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Anxiety is a natural human emotion. The transition from ‘just an emotion’ to a ‘psychological disorder’ happens when anxiety starts to interfere with your everyday life situations.
But you don’t have to surrender your life to anxiety. There are proven ways like grounding or breathing exercises to cope with it quickly. But as with every quick-fix solution, it is effective for some time at the moment when you have an anxiety attack.
With proven treatment options like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mindfulness, etc., the journey to managing your anxiety at its very foundation is a long-term and a future-proof solution. Along with these effective treatment options, what you eat and drink can actually impact your anxiety significantly as well.
Certain foods are good for anxiety while some are pretty bad.
The good ones can aid in reducing your anxiety physically to help you relax and de-stress. While others can overstimulate your nervous system and exaggerate stress and anxiety symptoms.
Read more on foods that make your anxiety worse.
Apart from managing anxiety in the short term, doesn’t it make sense to include foods to your plate which will promote relaxation and can relieve your anxiety, and ultimately assist you in taking control over it completely?
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Can Foods Cure Anxiety?
Your diet cannot cure anxiety. Because anxiety is a natural emotion, not a mental illness.
Specific foods, however, can help you control your anxiety from spiraling out in situations that matter to you.
What you drink before going up the stage to deliver a life-changing talk can make a difference in how you perform.
What you eat for breakfast before going for that dream job interview can make a difference to whether you nail the interview or not.
What you drink at your friend’s birthday party can make a difference in whether you socialize well and make new friends or not.
What you eat and drink regularly will make a difference in your general mood and whether you stay happy and relaxed or stressed and irritated all the time.
What you eat and drink can make a world of difference to your anxiety.
Foods That Help Reduce Anxiety
Here are seven foods that can help you manage anxiety easily and improve your well-being.
Magnesium is a mineral essential to our health and well-being. It is one of the seven macro-minerals that the human body needs in large quantities but does not produce on its own.
Studies on mice demonstrated an increase in anxiety-related behaviors when fed with diets low in magnesium. This suggested a causal relationship between anxiety and magnesium with comparable studies needed in humans. Foods rich in magnesium may help a person feel calmer and less anxious.
Research studies have shown that Magnesium promotes better sleep by increasing levels of the GABA neurotransmitter. GABA’s main role is to inhibit the activity of neurons in our brains and the central nervous system to make us sleepy. Magnesium is often referred to as the sleep mineral and we can only receive magnesium naturally from our diet.
Foods rich in magnesium are dark leafy greens (baby spinach, kale, collard greens), nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, cashews, pine nuts, flaxseed, pecans), soybeans, etc.
Our body may need only small amounts of zinc but it plays a major role in the creation of DNA, growth of cells, building proteins, wound healing, supporting a healthy immune system, and the breakdown of carbohydrates. It is also associated with our sense of smell and taste.
Multiple studies [1,2,3,4] have found patients suffering from depression and anxiety having zinc deficiency. Other studies [5,6,7] have suggested zinc homeostasis as a possible therapeutic treatment option for depression and anxiety.
Zinc has also been found to be associated with GABA and glutamate regulation, which play a major role in mood disorders particularly anxiety and depression [8,9,10.] Therefore, optimal amounts of zinc may help improve anxiety symptoms and reduce risks of depression.
Foods rich in zinc are shellfish(oysters, crab, lobster), meat(beef, poultry, pork), beans, pumpkin seeds, nuts(cashews, almonds), low-fat yogurt, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals.
Omega-3 rich Foods
Omega-3 fats (also called n-3 fats) are essential fats for our health. They play an important role in the functioning of receptors in cell membranes throughout the body. They aid in the development of hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. Because of its effects, omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke.
A randomized, controlled study on medical students with omega-3 supplementation reported a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms. It was further suggested that lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids might be linked with depression and inflammation with mixed results.
Therefore the research authors concluded that omega-3(or n-3) supplementation can reduce inflammation and anxiety even among healthy young adults, providing the first evidence that omega-3(or n-3) may have potential anxiolytic benefits for individuals without an anxiety disorder.
Foods rich in different variants of omega-3s are seeds(flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts), fish(salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, trout), soybean oil, etc.
There are eight different types of B vitamins and they all support the functions of a variety of enzymes in our body. Vitamin B6 and B12 are the most notable ones which play several important roles in our health and well-being.
Vitamin B6 plays a key role in cognitive functioning, production of hemoglobin, and hormones like serotonin and melatonin. It also prevents clogged arteries and fights inflammation.
Vitamin B12 aids in red blood cell formation, bone health, preventing loss of neurons with age, better skin, hair, and nail health. Recent studies have suggested that Vitamin B12 may play an important role in determining our circadian rhythm.
A recent study provided evidence of reduced risk for depression among women with higher intake of vitamin B6 from food dependent on total calories consumed, and among men with higher intake of B12 from food, independent of total calories consumed. This suggests vitamin B deficiency may cause increased anxiety in some people.
Foods rich in Vitamin B6 are meat(pork, beef, chicken, turkey), fish(salmon, tuna), chickpeas, whole grain cereals like oatmeal, wheat germ, brown rice, red chili peppers, jalapeno peppers, potatoes. Beef liver and clams are the best sources of Vitamin B12 along with meat(beef, chicken) and fish(trout, salmon, tuna).
Avocados and almonds are popular choices as they pack in almost every B vitamin.
Foods naturally rich in antioxidants are always recommended in your diet. Recent studies have suggested anxiety might be related to a lowered total antioxidant state. Another study reported that patients with anxiety and depression had significantly lower levels of vitamins A, C, and E in comparison to healthy participants. After being treated with dietary supplementation of these antioxidant vitamins for a period of 6 weeks, researchers observed decreased anxiety and depression in many participants. Results from these studies suggest that antioxidants may help relieve anxiety and improve well-being.
Foods rich in antioxidants are Herbal plants(Amla or Indian gooseberry, Triphala), berries (blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries), fruits(apples, prunes, sweet cherries, plums, black plums), vegetables(artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli), nuts(walnuts, pecans), beans(dried small red, pinto, black, red kidney), dried ground spices and herbs(clove, peppermint, allspice, cinnamon, oregano.)
Asparagus is often labeled as a superfood because of its rich nutritional content and plethora of benefits. It packs in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Folate, Potassium, Phosphorous, Vitamin E, and small amounts of other micronutrients, including iron, zinc, and riboflavin(1.) Like other healthy green vegetables, it is also rich in antioxidants like vitamin E, vitamin C, and glutathione, as well as various flavonoids and polyphenols(2.)
In one study on mice, an aqueous extract of asparagus stem demonstrated strong anti-anxiolytic effects. This suggests asparagus can be an effective food for anxiety disorders. Based on its anti-anxiety and other medicinal properties, the Chinese government has already approved the use of asparagus extract as a tonic and diuretic agent.
Turmeric is deemed as another superfood and is commonly used as a spice in Indian and South-East Asian cooking. The active ingredient is curcumin which is very well researched for its multiple beneficial properties. A 2017 review concluded that ‘curcumin can help in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia. It may also help in the management of exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness, thus enhancing recovery and subsequent performance in active people.’
All these potential benefits of curcumin suggest turmeric as an effective food to relieve anxiety. It has minimal flavor making it easy to add to meals.
In addition to incorporating the above foods into your diet, always try to eat whole foods and drink enough water to stay hydrated. Look out for the bad eating habits that can unknowingly aggravate anxiety as well.