Foods That Cause Anxiety and Panic Attacks – Overview
Anxiety and panic attacks are signs and symptoms of stress. Most of the time, it’s the constant interruptions and struggles that lead to panic attacks and not disasters like losing a loved one. For instance, worrying about pending bills can stress you out, leading to anxiety.
When you experience panic attacks for weeks or months, the problem is considered chronic. Unfortunately, chronic anxiety or panic attacks can lead to severe health and well-being issues in the long term, such as cramping, depression, hyperventilation, etc.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are no immediate solutions for anxiety and panic attacks but you can reduce the symptoms by reducing the consumption of foods that cause anxiety.
Therefore, if you experience anxiety or panic attacks, making some changes to your diet can offer you relief.
That said, this review will list foods that can accelerate your anxiety and panic attacks. We’ll also discuss other facts you should know regarding diet and anxiety.
When you consume alcohol, your body releases a lot of dopamine, which then enters your brain. When dopamine circulates in your brain, you will start feeling relaxed and happy.
But these feelings are short-lived; you may feel anxious when your dopamine levels dip. If you’re already experiencing panic attacks and feelings of anxiousness, the feeling will be worse once your dopamine levels dip.
Not only can alcohol cause you to feel anxious, but it can also cause you to be dependent, with studies showing some people with anxiety also suffer from alcohol dependence.
Alcohol consumption can also disrupt your sleep patterns and cause your blood sugar to rise, especially if you indulge on an empty stomach. All these adverse effects due to alcohol consumption will trigger your anxiety and panic attacks.
2. Artificial (Synthetic) Sweeteners
It’s common to see commercials of people eating foods with artificial sweeteners. These include baked goods, concentrated juice, protein powders, sugar-free candy, etc. Unfortunately, synthetic sweeteners cause a multitude of health problems, including anxiety.
How, you might ask? Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, and xylitol have neurotoxins that disrupt the normal function of your central nervous system, causing panic attacks and/or feelings of anxiousness.
A study published in frontierin.org titled ‘nutritional as a remedy for anxiety’ revealed that the feelings of anxiousness caused by synthetic sweeteners might be due to the adverse effects they have on the microbiome and that they also cause inflammation.
Another study, this time by the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), found that aspartame can affect the movement of dopamine into the brain, which shifts the human brain chemistry causing it to be prone to panic attacks.
Most people enjoy a cup of coffee or tea in the morning. Why? Because the caffeine in these drinks effectively stimulates the central nervous system. However, if you have a panic disorder, caffeine can trigger attacks.
Research has proven that administering equal amounts of coffee to persons with anxiety and those without will most definitely cause anxiety and panic attacks in the former, while no visible signs and symptoms appear in the latter.
Caffeine occurs naturally in plants like cocoa, coffee, and tea. Caffeine can also be found in drugs such as cough syrups and painkillers, where it’s used to enhance their effects.
Therefore, if you regularly consume caffeine, especially in large amounts, you should stop. However, stopping immediately can cause withdrawal symptoms, so it’s best to do it gradually. You can talk to a physician to get more advice regarding caffeine consumption.
4. Dairy Products
Dairy products such as cream, kefir, and yogurt contain a lot of vital nutrients like B vitamins, calcium, and protein. Kefir and yogurt also contain bacteria necessary for gut health.
However, the saturated fat in dairy products can cause inflammation in your body. Acute inflammation can be problematic to you, especially in the gut region. For instance, it can cause indigestion and worsen feelings of anxiousness.
Nowadays, dairy products also contain additional hormones. When these hormones enter your body, they can cause hormonal imbalance. If you have anxiety and want to drink milk, try plant-based alternatives like almond or oat milk.
5. Energy Drinks
Like sodas, energy drinks contain high amounts of caffeine and sugar. The high amount of caffeine in energy drinks can be attributed to ingredients like ginseng and guarana. As a result, energy drinks cause anxiety and even insomnia.
According to the ACC (American College of Cardiology), apart from making you feel anxious and lose sleep, consuming energy drinks can also cause abnormal circadian rhythms, hypertension, increased heart rate, and even strokes.
6. Fried Foods
Fried foods such as coated onion rings, deep-fried chicken, hamburgers, potato fries, samosas, etc., are a problem for the human digestive system.
When your digestive system cannot break down food, you might experience gastrointestinal issues like acid reflux and bloating, which can trigger feelings of anxiousness.
How, you might ask? Well, prolonged gastrointestinal issues like acid reflux can cause you to abruptly wake up during the night due to shortness of breath. When this happens often, maybe four times a week, you might start having panic attacks.
7. Fruit Juice
Fruit juices are generally considered healthy, but did you know that most packed fruit juices contain over 85% sugar and only 15% fruit fiber? It doesn’t get better even if you squeeze the juice from the fruits yourself.
Why? Because when you make a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice, you need at least three oranges. This means you typically discard the fiber, which is digested slowly, helping regulate your blood sugar and leaving you satisfied.
Therefore, one glass of freshly-squeezed fruit juice contains a lot of sugar that can harm your health. A better option would be making a smoothie because you will consume all the juices and fiber from the fruit.
8. Food Additives
Additives such as artificial food coloring, MSG (monosodium glutamate), and sodium benzoate can cause anxiety and panic attacks.
