If the ubiquity of stress-eating is any indication, food and emotions are inextricably linked. Unfortunately, certain foods can be more than a source of comfort—they can also exacerbate and contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety.
"Anxiety can be caused by inadequate brain levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and GABA, which help reduce the influence of stress hormones, as well as excessive excitatory hormones such as glutamate and epinephrine, which can cause an anxiety and stress response," explains Ali Miller, registered dietitian, celebrity nutritionist, and author of Naturally Nourished, in an interview with Prevention. "Processed foods especially tend to perpetuate a vicious cycle of guilt, anxiety, cravings, and overeating, making it hard to stop eating them once you start."
It's important to note that these foods do not cause anxiety, they merely intensify or increase the frequency of it. But if you're a naturally anxious person, they're worth keeping on your radar—especially over the stressful holiday season. According to Miller, these are the common foods and drinks to be aware of if you're prone to anxiety:
White Pasta: As a refined carb, white pasta is filled with sugar that can spike your blood sugar levels and ultimately leave you feeling anxious. In fact, researchers from Columbia University found that a diet high in sugar and refined grains can increase a woman's risk of depression. Other at-risk foods include doughnuts, diet sodas, and white bread.
Beef Jerky: Beef jerky is just one of the many foods loaded with monosodium glutamate, or MSG. This harmful additive can elevate levels of glutamate and increase anxiety and stress. Same goes for packaged foods like dressings, frozen dinners, and flavored potato chips. If you can't kick your beef jerky habit, Miller recommends The New Primal Original Beef Jerky.
Coffee: Perhaps the most obvious culprit on this list, coffee can stimulate your nervous system, release the stress hormone cortisol, and trigger your fight-or-flight response. In other words, if you're feeling even slightly on edge, avoid the java and opt for some green tea or soothing camomile instead.
Head over to Prevention for the rest of Dr. Miller's recommendations, and share your opinion on her list below!