The worst foods for stress, according to health experts

What’s your comfort food? You better not include any of the worst foods when you are stressed, as they may only worsen what you are feeling. It may be tempting to get loose when you are overwhelmed and eat everything that may ease the feeling, but the truth is, experts, suggest that some foods – usually those we actually love to eat – only aggravate our mental health when stressed. 

1. Caffeine

Regardless of whether you do feel the caffeine jitters or not, it is recommended to curb your caffeine intake.

Consuming caffeine is one of the worst foods for stress as it can primarily impact stress in two ways:

  • Overstimulation of the body’s natural stress response
  • Disruption of sleep

When you are stressed, it is advisable to sleep in order to regulate the outburst of feelings along with it.

The body requires time to wind down and recharge to do all its major functions; however, you may not allow your body to do them when you drink caffeinated beverages, keeping you awake and tired. 

Excessive caffeine can negatively impact your adrenal glands by overstimulating the body. Consequently, caffeine may cause a rise in blood pressure and heart rate, increasing feelings of anxiety as well.

In fact, your body may increase its inflammation [1] and stress hormones [2], including cortisol and adrenaline, with only two cups of coffee every day.

Switching your regular coffee to green tea or black tea can help with stress, considering they are also rich in L-theanine, which refers to an adaptogen involved with the body’s natural stress response. 

2. Fried foods

A diet high in trans fat may indirectly affect stress in the body due to inflammation. Trans fat from fried foods is ultimately difficult to break down; hence, they are not the right diet when you are stressed.

Excessively eating fried foods is also part of the worst foods for stress, which makes the body store trans fat and causes the body to work even harder.

Moreover, overeating may also lead to leptin resistance, a condition where your body can’t tell your brain when you are full. 

The worst foods for stress: Fried foods

Following a low-fiber diet is found to be associated with poor gut health [3], and since gut health is linked to mental health, having a poor diet may negatively affect the mental state.

Research suggests that improving your gut health by following a diet rich in probiotics may help improve gut health and ease anxiety and depression [4]. 

3. Added sugar 

The next time you grab cookies, cakes or sugary drinks when stressed, you better think twice before you put them into your mouth because they may worsen your health as well.

Foods that are rich in added sugar may lead to a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, which a normal body needs to regulate. 

Having high blood sugar can disrupt your body’s function in making insulin and cause increased insulin resistance. Your body may go through a crashing period which affects your hormones, resulting in increased cortisol, a main stress hormone.

Plus, too much sugar in the blood can cause blood thickening, similar to syrup, making it difficult for your heart to pump. 

A high sugar intake can also imbalance your gut microbiome and cause inflammation in the body and brain [5]. Neuroinflammation is known to cause increased levels of anxiety, depression and mental fatigue. 

A 2019 research derived a conclusion that sugar consumption exacerbated depressive symptoms through increased brain inflammation. The results were reported after the researchers examined depression during the winter months [6].

Also, the findings are found relevant as it correlates to other studies claiming the relationship between excess sugar, inflammation and mood disorders. 

4. Artificial sweeteners 

You can’t also consume fake sugars, such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharin.

Artificial sweeteners are usually recommended as an alternative to sugar; however, many studies indicate that the use of non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) may only increase inflammation and stress in the body.

Artificial sweeteners are one of the worst foods for stress as they can cause the following:

  • Oxidative stress
  • Promote the production of excess free radicals
  • Result in systemic inflammation [7]

Fake sugars may also cause concerning side effects, primarily disrupting your gut microbiome.

Most artificial sweeteners can trick the body into thinking that they are food, especially when consumed on an empty stomach. They disrupt the insulin response and increase your desire to eat more. 

Aside from negatively impacting your gut health, fake sugars are also linked with depression.

Research shows that people who regularly consume artificial sweeteners are more depressed compared with those who rarely consume them, mostly coming from diet drinks [8].

Additionally, some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners are toxic to the brain as they alter concentration or mood-regulating neurotransmitters [9]. 

