5 Foods to Avoid When You're Feeling Stressed, According to an RD

Because we'll try anything to reduce our anxiety right now.

Between our regular workloads, managing money, back-to-school season, plus trying to get dinner (and breakfast and lunch) on the table while juggling other household tasks, it's easy to feel stressed on the regular.

Figuring out the best methods for managing anxiety is incredibly important for your overall health and immune system. One often overlooked way to keep stress at bay? Choosing wholesome foods that are also good for your gut. "There is over a decade of research showing a connection between our diet, gut health, and our mental health outcomes," says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, and former lead dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. "Studies show that certain foods may help reduce the risk and symptoms of depression and anxiety, perhaps through mechanisms related to both gut health and inflammation."

Luckily, there are foods you can eat to reduce symptoms of anxiety. As for the worst foods to eat when you're experiencing symptoms of anxiety, read Kirkpatrick's recommendations below.

01 of 05

Fast Food and Junk Food

fast-food
angelo pantazis

A 2019 study found that poor diet quality was linked to poor mental health, regardless of factors such as gender, age, education, marital status, and income level. The study showed that fried foods, foods high in added sugar, and refined grains were all associated with increases in depression. Another study, published in 2013, found that individuals who consumed fast food were more likely to develop depression.

02 of 05

Sugar

sugar-coffee
clarissa carbungco

A 2019 study examining depression during the winter months found that consumption of sugar exacerbated depressive symptoms by increasing inflammation in the brain. This finding correlates with several other studies linking excess sugar, inflammation, and mood disorders.

03 of 05

Low-Fiber Diets

low-fiber-diet
kristina bratko

Low-fiber diets (such as those found in the "Western" diet) are associated with poor gut health. In turn, gut health is highly correlated with mental health outcomes. Multiple studies show that improvements in gut health (through diet and probiotics) may help to improve overall gut health and can positively impact anxiety and depression.

RELATED: Top 10 High-Fiber Foods for Great Gut Health

04 of 05

High-Fat Diets

high-fat-diet
jon tyson

A 2015 animal study found that body weight and blood sugar changes caused by a high-fat diet caused changes in the brain that increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. Another animal study, published in 2017, found that pregnant primates that consumed a high-fat diet were more likely to produce offspring that developed depression and anxiety.

05 of 05

Alcohol

beer
fabio alves

A 2013 study found that heavy drinkers had a rewiring of brain activity that made them more likely to have anxiety. Other studies in teens found that binge drinking increased future occurrence of depression and anxiety.

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  2. Banta JE, Segovia-Siapco G, Crocker CB, Montoya D, Alhusseini N. Mental health status and dietary intake among California adults: A population-based survey. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. 2019;70(6):759-770. doi:10.1080/09637486.2019.1570085

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  7. Yang B, Wei J, Ju P, Chen J. Effects of regulating intestinal microbiota on anxiety symptoms: A systematic review. Gen Psych. 2019;32(2):e100056.

  8. Zemdegs J, Quesseveur G, Jarriault D, Pénicaud L, Fioramonti X, Guiard BP. High-fat diet-induced metabolic disorders impairs 5-HT function and anxiety-like behavior in mice: Correlation between metabolic disorders and anxiety. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2016;173(13):2095-2110.

  9. Thompson JR, Valleau JC, Barling AN, et al. Exposure to a high-fat diet during early development programs behavior and impairs the central serotonergic system in juvenile non-human primates. Front Endocrinol. 2017;8:164.

  10. Pacek LR, Storr CL, Mojtabai R, et al. Comorbid alcohol dependence and anxiety disorders: a national survey. Journal of Dual Diagnosis. 2013;9(4):271-280.

  11. Bohnsack JP, Teppen T, Kyzar EJ, Dzitoyeva S, Pandey SC. The lncRNA BDNF-AS is an epigenetic regulator in the human amygdala in early onset alcohol use disorders. Transl Psychiatry. 2019;9(1):34.

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