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

By Betty Gold
October 06, 2020

Between following the proper protocols for social distancing, grasping to maintain social and familial relationships, managing money and a highly unsettling back to school season, plus trying to get dinner (and breakfast, and lunch) on the table while juggling a zillion other household tasks, I'm sure we can all agree that stress symptoms are soaring these days.

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.”

For the top foods you should eat to reduce symptoms of anxiety, see our guide here. But for those to avoid when things start to get stressful, read Kirkpatrick’s recommendations below.

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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 2012, found that individuals that consumed fast food were 51 percent more likely to develop depression.

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 is in line with several other studies showing a link between excess sugar, inflammation, and mood disorders. 

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 other 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

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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.

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A 2012 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.