Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. About 40 million U.S. adults (about 18% of the population) experience some form of an anxiety disorder. Fortunately, it’s highly treatable. Effective methods include therapy, medication, complementary and alternative treatments. Although only 37% of people with anxiety disorder receive professional treatment, there are other ways to ease its symptoms.
Is Diet a Factor? The Best Foods to Reduce Anxiety
Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors. This includes genetics and brain chemistry, personality, and even life events. However, one factor experts are exploring is how diet may also be a factor. Craig N. Sawchuk, Ph.D., L.P., from the Mayo Clinic wrote that while there are no diet changes that cure anxiety, actually watching what you put in your body can help. Here are a collection of foods that have been linked to reducing anxiety:
Berries, Leafy Greens, Avocado, Nuts, and Seeds
Food rich in antioxidants help protect the brain against free radicals (also known as oxidative stress). Clinical nutritionist and health coach Melissa Reagan Brunetti, CNC, discussed how foods rich in antioxidants like berries are helpful for anxiety.
“Oxidative stress leads to inflammation, which can impair neurotransmitter production. . . Diets rich in beta-carotene like carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, and kale; vitamin C like citrus fruits, red peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and strawberries; and vitamin E like almonds, avocado, spinach, sunflower seeds, and sweet potatoes, are essential for supporting optimal brain function.”
Asparagus is a very healthy vegetable rich in folic acid. The Chinese government recently approved the use of asparagus extract as a natural functional food and beverage ingredient because of its anti-anxiety properties.
Oatmeal, Quinoa, and Whole-Grains (Complex Carbohydrates)
It is said that carbohydrates help increase the amount of serotonin in the brain, leading to a calming effect. As such, complex carbohydrates like whole grains are great. These include oatmeal, as well as quinoa, and whole-grain cereals and whole-grain bread. However, stay away from simple carbohydrates like sugary food and drinks.
Yogurt, Sauerkraut, and Kefir (Probiotics)
Probiotics are a surprising source of calmness. “Your gut bacteria is needed for the production of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA [gamma-aminobutyric acid], which all play a role in mood,” explained Brunetti.
Drew Ramsey, MD, a psychiatrist who specializes in dietary changes for balancing moods, gave some examples. “I like to see patients eat more fermented food like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir, as the kinds of bacteria in your gut influence anxiety,” he said.
Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which was previously only linked to healthy digestion. A 2011 study revealed how it also helps reduce anxiety. The specific omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) help regulate dopamine and serotonin, which help us feel good and calm. Additionally, salmon contains vitamin D, which has positive effects in helping increase calming neurotransmitters.
Dark chocolate, when consumed in moderation, helps reduce cortisol. In addition, it contains flavonols, an antioxidant that benefits brain function. Some researchers even suggest that dark chocolate’s taste can be comforting for those with mood disorders. About 1–1.5 ounces per serving should be a delicious way to de-stress.
While food isn’t the cure-all, and while a healthy diet does help, remember that seeking professional help can do so much more. However, having scrumptious food at home that’s good for you will definitely contribute to a healthier and less anxious you! If the saying “you are what you eat” is true, then filling our plates with an organic and well-balanced diet could be the first step to reducing anxiety.
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