Thanks to Harvard Health Publishing for the image

Yes, food influences stress and anxiety!

Toward the end of 2017, we posted an extensive article on how chronic stress causes depression and anxiety.

We also updated the article to include a short piece on stress related to the work environment. You can read the article here.

Stress is an integral part of our lives.

As the above mentioned article states, stress can be a good thing as long as it does not overwhelm our coping abilities. 

Our coping abilities get strengthened when we apply practical techniques such as exercise, maintaining healthy relationships, making time for ourselves, and enough sleep.


We mentioned in that article how eating well is an important factor for building resilience against anxiety and depression.

Food influences stress and anxiety. This article will discuss how food influences our moods. And we will highlight which foods to eat and which foods to avoid to alleviate stress levels.


How Does Food Influence Stress & Anxiety?

> Stress, Diet, and Digestion

Food Influences Stress and Anxiety: Foods that DECREASE Stress Levels

> Tryptophan-Rich Foods

Beef and Foods Rich in Vitamin B

> Omega-3 Rich Foods

> Yoghurt and High-Protein Foods to Boost Alertness

Food Influences Stress and Anxiety: Foods that INCREASE Stress Levels
> Coffee and Caffeinated Drinks
> Alcohol
> Processed Foods


Extra Reading


How Does Food Influence Stress and Anxiety?

"Eating a diet rich in healthy foods like dark leafy vegetables and lean proteins, such as fish, can build a solid foundation for your body and can also reduce inflammation and oxidation... Compounds found in these foods in addition to an overall healthy diet are great for combating the side effects that stress has on our bodies." - Matthew Kuchan, PhD.

Healthy foods work to lower the levels of inflammation in your body.

Too much inflammation causes oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress helps to heal your body under normal circumstances, but out-of-control oxidative stress harms your organs. 

Stress, diet, and digestion

The effects of stress on our eating habits and digestion is significant. Unchecked, it leads to appetite fluctuations and digestive issues.

When stress overwhelms you, your central nervous system will go into "fight or flight" mode.

This mode shuts down your digestion - it restricts blood flow and slows down the contractions of your digestive muscles and decreases secretions necessary for digestion.

This response takes place because your body is prioritising more important physical functions (such as heart and breathing rate). 

An unhealthy digestive system leads to all kinds of health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and mental degenerative diseases.

Stress and diet go hand-in-hand.

Someone on a healthy, balanced diet experiences far less stress than someone on a poor diet.

This is because healthy food supplies the body with all the essential nutrients it needs to maintain healthy hormone levels, blood sugar levels, and energy. 

A balanced body enables us to cope with stress.

Food Influences Stress and Anxiety: Foods that DECREASE Stress Levels

Tryptophan-Rich Foods


This is an amino acid which helps the brain to produce feel-good chemicals. "Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter, helps you feel calm," says San Francisco nutritionist Manuel Villacorta, RD, a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association (now known as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).

Tryptophan is present in foods such as bananas, oats, nuts, and seeds.

Beef and Foods Rich in Vitamin B


Studies show a relationship between the B vitamins, including thiamine or vitamin B1, and mood. A deficiency in B vitamins, such as folic acid and B12, can trigger depression in some people.

Foods rich in B vitamins include organic beef, leafy greens, legumes, citrus fruits, nuts, and eggs.

Omega-3 Rich Foods


Consuming omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, lake trout, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines, can enhance your mood. 

Yoghurt and High-Protein Foods to Boost Alertness


Protein helps stimulate production of the brain chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine.

Like serotonin, they are neurotransmitters and carry impulses between nerve cells.

 Higher levels of norepinephrine and dopamine improves alertness, mental energy, and reaction time.

Sources of protein include Greek yoghurt, fish, meats, eggs, nuts, beans, and lentils.

Here is an informative article you should definitely read from HappyHappyVegan.com. It's a must-read for anyone who has ever wondered if a vegetarian diet and/or lifestyle can significantly reduce stress levels.

Food Influences Stress and Anxiety: Foods that INCREASE Stress Levels

Coffee and Caffeinated Drinks


Some people drink coffee and other beverages that contain caffeine to help boost their energy levels.  

While bingeing on caffeine and sugar may give you a temporary boost of serotonin, coffee inhibits levels of serotonin in the brain.

Suppressed levels of serotonin can make you feel depressed and feel irritable. 

Caffeine is also a diuretic — it makes you go to the bathroom more often.

Even mild dehydration can cause depression.

Caffeine keeps you awake, which leads to stress and anxiety. Remember that you need to sleep well to be in a positive mood.



Some people drink alcohol because it seems to ease stress and anxiety.

The good mood is, however, only temporary. In the long run, alcohol is a depressant. Like caffeine, alcohol is a diuretic. If you drink, drink in moderation.

Processed Foods


Could processed foods, such as hot dogs, sausage, pie, and cakes, cause anxiety after eating?

Researchers in London found that eating a diet of processed and fatty foods increases the risk for depression.

In the study, people who ate fried food, processed meat, high-fat dairy products, and sweetened desserts had a 58% higher risk of developing depression than those who ate "whole" foods, such as fish and vegetables.


- Choose foods such as complex carbs that boost the calming brain chemical serotonin.

- Eat protein at breakfast, so you have energy and your blood glucose levels stay steady.

- Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine, which cause anxiety after eating. Both affect your sleep and can cause edginess.

- Stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause mood changes.

To boost your moo​d, consider adding the following to your diet:

- Chocolate (we're not talking supermarket chocolate!).

- Folate and other B vitamins.

- Low-glycemic foods.

- Magnesium.

- Omega-3 fatty acids.

- Tryptophan.

- In addition, consider adding foods high in zinc to your diet. Findings show that cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolks have been linked to lowered anxiety.

Extra Reading

A study published in August 2015 the journal Psychiatry Research found a link between probiotic foods and a lowering of social anxiety.

A new study published in 2017 in the journal Annals of General Psychiatry linked probiotics with improving symptoms of major depressive disorder, by either decreasing inflammation in the body or by increasing availability of serotonin, the calming brain chemical.

We'd love to hear from you - how has food influenced your stress levels? Have you noticed any changes in your mood since changing your diet?

Freelance Writer & Artist

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