General anxiety disorder is one of the most common types of mental health issues, affecting 40 million adults in the United States alone. Anxiety can be caused by many things, from stressors at work to the foods we eat, and it manifests in different ways in the body, including emotional and physiological symptoms. There are also many avenues one can take to manage these symptoms, ranging from prescribed antidepressants to a daily jog to release endorphins. However, one of the strongest paths to explore is proper diet.
A diet based in whole foods and a variety of food groups is key for a balanced state of mind. Vegetables, fruits, legumes, and lean proteins are all part of an anti-anxiety diet, which should also include anti-inflammatory foods, such as omega-3s found in fatty fish and nuts. Inflammation can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, and quelling inflammation is possible through the consumption of omega-3s and other anti-inflammatory foods.
An anti-anxiety diet should also include probiotics that foster healthy gut bacteria, which in turn improve the communication between the gut and the brain (the “gut-brain axis”) to help release neurotransmitters that regulate mood, such as serotonin.
Eating functional foods – meaning they don’t just taste good but also help create a healthier body – is a great way to manage feelings of anxiety. Your diet can play a huge role in helping reduce panic attacks and feelings of social anxiety every day.
Ten foods that can help you manage anxiety:
1. Brazil Nuts
These nuts are a tasty, savory snack that not only fill you up but also provide a host of mental health benefits.
- Brazil nuts contain selenium, an antioxidant that reduces inflammation, calming oxidative stress that contributes to symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- They are high in vitamin E, an essential antioxidant that lowers oxidative stress and has been proven helpful as a supplement to treat anxiety disorder.
- Don’t have too much of a good thing! The body can only handle up to 400 micrograms of selenium a day, so you shouldn’t eat more than one serving (3–4 Brazil nuts).
This herbal remedy is known to help with a sore throat or upset stomach, but its anti-inflammatory effects may reduce feelings of anxiety as well.
- Chamomile contains flavonoids that are believed to have relaxant and anti-anxiety properties.
- It can help you fall asleep, calming racing thoughts.
- Anywhere from one to four cups of chamomile tea per day can be part of a healthy diet.
3. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are packed with key nutrients like potassium, zinc, and magnesium.
- Potassium and magnesium help regulate blood sugar and manage electrolyte balance, which can prevent anxiety-provoking symptoms, like irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure.
- Zinc is stored in the region of your brain involved in expressing emotions, and a zinc deficiency has been linked to a negative mood. An extra bit of zinc can be helpful in your everyday life!
- Pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that the body turns into serotonin, regulating mood and contributing to feelings of calm.
Asparagus is a nutrient-dense vegetable that contains fiber, folate, and vitamins A, C, E and K.
- Asparagus contains a high amount of folate, a B vitamin essential for proper neurotransmitter function and the release of serotonin and dopamine.
- Asparagus extract has been used as a natural medicinal product in ancient Chinese medicine, due to its tonic and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) qualities.
- One cup of asparagus contains 66% of the recommended daily folate value.
Produced by the bacterial fermentation of milk, yogurt contains probiotics that feed your gut.
- The gut lining houses 95% of our serotonin receptors, which means fermented foods like yogurt can support healthy serotonin release, strengthening the “gut-brain axis.”
- Yogurt can have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, aiding in relieving anxiety caused by inflammation.
- Experts recommend anywhere from one to three cups of yogurt per day (if you can handle dairy!). Be sure it doesn’t have added sugar, which is inflammatory.
6. Fatty Fish
A key source of omega-3 fatty acids, eating fish is associated with better cognitive and mental health.
- Fish contains EPA and DHA, two essential fatty acids that regulate neurotransmitters and have shown to be helpful in reducing anxiety symptoms for people who suffer from substance abuse.
- Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are great sources of these anti-inflammatory nutrients.
- It’s recommended to eat these fatty fish two or three times a week or take a quality fish oil supplement as an alternative.
This medicinal spice is a great addition to any soup or curry, adding both flavor and healing properties to any meal.
- Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
- Turmeric can enhance expression of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which affects your brain’s development of depression and anxiety symptoms, stimulating the release of “happy hormones,” like serotonin and dopamine.
- Add turmeric to your favorite dishes or take it in supplement form for a higher concentration of curcumin. (The recommended daily dose ranges from 500 to 2,000 mg of turmeric per day, based on your unique needs.)
8. Dark Chocolate
We’re thrilled to hear chocolate can be good for anxiety, aren’t you? Dark chocolate or cocoa in its purest form contain flavonoids that reduce neuroinflammation and improve blood flow.
- Dark chocolate contains tryptophan, the amino acid used to release serotonin.
- Cocoa contains polyphenols, a compound that can enhance feelings of calm.
- Choose dark chocolate that is 70% pure dark cocoa, preferably without added sugar.
You probably know leafy greens are an important component of a balanced diet, but they also contain nutrients that support your mental well-being.
- Spinach is a great source of magnesium, an essential mineral that combats stress and anxiety.
- Its magnesium content can regulate levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well as help lower blood pressure.
- One cup of fresh spinach per day can support mental health. Add spinach to your next smoothie or omelet!
10. Kidney Beans
Perfect to add to chili or tacos, kidney beans contain vitamins and minerals that can help ease anxiety symptoms.
- Kidney beans are a good source of iron, supporting hemoglobin and helping the lungs transfer oxygen to the rest of the body. This can give you more energy and stamina, alleviating the symptoms of fatigue that may occur from anxiety.
- Kidney beans contain a good amount of folate, an essential B vitamin that supports your mental health and energy levels.
- The recommended daily dose of kidney beans ranges from 25 to 30 grams per day.
Avoiding inflammatory foods
When trying to improve any aspect of your diet, it’s best to avoid refined sugar and processed foods. Sugar provides immediate satisfaction – a sugar rush, if you will – and too much of it can decrease your BDNF, the protein that helps minimize feelings of depression and anxiety. Sugar also spikes your blood sugar levels, which directly impact your mood and emotional well-being.
Also try limiting excess alcohol or caffeine, as these substances can wreak havoc on the chemical processes in your body, resulting in inflammation that can amplify anxiety symptoms. Inflammatory foods tend to include gluten, corn, soy, sugar, and dairy, however, there are ways to eat these foods in moderation or replace them with alternatives, depending on what works best for your body.
At the end of the day, remember to listen to your body and make informed choices about what will make you feel and perform better throughout the day. These self-determinations make up your bio-individual needs, or the foods and routines that work best for your unique health journey.
An IIN health coaching education can provide you with an individualized approach to eating, helping you use your intuition to feed your body what it needs. Download the Curriculum Guide today to learn more about the framework we teach for holistic health.