For people who live with mild to severe anxiety, it can be challenging to manage the symptoms and learn healthy coping mechanisms. Incorporating exercise into your routine can improve your mental health, but what many people don’t realize is that the food you eat can also directly impact your mental health.
Your diet and nutrition are an important part of your overall mental health, so knowing what foods help with anxiety can help alleviate the symptoms of mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.
Some physicians refer to your stomach as your second brain because of the correlation between the food you eat and how your brain functions. It can seem difficult to change your diet — in some cases your entire way of eating — to include foods and vitamins that help with anxiety, but you may find that incorporating a few of these anti-anxiety foods may reduce symptoms of anxiety. Nine foods that can help reduce anxiety symptoms include the following:
It may be surprising that a relationship between salmon and anxiety exists, but the cognitive benefits of eating salmon were examined in several studies. Salmon and other fatty fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Foods rich with omega-3 contain two essential fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA). Both acids improve cognitive function and mental health.
The two fatty acids, EPA and DHA, provide benefits that include the regulation of neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, and promote healthy brain functions. In addition to fatty acids, salmon also contains vitamin D, which can affect mood disorders like depression and anxiety. According to a report in the Journal of Affective Disorders, a vitamin D deficiency can contribute to the development of, or worsen existing mood disorders.
For people who may not like the taste of fish, there is still the option to integrate omega-3 fatty acids into their diet through fish oil supplements. People can take supplements of fish oil for anxiety as an alternative to eating fish. Taking a fish oil supplement has similar effects to eating salmon itself because the omega-3 supplementation reduces anxiety symptoms and inflammation.
A 2015 study focused on answering the question, “Is yogurt good for anxiety?” The study examined the relationship between yogurt and anxiety and reported that fermented foods, like yogurt, can help reduce anxiety symptoms.
Yogurt and other fermented foods contain healthy bacteria called probiotics. Some specific probiotics for anxiety include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. These probiotics can promote a healthy mental state and brain functions. By inhibiting free radicals and neurotoxins, probiotics enable someone to manage symptoms of anxiety better. To get the best results, you’ll want to consume yogurt that has live active cultures as an ingredient to ensure that you’re consuming probiotics.
In addition to reducing feelings of anxiety, yogurt has also been found to reduce inflammation in the body. Some researchers suggest that chronic inflammation may contribute to mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.
3. Dark Chocolate
People who like to indulge in chocolate every once in a while will be delighted to know that researchers have an answer to, “Does dark chocolate help anxiety?” The connection between dark chocolate and anxiety is a result from studies suggesting that dark chocolate can reduce anxiety symptoms and improve mood. Dark chocolate antioxidants, which are called flavonoids, are thought to be responsible for reducing inflammation and cell death in the brain, which results in improved brain function. These effects are caused by the flavonoids progressing blood flow to the brain. This process can enable someone to react better to stressful situations.
Researchers also suggest that eating dark chocolate increases serotonin in the brain, which boosts a person’s mood. Dark chocolate is high in magnesium and research has found that a diet with sufficient amounts of magnesium, whether it’s consumed through food or supplements, can reduce symptoms of a mood disorder. While dark chocolate has health benefits, like most treats, it should be consumed in moderation.
Researchers have examined the relationship between turmeric and anxiety and determined that the spice can reduce symptoms of anxiety as a result of the active ingredient, curcumin. Anxiety can cause chronic inflammation and curcumin is a powerful antioxidant that contains anti-inflammatory elements.
When people use turmeric for anxiety, it can boost omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA. Because turmeric is a spice, it can be easily incorporated into your diet. It is used often in Indian and Southeast Asian foods and you can also add it to smoothies, curries and casseroles. There are turmeric supplements you can take if you don’t want to add it to your food.
Many people drink chamomile tea to help themselves calm down after a busy day. Chamomile is an herb associated with several health benefits, including anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant and relaxing effects. The most common way someone ingests chamomile is by drinking chamomile tea. Anxiety is associated with chronic inflammation, so when someone uses chamomile for anxiety, their symptoms may reduce due to the anti-inflammatory properties of the herb.
Another common way to obtain the mental health benefits of chamomile is ingesting the herb by taking a chamomile supplement for anxiety. Like dark chocolate, chamomile contains flavonoids which can reduce inflammation and promote healthy brain functions.
Not only are eggs a great source of protein for physical health, but researchers studied the link between eggs and anxiety to answer the question, “Are eggs good for anxiety?” Besides protein, eggs also contain an amino acid responsible for creating serotonin called tryptophan. For anxiety caused by a deficiency of serotonin, consuming eggs can increase the amount of serotonin present while simultaneously decreasing symptoms of anxiety.
Egg yolks are an excellent source of vitamin D. Increasing your vitamin D levels can have several health benefits including boosting your mood, which can counter some of the negative effects that lead to anxiety.
Almonds have several physical health benefits, but the association between almonds and anxiety can help improve your mental health as well. Researchers studied the consumption of almonds for anxiety and found that almonds contain a large amount of Vitamin E.
