10 of the Worst Foods and Drinks for Anxiety · Parkinson's Resource Organization

10 of the Worst Foods and Drinks for Anxiety


Research indicates that anxiety disturbances are prevalent in patients with Parkinson’s. These disturbances are correlated with poor quality of life and an increased caregiver burden. Given this information, Parkinson’s people may want to increase their vigilance in detecting and avoiding potential triggers of anxiety, including in the food they eat.

According to a July 2021 article in the US News and World Report, processed meats, sugary foods and drinks, alcohol and gluten could give you the jitters. Anxious, jittery, wired and jumpy... people can have those sensations after eating or drinking, although they may not make the connection.

“They feel like they can’t really settle down,” says Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, nutrition specialist based in Boston, Massachusetts, and author of “This Is Your Brain on Food.” It’s “almost a feeling of internal panic when they eat certain foods, but sometimes they don’t realize it’s related to the food they’ve consumed,” she says.

Additionally, a lot of the comfort foods that many people consume during stressful times can actually provoke anxiety, says Dr. Daniel Devine, a Philadelphia-based, dual-board certified internist and geriatrician and co-founder of Devine Concierge Medicine.

Highly processed foods like breads, cakes, processed meats, cheese and ready-made meals invoke anxiety by increasing inflammation in the body, Devine says. These foods are low in fiber and are thought to disturb the normal gut microbiome.

“A diet high in refined carbohydrates and fats leads to high overall levels of inflammation in the body,” reaching the central nervous system and affecting our mood. That leads to greater levels of anxiety, Devine says.

Avoid these Foods to Reduce Anxiety

1. Cakes, cookies, candy, and pies – Foods high in sugar can create spikes in your blood sugar, which is associated with anxiety. If you want something sweet, try fresh fruit, like blueberries, peaches, plums, cherries, persimmons and nectarines.

2. Sugary drinks – Soda pop and fruit juice are typically loaded with sugar. Many fruit juices are also loaded with sugar, but don’t contain the amount of fiber that fruit contains. Fiber slows your digestion, which helps you avoid blood sugar spikes.

3. Processed meats, cheeses and ready-made meals – These foods are associated with inflammation, which can produce anxiety. These kinds of foods are also low in fiber and are believed to disturb the gut microbiome.

4. Coffee, tea, and energy drinks – Beverages that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea and energy drinks, can increase anxiety. The more caffeine you consume, the greater chance of anxiety flaring. 

5. Alcohol – Some people think that alcoholic beverages – which are depressants – can have a calming effect. But this idea can backfire, because drinking alcohol often leads to fragmented sleep and blood sugar spikes, especially if you drink on an empty stomach. Drinking alcohol excessively can lead to dehydration and physical hangover symptoms, which can lead to anxiety. Collectively, hangover symptoms like dehydration, poor sleep, depletion of B vitamins and the alcohol detox process can all lead to feelings of anxiousness and worry.

6. Fruit and veggie smoothies without protein – Smoothies are a great way to get the nutrition of various fruits and vegetables. However, if your smoothie only contains fruit or vegetables with high glycemic indexes, you may experience a spike and fall of your blood sugar level, which can lead to feelings of anxiety. Adding some protein to smoothies can help balance the carbohydrates and decrease the likelihood of sugar spikes.

These good sources of protein make great additions to smoothies:

• Protein powder;

• Nuts;

• Seeds.

7. Artificial sweeteners – There are impacts on anxiety from artificial sweeteners, and diet soda or other drinks that are sold as sugar-free. Although they may be OK for some people, others are significantly affected. Artificial sweeteners have been associated with neuropsychiatric problems, including anxiety.

8. Gluten – Although gluten is not usually discussed in terms of anxiety, a connection may exist. There’s a good amount of evidence showing that gluten is something that individuals with anxiety should consider maybe cutting out, or cutting back on, to see if they might have an improvement. 

9. Hidden sugars – Certain foods may not taste sweet but nevertheless contain sugar. We find added and refined sugars in so many foods these days. Often you don’t realize they’re in savory foods like salad dressings, store-bought tomato sauces and things like ketchup. Stealth sugar in foods can really drive anxiety. 

10. Processed vegetable oils – If eating fast food makes you feel jittery, there’s a possible explanation. Fast-food places often use processed vegetable oils, and those actually worsen symptoms of anxiety. Corn oil and soybean oil are among those that are most concerning. By contrast, avocado and olive oil are fruit oils, so they don’t fall into that category.

Watch out for withdrawal. Abruptly cutting yourself off from caffeine or alcohol can cause a rebound effect. For example, somebody used to drinking four cups of coffee a day who suddenly starts their next day with no coffee whatsoever will likely feel jittery and uneasy.

Most people know they might have a headache from caffeine withdrawal, but they can also appear extremely anxious because it’s almost as if that substance in their body is missing. Same thing with alcohol.

If you’re taking caffeine and alcohol out of your diet, consider gradually decreasing the amount you drink to help prevent these rebound effects. Talk with your health care provider about best strategies for weaning off of medications, drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. It may also be prudent to enlist the help of a nutritionist as you make dietary changes.

Foods to Add to Reduce Anxiety. Adding calming foods to your diet is a good way to stave off anxiety. High-fiber foods break down much more slowly in your body and they prevent that insulin spike and that sugar crash that people might feel when they eat a sugary doughnut. If you can even out your blood sugar it can be more calming for your system. Round out your diet with anxiety-reducing foods and nutrients:

• Fermented foods such as kombucha, miso, tempeh and pickled vegetables.

• Spices like turmeric with a pinch of black pepper.

• Herbal teas such as chamomile, lavender and passionflower.

Make sure you’re not short on essential minerals such as magnesium, potassium and selenium in your blood. Having adequate levels of the B vitamins and vitamin D are also important in lowering anxiety. You can easily incorporate foods containing these nutrients in your diet or take supplements if needed.

Sources: Daniel Devine, MD, a dual-board certified internist and geriatrician and co-founder of Devine Concierge Medicine. Uma Naidoo, MD, a Boston-based, Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, nutrition specialist and author of “This Is Your Brain on Food.”


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Updated: August 16, 2017