Can diet affect anxiety? Many of us are aware that having the correct diet can help us live a physically healthy life. But did you know that what’s on your plate can affect your mental health as well? Studies suggest that brain health and the food we eat are closely linked. You can help healthily fuel your mind by adding these foods that help with anxiety to your diet.
Symptoms of anxiety
It’s normal to feel anxious during stressful periods of life like exam seasons, job interviews, and many other instances. But when these anxious feelings stay for weeks, months, or even years, they can develop into an anxiety disorder. Some symptoms of anxiety can include:
- Rapid heartbeat and heart palpitations
- Feelings of panic, guilt, and doom
- Difficulty focusing on tasks
- Disruption in the sleep cycle
- Digestive and gastrointestinal problems
- Constant nervousness, restlessness, or being tense
- Feeling fatigued and low motivation
- Dizziness, chest tightness and pain, and shortness of breath
There are plenty of approaches when it comes to treating anxiety, from counselling to medication. Another approach to reducing symptoms is to closely watch the foods we eat. Nutrients can have a negative or positive effect on our emotions and mood. By incorporating a diet of beneficial vitamins and minerals into our daily lives, we can improve anxiety symptoms in a significant way. Here are 10 foods that help anxiety, and promote mental health.
1. Leafy greens
Leafy greens are associated with bone health. But research also shows that they support brain health and can help alleviate anxiety symptoms. Some examples of leafy greens include:
- Swiss Chard
Studies show that low levels of Vitamin C are linked to depression and anxiety — making leafy greens an amazing way to counteract symptoms. These leafy greens are not only filled with Vitamin C and A, but they’re also an excellent source of Magnesium, making them a food that reduces anxiety and supports sleep. In general eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day can boost your mood and lower anxiety.
2. Fermented Foods
The gut and the brain are closely connected through a series of communication networks. There are about 100 trillion bacteria and microbes that live in close interaction with the gut which also plays a role in producing neurotransmitters such as Serotonin. That’s why we want to ensure we’re eating to support healthy gut bacteria. Fermented foods that promote gut health include:
3. Dark Chocolate
It’s not too good to be true — dark chocolate is one of the foods that help with anxiety. Researchers have long suggested that dark chocolate can help reduce stress and anxiety. Additionally, consuming 85% cocoa can promote gut health, positively affect the gut-brain relationship, and produce healthy mood changes. Lastly, dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium. Consuming only 40g of dark chocolate every day for two weeks has been shown to improve the symptoms of anxiety and stress, expecially in women.
4. Pumpkin Seeds
Another food that significantly helps with symptoms of anxiety and stress is pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds are high in potassium and zinc — two essential minerals in regulating cortisol. As a matter of fact, studies suggest that zinc deficiency can play a role in the onset of mood disorders, with women being more susceptible than men.
Turmeric, also called the golden spice, is excellent at reducing inflammation and stress symptoms in people experiencing anxiety and depression. It’s made from the ground roots of plants, with a bright yellow colour. The spice comes in many forms including capsules, teas, and powders — leaving you with various options to get this into your diet. Just one tablespoon of turmeric provides:
- 26% of daily manganese
- 16% of daily iron
- 5% of daily potassium
- 3% of daily Vitamin C
You can easily sprinkle turmeric into meals and smoothies without sacrificing flavour, as it doesn’t have a strong taste.
6. Fatty fish
Omega-3 reduces inflammation in the body and reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. Omega-3-rich foods contain two essential fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid — which regulate neurotransmitters and play a part in cognitive function and mental health. Try incorporating more fatty fish into your diet, including salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, and herring.
Fish like salmon and sardines also contain Vitamin D. Research shows that low levels of Vitamin D are linked to depression and anxiety symptoms. Wild salmon also contains high levels of Vitamin B6, which is known for reducing high anxiety and stress levels. You can also find Vitamin B6 in eggs, beef, and sweet potatoes.
Blueberries are another food that reduces anxiety — rich in Vitamin C and other antioxidants, they are known to alleviate anxiety and promote brain health. In a recent study, children and young adults who were given a flavonoid-rich blueberry drink showed improvement in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Not a fan of blueberries? Try cherries for antioxidants.
8. Chamomile Tea
Sometimes, there is nothing better than a hot cup of tea after a long day. Drinking chamomile tea over a long period shows a significant reduction in anxiety disorder symptoms, especially when it comes to falling asleep and regulating sleep patterns.
Avocadoes are another significant source of Vitamin B6 and Magnesium. Avocados help with the production of serotonin that positively influences mood.hey also contain heart-healthy fats, making them another great meal add-on.
Vitamin B deficiency can trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety in some people. This can be resolved by taking Vitamin B supplements and eating Vitamin B-rich foods like beef. Other Vitamin B-rich foods include pork, chicken, legumes, citrus fruits, rice, and nuts.
Foods to avoid
There are many foods out there that are great for anxiety and depression. However, there are also foods to limit or avoid. These foods can trigger anxiety symptoms and negatively affect your health.
It’s important to note that having the occasional candy bar or donut is okay, but consistently consuming too much sugar, such as consuming soft drinks daily, can be detrimental to your physical and mental health.
Caffeine tends to increase adrenaline, and consuming a high dose can trigger anxiety and panic in some people. Some negative side effects of caffeine include:
- Racing thoughts
3. Processed foods
Contrary to foods that can help with anxiety, highly processed foods lead to higher levels of anxiety and also cause inflammation in the body. Processed foods include fried foods, pastries, and refined grains which can all trigger the onset of symptoms.
Taking care of your body can impact your mind
With a knowledge of what foods can help anxiety, you’ll be better equipped to feed your body and mind. A review of 21 studies showed that a diet consisting of a high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy, and antioxidants is linked to a decreased risk of developing depression and other mood disorders. Try adding these brain-supporting superfoods into your diet to calm anxiety. And remember: it’s completely okay to treat yourself to un-nutritious foods every once in a while. Try having fun with this by taste-testing anxiety-alleviating foods until you find a handful that you enjoy.
Get help for anxiety today
Anxiety is complicated and can be difficult to deal with. So we can’t only rely on diet to alleviate symptoms. Other lifestyle influences that support positive mental health are exercising, getting a good night’s sleep, mindfulness practice, and speaking with a counsellor. Experiencing anxiety? You’re not alone. Online anxiety counselling can help. Our counsellors are equipped to help you navigate anxiety. Speak with a counsellor today.