Vitamin E prevents anxiety disorders so even if you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy plain almonds, try drinking almond milk. Anxiety is considered to be caused by low serotonin levels, but magnesium produces higher levels of serotonin in people who have a magnesium deficiency. Eating one ounce of almonds can provide your body with 19 percent of the daily recommended value of magnesium.
8. Green Tea
People living with anxiety may be looking for alternative drinks to replace their coffee in the morning because consuming high amounts of caffeine can generate anxiety symptoms. While green tea does have a small amount of caffeine, it’s much less than coffee and less than black tea. If someone wants to reduce their caffeine intake and reduce their feelings of anxiety, they may wonder, “Does green tea help with anxiety?”
In addition to containing less caffeine than coffee, green tea contains an amino acid called theanine that increases the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. The relation between green tea and anxiety is also influenced by theanine reducing the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the body.
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is an antioxidant found in green tea. Anxiety is often caused by a lack of neurotransmitters like gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), but EGCG helps to increase GABA levels and reduce symptoms associated with anxiety.
Blueberries are known antioxidants, but do blueberries help with anxiety? Blueberries contain Vitamin C, but what makes blueberries good for anxiety is that they contain antioxidants and vitamin C, both of which are useful for addressing anxiety levels in an individual. The connection between blueberries and anxiety is beneficial because research found therapeutic responses in individuals who took both antioxidants vitamin C for reducing anxiety.
Other Foods That Help With Anxiety
While the above are some common foods that help with anxiety, there are others. For example, turkey is known for containing tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is responsible for producing niacin. Niacin helps to create the neurotransmitter, serotonin which increases mood. If tryptophan is in turkey, does turkey help anxiety? According to the University of Michigan, because tryptophan helps with the production of serotonin, turkey may help reduce anxiety. Eating turkey may also help regulate sleep and mood, both of which can benefit people living with an anxiety disorder.
Researchers have also examined the link between chia seeds and anxiety. Chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids like fish do, so by adding them into your diet you can help reduce your anxiety symptoms. A link also exists between Swiss chard and anxiety because Swiss chard is high in magnesium which, like dark chocolate, helps decrease mood disorder symptoms.
Other food you can incorporate into your diet to help with anxiety include:
- Brazil nuts
- Bell peppers
Key Points: Foods that Help With Anxiety
You may eat a lot of these foods already, but knowing how they affect your body and mind can help you stay physically and mentally healthy. Foods rich in magnesium, like dark chocolate; Omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon; tryptophan, like eggs and turkey; and vitamin E, like almonds, can help reduce feelings of anxiety and help you to feel better overall.
Knowing how what you eat affects how you feel can be invaluable knowledge for attempting to reduce anxiety. Nine types of foods that may help people reduce anxiety are:
- Dark Chocolate
- Green Tea
Avoid processed foods because studies have shown that overly processed foods increase anxiety symptoms and make the disorder harder to manage. Beginning a healthy diet is a lifestyle change that can improve your overall mental health. However, sometimes even a dietary overhaul may not be enough to address your anxiety.
If you or someone you know lives with anxiety co-occurring with a substance use disorder, help is available. At The Recovery Village, a team of professionals offers individualized treatment programs to address substance use and co-occurring disorders. Call and speak with a representative to learn more about which treatment program can work for you.
Naidoo, Uma. “Nutritional Strategies to Ease Anxiety.” Harvard Health Publishing, April 13th, 2016. December 26th, 2018. Rajizadeh M.Sc., Afsaneh. Et al. “Effect of magnesium supplementation on depression status in depressed patients with magnesium deficiency: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.”Science Direct, October 14th, 2016. December 26th, 2018. Shelton, Jessica. “8 Foods That Help With Anxiety And Stress.” Psycom, August 14th, 2018. December 26th, 2018. Tuenter, Emmy; Foubert, Kenn; Pieters, Luc . “Mood Components in Cocoa And Chocolate: The Mood Pyramid.” Thieme, 2018. December 26th, 2018. Wu, Aiguo. “Curcumin boosts DHA in the brain: Implications for the prevention of anxiety disorders.” Science Direct, December 5th, 2014. December 26th, 2018.
Naidoo, Uma. “Nutritional Strategies to Ease Anxiety.” Harvard Health Publishing, April 13th, 2016. December 26th, 2018.
Rajizadeh M.Sc., Afsaneh. Et al. “Effect of magnesium supplementation on depression status in depressed patients with magnesium deficiency: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.”Science Direct, October 14th, 2016. December 26th, 2018.
Shelton, Jessica. “8 Foods That Help With Anxiety And Stress.” Psycom, August 14th, 2018. December 26th, 2018.
Tuenter, Emmy; Foubert, Kenn; Pieters, Luc . “Mood Components in Cocoa And Chocolate: The Mood Pyramid.” Thieme, 2018. December 26th, 2018.
Wu, Aiguo. “Curcumin boosts DHA in the brain: Implications for the prevention of anxiety disorders.” Science Direct, December 5th, 2014. December 26th, 2018.