Eating junk food when stressed can lead to elevated levels of anxiety: ‘We tend to think about them strictly in terms of weight gain’ | Life-style News

Stress has become an unavoidable part of our daily lives today, often leading us to seek comfort in the tempting flavours of junk food. However, a new University of Colorado Boulder research suggests that indulging in unhealthy treats during times of stress may actually exacerbate anxiety levels, rather than providing the relief we crave. 

Lead author Christopher Lowry, a professor of integrative physiology at CU Boulder, says, “Everyone knows that these are not healthy foods, but we tend to think about them strictly in terms of a little weight gain.”

He adds, “If you understand that they also impact your brain in a way that can promote anxiety, that makes the stakes even higher.”

This counterintuitive finding challenges the widely held belief that emotionally-driven cravings for high-calorie, high-fat foods can alleviate stress and improve our emotional state.

Neha Cadabam, senior psychologist and executive director at Cadabams Hospitals and Mindtalk says, “While that samosa or burger might seem tempting when you’re stressed, it’s ultimately a trap that can intensify your anxiety.”

She adds, “When you stress-eat junk food like samosas or burgers, it messes with your gut bacteria, creating an imbalance that throws off your gut-brain connection. In a nutshell, a high-fat diet can actually trigger changes in your brain that amp up anxiety. Additionally, junk food can lead to inflammation and insulin resistance, which further exacerbate anxiety symptoms.” 

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junk food, stress, anxiety Preservatives, flavour enhancers, and artificial colours can lead to serious issues with your nervous system (Source: Freepik)

Specific ingredients or nutritional components in junk food that are particularly linked to increased anxiety

When it comes to anxiety, certain types of foods as well as foods with certain ingredients can cause more damage. Here are the main offenders, according to Cadabam:

Trans and Saturated Fats: Found in crispy fried treats, these fats cause inflammation and wreak havoc on your brain health.

Refined Sugars: That quick sugar rush? It’s followed by a crash that leaves you feeling anxious and jittery.

Artificial Everything: Preservatives, flavour enhancers, and artificial colours can lead to serious issues with your nervous system, triggering anxiety.

Cadabam informs that these ingredients disrupt your metabolism and brain chemistry, leading to heightened anxiety.

Impact of timing and frequency of junk food consumption on stress and anxiety levels

Cadabam asserts, “The more often you reach for junk food when stressed, especially late at night, the worse it gets. Regular indulgence in high-fat, high-sugar treats leads to chronic inflammation and hormonal imbalances, creating a perfect storm for anxiety.” 

Additionally, late-night munching impacts your sleep negatively, which makes you even more stressed.

Healthier alternatives to junk food that individuals can turn to when they feel stressed or anxious

Cadabam says that the next time you feel stressed out or anxious, you can try these healthier options instead:

Fruits and Veggies: Packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, these powerhouses fight inflammation and nourish your body and mind.

Nuts and Seeds: Rich in healthy fats and magnesium, these snacks can help soothe your frazzled nerves.

Whole Grains: Think oatmeal, quinoa, or brown rice. They keep your blood sugar stable, providing sustained energy and preventing mood swings.

Herbal Teas: Chamomile and green tea have calming properties that can help ease anxiety.

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