to improvements in how they feel and their overall quality of life.

Research shows that there are!

Managing Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms

The ADAA recommends several things you can do to help manage stress and anxiety. They break it down into 3 levels: mind, action, and body.

On the mind level, you can:

  • Accept that you cannot control everything
  • Do your best
  • Maintain a positive attitude
  • Learn what triggers the anxiety

Here are some concrete actions you can take to help manage stress and anxiety that can lead to a depressive episode:

  • Take deep breaths when you are feeling stressed
  • Slowly count to 10
  • Give back to the community (volunteering helps create a support network to give you a break from stress)
  • Take time out of your day to meditate, pray, practice yoga, or whatever works best for you
  • Talk to someone about how you’re feeling

There are also several things you can do with your body that will help you symptoms that contribute to depression or anxiety:

  • Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
  • Get enough sleep. Your body needs more sleep and rest when you are stressed.
  • Exercise daily. It will help you maintain good health and help you feel better.
  • Keep a healthy diet.

This last point tells us that you can, indeed take action to help manage how you feel, even through eating food! In the remaining part of this article, we will cover the worst foods for depression and anxiety, so you know what to avoid in order to help you manage symptoms.

10 Worst Foods for Anxiety and Stress

1. Coffee

Coffee, as you probably know, is high in caffeine, which is a stimulant that can cause jitters, disrupt sleep, and induce palpitations. Stay away from coffee and opt for herbal teas instead for your hot beverage fix.

2. Alcohol

Alcohol alters brain function and can lead to deeper depression and addictive behaviors. It is important to stay away from potentially addictive substances at all costs if you are at risk of, or diagnosed with, depression or anxiety.

3. Potato Chips

Potato chips and other processed snack foods are very high in sodium. Eating foods high in sodium on a regular basis can increase your blood pressure, trigger the body’s stress response and potentially lead to hypertension.

4. Glazed doughnuts

Glazed doughnuts are easy to find, admittedly delicious, and easy to eat. However, they are high in added sugar, refined carbohydrates and fat. These seem to make you feel better in the moment, but alter your bodily chemicals. If you aren’t exercising, it makes your body feel jittery and more anxious.

5. Ice Cream

We have all seen those movies and TV shows that show the stereotype of the woman who is going through a hard time eating ice cream straight from the tub. As mentioned previously, we crave sugar when we are stressed, but ice cream is high in refined sugar, which can increase stress hormones and make your blood sugar levels (and thus insulin levels) skyrocket.

6. Chocolate bars

Chocolate bars have the same effects as the glazed donuts and ice cream. That being said, this is a good example of the connection between food and self-esteem. Studies show that binging on high-calorie foods when we are feeling down often leads to body image dissatisfaction and low self-esteem. This, in turn, can worsen depression.

7. French Fries

It is easy to eat too many of these, and they have many of the same negative effects on our bodies as potato chips.

8. Canned soups

Canned soups contain a preservative substance called bisphenol A (BPA), which is still used in most plastic containers and tin can liners. BPA is a chemical that acts like a hormone, and can throw off mood-stabilizing elements of the brain and nervous system, and can even alter the part of the brain that mediates stress. Stay away from it at all costs!

9. Juices

Juices, even natural ones, take out all of the good fiber from fruit and, instead deliver mostly the easily digested carbs, thus elevating blood sugar. Many of them also use artificial sweeteners. Blood sugar spikes lead to insulin highs, which can alter stress mediation in the body.

10. Fast Food

Okay, while it is not exactly one food, fast food, in general, is the epitome of everything described above. Moreover, its high in trans fats. Stay away from fast food if you are at risk of or experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

What should I eat instead?

Instead of eating the above-mentioned foods, opt for lots of fruits and vegetables in easy-to-eat portions. Try incorporating whole grains, nuts, seeds, and lean protein, like fish and chicken. Many people swear by the Mediterranean diet, which is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Managing symptoms of depression and anxiety must be a team effort between you, your therapist and/or physician and your support network. Taking concrete actions, like avoiding certain foods and eating more of others, helps you take your illness into your hands, improving your sense of self-esteem and power over your situation.

If you are experiencing feelings of depression or feeling hopeless, please call the free National Institute of Mental Health hotline at (866) 615-6464.

10 Worst Foods for Depression and Anxiety
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4 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the great information :D I am weaning myself off coffee because it is raising my anxiety response. What are your recommendations for ‘safe’ treats if you suffer from depression and anxiety?Lowen @ livingpositivelywithdisability.com

    • Hi Lowen,

      It will vary from person to person, but eating foods with natural sugar is a good place to start. You can even try a treat that you might of had as a kid – banana rolled in peanut butter and crushed graham crackers. Other great treats include blueberries, dark chocolate or yogurt mixed with fruit and honey. Personally I love Noosa yogurt – my favorites are blueberry or key lime pie – or a k-cup of hot chocolate. Those are enough to satisfy my sweet tooth without being too high in sugar.

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