Diets aren’t just about weight loss and looking good. Feeling good is just as, if not more, important than what is going on on the outside.
Including a bunch of foods that help with anxiety into your daily diet is the best way to protect your mental health as well as your physical well being. These foods create an anti-anxiety diet tailored to your tastes so you can feel amazing.
Anxiety is a common problem, but its debilitating effects can make it feel isolating and like a burden that you’re left to carry alone. Characterized by worry, nervousness and overthinking, anxiety takes on many forms and affects people in a variety of ways.
While some people may require medication to treat their anxiety, there are several other strategies that ease, manage and prevent anxious feelings.
Exercise, therapy, and deep-breathing are just some of the things you can do to help cope with anxiety. But often, these practices are best supplemented with a healthy diet to reap the full benefits of an anti-anxiety lifestyle.
Since diet plays an important role in regulating our stress and anxiety, it’s essential to nourish your body from the inside out.
Here are 16 science-backed foods that help with anxiety and ease feelings of worry.
1. Soy beans
Many people don’t realize that this plant protein is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which plays a key role in our cognitive abilities and mental well being.
Omega-3-rich foods provide 2 essential fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — which regulate neurotransmitters, reduce inflammation, and promote healthy brain function.
One recent study examining people managing substance abuse used EPA and DHA to reduce anxiety levels during withdrawals.
2. Fatty fish
As well as being another source of omega-3, fatty fish is rich in mood-boosting vitamin D.
One report examined numerous studies and research projects to conclude that vitamin D has a positive effect on those suffering from mental illness. Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, and herring, will provide you with your intake of both vitamin D and omega-3.
3. Pumpkin seeds
Studies linking vitamin E to depression and anxiety suggest that consuming foods rich in this antioxidant would help resist the effects of these mental health problems.
Pumpkin seeds are also an important source of potassium which helps to regulate electrolytes and blood pressure. This has a calming effect on those who may be suffering from restlessness and stress due to electrolyte imbalances.
4. Brazil nuts
These nuts also provide a high content of vitamin E, but it’s their selenium content that makes them particularly helpful for anxiety management.
Depressive and anxious behaviors are often exacerbated by inflammatory disorders and neurotransmission issues. Selenium reduces inflammation, which may improve mental health and mood.
The chemical compound serotonin is hugely responsible for easing anxiety, and promoting happiness and mental well being. Not only are oats a delicious, filling breakfast choice, but they also contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin in the body.
This versatile food can be included in just about every meal and is also an excellent source of tryptophan.
Eggs are considered a whole protein, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids needed for growth and development. This, coupled with their high vitamin D content, makes them a great addition to an anti-anxiety diet.
Avocados not only contain healthy fats, but also contain both vitamin B6 and magnesium, which work together to ease anxiety and promote a healthy nervous system. Magnesium is particularly important in regulating neurotransmitters that send messages around the body.
It controls and soothes the pituitary and adrenal glands responsible for your response to stress. One 2017 review of 18 clinical studies shows how magnesium can be used to treat and prevent anxiety.
8. Dark chocolate
Any excuse to eat chocolate is a good excuse, but easing anxiety has to be one of the best reasons to gorge on this sweet snack.
A 2014 observational study found that 40 grams of dark chocolate helped reduce perceived stress in female students. Like avocados, the high content of magnesium in dark chocolate can be helpful in treating anxiety.
It’s also a rich source of polyphenols, especially flavonoids, which may reduce neuroinflammation and cell death in the brain, as well as improve blood flow.
Most berries are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, including flavonoids. These have been studied for their ability to improve brain health, and thus help with anxiety relief.
10. Chia seeds
As we’ve already explained, omega-3 plays an important role in calming inflammation and reducing anxiety, so you really can’t get enough of it. Chia seeds can be sprinkled into oats, smoothies, salads, yogurt, or even on toast to boost your omega-3 intake and prevent anxiety.
Turmeric is a spice that contains curcumin, which is well known for its role in protecting brain health.
One study examined the effects of curcumin on mice and concluded that just 20 milligrams drastically reduced their stress levels compared to those given a lower dosage. It has also been linked to reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
A 2015 study exhibits how curcumin significantly reduced stress and anxiety in a group of obese adults.
Pickles and other fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kefir, typically contain a high level of probiotics, widely considered to be anxiolytic.
One study suggests a particular connection between probiotic-rich foods and the management of social anxiety, offering a low-risk supplement to other methods of easing anxiety.
Chamomile is an herb often consumed in teas, and is known for its calming properties.
Loved as a natural remedy to stress, it’s scientifically proven to reduce inflammation which can often trigger anxiety. It has also been shown to have positive calming effects on people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GADs).
One study of 179 participants suffering from GADs, which took place over the course of 9 months, proved that those consuming chamomile experienced a greater reduction in their symptoms than those consuming a placebo.
15. Green tea
Replace your stress-inducing morning cup of coffee with a soothing mug of green tea to ease anxiety and still get your caffeine fix.
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Green tea contains amino acid theanine which has been studied and praised for its anxiety-easing benefits. Green tea also contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant said to have similar anxiety-reducing effects as some anti-anxiety medications.
16. Leafy greens
Dark leafy greens have long been known to give you a calmer mood, thanks to the nutrient folate in greens like spinach, collard greens, and arugula. In fact, one study determined that folate reduced the risk of depression in older women who had higher intakes of vitamin B6.
Two leafy greens, spinach and kale, contain nutrients that have been shown to help with anxiety. Kale contains anxioxidants that reduce anxiety, and spinach has anti-stress and anti-anxiety properties.
17. Beans and legumes
The high levels of magnesium in beans and legumes like lentils, beans and chickpeas, are shown to reduce anxiety and stress. Not only that, they contain vitamin B6 and antioxidants that are shown to improve anxiety symptoms.
18. Natural sweeteners
While adding sweeteners to your diet won’t reduce anxiety, using them as a replacement for refined sugar could. Natural sweeteners have significantly a lower glycemic index than artificial alternatives.
Since high glycemic index diets have been linked to anxiety, using raw cane sugar, coconut sugar, agave syrup, honey, or 100 percent pure maple syrup instead of artificial sugars, flavorings, and refined sugar could improve your stress levels and overall health.
What foods trigger anxiety?
In order to manage anxiety, it’s important to steer clear of foods that trigger anxiety. This includes processed foods, as well as foods high in refined carbs, and foods with hidden or processed sugar.
Foods including breads that contain highly processed white flour, fried foods like donuts or mozzarella sticks, most ready-made meals, and fast food are probably best to avoid.
If you have anxiety and depression, certain drinks that contain sugar or caffeine — like sodas, alcohol and coffee — can also increase stress hormone levels, lead to poor sleep quality, and make your blood glucose levels drop.
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Alice Kelly is YourTango’s Deputy News and Entertainment Editor. Based in Brooklyn, New York, her work covers all things social justice, pop culture, and human interest. Keep up with her Twitter for more.