How You Can Use Food to Reduce Anxiety

It was surprising to learn that specific foods have been shown to reduce anxiety.

There isn’t a general medically accepted anxiety diet. But this post will outline some of the best foods that you can include in your diet that will help reduce anxiety.

Making healthy changes is an act of self-care. That alone is already going to have an impact on your mental health. Practicing self-care is a strategy used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Please remember that making healthy dietary changes should not replace professional medical treatment. A healthy diet should be an enhancement to any medical treatment of anxiety.

I decided to approach this post by discussing the nutrients that help with anxiety. I have also provided a list of foods for each nutrient.

I have found this website to be a very helpful tool for looking up the nutritional data of a many foods.

Magnesium

Magnesium has a calming effect. It suppresses the release of stress hormone, cortisol and adrenaline. It can also act at the blood brain barrier to prevent the entrance of stress hormones into the brain.

This article in Psychology Today provides a great overview of how magnesium works in the brain.

This blog post details other body functions that magnesium is important for.

The following foods are good sources of magnesium:

  • Green Leafy Vegetables: Spinach, Swiss Chard, Kale, Arugula,
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Legumes: Beans and peas
  • Dairy products
  • Nuts and pumpkin seeds
  • Potatoes
  • Raisins
  • Wheat bran
  • Whole grains

Zinc

Studies have shown that zinc has antidepressant effects in humans. It has been found to be low in people suffering from depression. In fact, the more depressed someone is, the lower the zinc level.

Low zinc also seems to affect inflammation and immunity. The T-cells in our immune system, which hunt and kill infection, don’t work well without zinc. They also release more calls for help, which leads to more inflammation, in the case of zinc deficiency.

Due to depleted soil quality, many people do not get enough zinc in their diet. Also, under conditions of major stress, we tend to get rid of a lot of zinc in our urine, sweat, and saliva. This has created an environment of widespread zinc deficiency.

This article in Psychology Today explains the role that zinc plays in the body.

The following foods are good sources of zinc:

  • Seafood: Oysters, Clams, Crab, Lobsters.
  • Legumes: Beans and Peas           
  • Liver
  • Beef
  • Cashews
  • Whole Grains
  • Egg Yolks

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the brain cause increased neuro-inflammation and continual disruption of signaling between nerves.

There are two omega-3 fatty acids in the brain:

  • DHA: Primarily a structural component for the brain.
  • EPA: The primary anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid for the brain.

If the levels of EPA are low in the blood, they are going to be low in the brain. Also, the lifetime of EPA in the brain is very short. This means you have to need a constant supply in the blood stream to keep neuro-inflammation under control.

A study completed on medical students in 2011 was one of the first to show that omega-3’s may help reduce anxiety. This study used supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids. Prior to the study, omega-3 fatty acids had been linked to improving depression only.

This article in Psychology Today explains how omega-3’s help anxiety.

The following foods are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Fatty Fish:  Salmon, Mackerel, Sardines, Trout, and Herring
  • Seeds: Flaxseed, Chia
  • Soybeans
  • Walnuts
  • Cold-pressed Olive Oil

Probiotics

There is emerging evidence that probiotics can help boost mood and protect the body against the harmful physical and mental effects of stress.

Probiotics can be helpful to establish, or re-establish, beneficial microorganisms in the gut, especially when there is a deficiency of good bacteria. This is why doctors are increasingly suggesting taking probiotics along with antibiotics.

Gut bacteria can be altered by intestinal infections or by taking antibiotics. Both can kill off beneficial or “good” bacteria.

One study found that having an intestinal infection is associated with an increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder over the next two years.

Some studies have linked antibiotic use with developing anxiety disorders later in life.

This article in Psychology Today explains how probiotics help to reduce anxiety.

This blog has a couple of good posts about other benefits of probiotics in the body.

The following foods are good sources of probiotics:

  • Live Yogurt
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kefir
  • Pickles
  • Miso

B-Vitamins

B-vitamins are necessary for production of neurotransmitters which regulate mood and conduct messages through the brain. Anxiety, depression, fatigue, irritability and poor concentration can all be signs of a B-vitamin deficiency.

Compounds in the B-vitamins are needed for everything from the healthy maintenance of brain cells to the metabolism of carbohydrates (the brain’s source of fuel.)

This article in Psychology Today explains how B-vitamins help the brain.

The following foods are good sources of B-vitamins:

  • Green Leafy Vegetables
  • Legumes: Beans, Peas
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Potatoes
  • Avocado
  • *Meat: Beef, Lamb, Poultry
  • *Liver
  • *Fish: Salmon, Mackerel, Sardines, Trout, and Herring
  • *Seafood: Clams, Oysters, Mussels, Caviar, Octopus, Crab, Lobster
  • *Milk
  • *Eggs
  • *Dairy Products: Yogurt, Cheese
  • (*Note: Vitamin B-12 only comes from animal sources naturally.)

Multi-Vitamins

Eating a healthy diet may not be enough for you to get all of the nutrients that your body needs.

The American Dietetic Association analyzed different diets and concluded that no diet, even among the people who ate well, contained 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of needed nutrients.

Taking a multivitamin as a supplement to a healthy diet is the best way to ensure that you are giving your body everything that it needs.

This article in Psychology Today explains how multi-vitamins help anxiety.

Further Reading

Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food

Nutritional strategies to ease anxiety

Eating well to help manage anxiety: Your questions answered

Gut feelings: How food affects your mood

8 Foods that Help with Anxiety and Stress

Anxiety? It might be in your gut

4 thoughts

    1. I started a multi vitamin in tablet form by Jamieson last month. However, after doing research for this post, I have discovered that it is best to take it in capsule form (which means it has powder in it) because a tablet is harder for the body to break down. The link in the multi-vitamin section of this blog post has a lot of good info.

      Liked by 1 person

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