MSG, for instance, is present in foods like frozen foods, pre-cooked meals like noodles and ramen, seasoning blends, powdered soups, etc. Studies have proven that MSG can cause feelings of anxiousness as well as depression and migraines.
Artificial food colorings such as Allura red, erythrosine, and tartrazine, on the other hand commonly found in candy and some cheeses, can also cause anxiety.
9. High Sodium Foods
For some time now, fat-free and low-fat foods have been revered as the precise weight loss solution. However, most of these foods have a lot of sodium in them.
These include apples, bananas, carambola, mangos, melons, papaya, pineapple, etc. The high amounts of sodium in these foods can upset some elements of your neurological system.
Not only can this directly lead to anxiety and panic attacks, but it can also mess with your immune system’s response leading to certain health conditions. In addition, consuming high-sodium foods can cause bloating and fluid retention.
10. Light Salad Dressings
Most products labeled as ‘Light or Lite’ compensate for the reduced fat with other additives like sugar. This means if you have anxiety, you should avoid the so-called salad dressings.
A study by Harvard University researchers on ready-made tomato sauce found that half a cup contained roughly one and a half tablespoons of sugar. This means if you had one cup of this tomato sauce, you would consume three tablespoons of sugar.
Foods in the nightshade family, like bell peppers, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, and spices like cayenne, red pepper flakes, and paprika, produce chemical compounds known as glycoalkaloids designed to kill pests but are also harmful to your health.
These chemical compounds inhibit the release of an enzyme known as acetylcholinesterase resulting in overstimulation of your central nervous system. One of the effects of an overstimulated nervous system is anxiety.
Since foods in the nightshade family are commonly eaten foods, glycoalkaloids can accumulate in your body, and it takes about a week for your body to get rid of them.
So, you need to stop eating these foods for a week or more to see if they affect you. Note that cooking nightshades won’t kill glycoalkaloids, so stop consuming these foods.
12. Processed Meats
A host of processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, pepperoni, salami, and sausages may seem relaxing, but they actually do the opposite. These processed meats cause inflammation in the body resulting in feelings of anxiousness.
In addition, processed meats contain a high amount of salt or sodium. Consuming a lot of salt leads to hypertension, increasing your heart’s workload. When your heart is overworked, your body releases adrenalin which causes anxiety.
13. Refined Carbs
Refined carbs have long been linked with an increased risk of severe health conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc. This is because refined carbs have been stripped of the fiber and nutrients that make them healthy.
Refined carbs are milled to remove the fiber-rich portions like the bran and germ, which contain most of the nutrients in these foods. Therefore, avoid products made from refined carbs like white maize flour and wheat flour.
Recent studies by the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) indicate that consumption of refined carbs can also cause anxiety and panic attacks. A 2019 study revealed that consuming refined grains was connected to anxiety among women.
Soda can trigger feelings of anxiety and panic attacks because it contains a lot of added sugar. In addition, soda is very gaseous, which can cause bloating.
What about diet soda? Realistically speaking, diet soda is a healthier alternative to ordinary soda, but it can also make you anxious. In addition, most sodas, particularly colas, have a lot of caffeine which can cause anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
15. Soy Sauce
Pre-packed soy sauce contains gluten, and if you’re sensitive to gluten, you can experience feelings of anxiety when you consume soy sauce. The gluten in soy sauce can also make you feel lethargic, causing you to be unproductive.
Soy sauce also contains a lot of sodium which has also been proven to cause anxiety and panic attacks. Therefore, steer clear of soy sauce if you have anxiety.
There is no way to avoid sugar consumption altogether because sugar naturally occurs in most foods. However, when sugar is an additive, it can accelerate your anxiety or panic attacks.
Some of the foods with added sugar include baked goods, candy, pastries, juices, etc. When you eat these foods, your blood sugar will rise and drop more rapidly than if you ate something with more balanced sugars like berries or oranges.
These blood sugar increases will make your anxiety worse. Blood sugar spikes can cause something as grave as panic attacks for some people.
A 2019 NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) study comprising more than 1000 participants aged 50 and above found that those whose diet contained foods with added sugars experienced anxiety and panic attacks.
Therefore, you should avoid foods with added sugars at all costs to lower anxiety and panic attacks. Some other foods like barbeque sauce, ketchup, and pasta sauce might or might not have added sugar, but it’s always good to check to avoid problems.
See Also: How to Stop Sugar Cravings Instantly?
17. Trans Fats & Saturated Fats
Consuming a lot of trans or saturated fats can increase anxiety and panic attacks. Numerous studies by the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) show the link between consuming these fats and anxiety levels.
The studies found that consuming hydrogenated oils or saturated fats leads causes inflammation in the body, which affects cognitive and central nervous system function, and this makes people vulnerable to feelings of anxiousness.
Trans fats come from foods made with vegetable oils, such as baked goods and pastries like biscuits, cakes, cookies, croissants, pies, etc.
Fortunately, the FDA (food and drug administration) barred trans fats and gave manufacturers and eateries like hotels and restaurants until December 2021 to stop using them.
Saturated fats, on the other hand, are found in animal products like fatty meats and plant sources like coconut and palm oil.
In conclusion, changing your diet is one of the best ways to alter your brain chemistry and prevent anxiety and panic attacks. If you’re consuming the foods listed above, they might be the cause of your anxiety, so stop eating them altogether or consult a dietitian.