There are a few alternatives to artificial sweeteners, like honey or agave nectar, which are perfect for your beverages.

Also, you better keep an eye out for products claiming to have “reduced sugar” or “low calorie” as they commonly give a hint that the real sugar has been replaced with an artificial one. 

5. Alcohol 

Drinking alcohol while stressed may increase anxiety or overthinking because alcoholic beverages modify the activity of serotonin and neurotransmitters in the brain. Some worse alcoholic drinks to consume can be a mudslide, margarita or piña colada.

Plus, some alcohol can give you more than 500 calories putting your glucose and cortisol at high levels. 

Alcohol can also affect the gut microbiome and increase body inflammation throughout the gastrointestinal tract. The high sugar content of some cocktails can also cause increased blood sugar swings, disrupting your sleep in the process. 

Furthermore, there are numerous reports proving the relationship between depression and alcohol, considering that stress is one of the first indications of depression.

A study in 2013 discovered that heavy drinkers might experience rewiring of brain activity, which makes them more likely to have anxiety [10]. 

6. Processed foods

Processed foods are jam-packed with refined and added sugars that are pretty much bad for your health, especially when under stress, as they flood the brain with too much glucose.

The so-called “sugar flood” may lead to brain inflammation that can cause fatigue and depression [11].

Aside from refined and added sugars, processed foods also have deadly preservatives and additives. Some processed foods can be sausages, salami, deli meats and bacon.

The additives used in processed foods, including sodium nitrite, are known to disrupt gut health and may further lead to low energy and mood shifts [12].

Worse, frequent eating of processed foods may lead to stomach and bowel cancer

Instead of eating processed foods, experts suggest eating nutrient-dense whole foods, such as fresh or vegetables, and clean proteins like organic grass-fed beef and wild or sustainably-caught fish.

7. Refined carbs 

Loves eating white bread, rice and pasta? You better drop them when you are stressed, as they only give you calories.

Refined carbs or simple carbs are known to be lacking in fiber and nutritional value and may only slow down your digestion and spike up your blood sugar level, causing mood swings and irritability. 

Also, refined carbs go through the process of removing whole grains, which the gut bacteria love. Some refined carbs are also high in sodium content which causes you to be extra thirsty and to retain more fluid.

So, you better replace refined carbs with brown, wholemeal or wholegrain products. 

8. Soda 

Who doesn’t love drinking soda, right? Some of us drink soda a lot when stressed to relieve the overwhelming feeling and refresh ourselves; however, drinking soda can be bad for you. It is one of the worst foods for stress according to health experts.

The worst foods for stress: Soda

Magnesium is an important nutrient for the body to function, and the body cells need it. During the acute fight-or-flight stress response, calcium crosses over into body cells, and magnesium should be present to kick it back out and basically return the cell to its resting state. 

Aside from high sugar content, sodas also have phosphoric acid, which competes with magnesium absorption. Meaning your favorite sodas are making it harder for you to relieve stress and relax.

In short, drinking soda has no actual wins. Drinking sodas can also spike your blood sugar, and you don’t have any nutrition to gain. 

Research suggests that sugar-sweetened drinks, including soda, may have a direct relationship with depression [13].

If you find yourself craving cola, try seltzer water with a splash of fruit juice instead. It will provide you with a bubbly fix without having excessive sugars that may put your body in a bad place. 

On the other side, having no sugar is not exactly good for your health as well. Drinking sugar-rich sodas may cause an energy crash, but diet sodas can make you depressed.

Diet sodas can lead to feeling more down compared with their sugary cousins – and this is not a good combination when you are stressed. 

The bottom line

Experiencing acute stress is normal and can be resolved in a short time. However, when stress becomes frequent, that is the time you have to be concerned. There are many factors affecting longevity, and chronic stress is one of its leading aspects.

In fact, research indicates that chronic stress can actually shorten one’s lifespan due to the fatal diseases it can cause, including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. 


Photograph: stoockking/Envato
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