Anxiety: Top Anti-Anxiety Foods / What Foods to eat or Avoid

What anti-anxiety foods to eat if I have Anxiety or Depression
What Foods to Avoid If You Have Anxiety or Depression
How to regain your appetite if you lose it because of anxiety
Stay tuned to know all that and more.

Foods that calm your nerves are also anti-anxiety foods!
That’s because anxiety and the nervous system are closely linked.

When you are anxious, your nervous system is in fight-or-flight mode, while, when you calm down, your nervous system is in rest mode.

So, …

…food good for nerves is also good for calming anxiety!

Of course, no single food alone can relieve your anxiety, but eating calming foods alongside a healthy and balanced diet can help you manage anxiety through food more effectively!

In this article, I share my top 10 anti-anxiety foods, a list of foods that I compiled over the years while managing my anxiety with diet.

Top 10 anti-anxiety foods

The following list of foods are my top anti-anxiety foods and they are so nutritious that they also some of my favorite anti-anxiety foods.

If you happen to dislike any of the foods on my list, then look to add foods to your diet that are a great source of antioxidants, B vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, tryptophan (amino acid), and/or essential minerals.

1. Brown Rice

Brown rice is very nutritious and is one of my favorite anti-anxiety foods.
It is a great source of complex carbohydrates that are

“metabolized more slowly and therefore help maintain a more even blood sugar level, which creates a calmer feeling”. Harvard Health

Brown rice is also rich in manganese, selenium, magnesium, and B vitamins – all of which are important for your nervous system and mental health.

Selenium helps to improve mood by reducing inflammation. Studies show that inflammation is often raised when someone has a mood disorder, like anxiety.
Magnesium helps to calm nerves. It’s also essential for memory and learning.

Research shows that diets low in magnesium increase anxious behavior.
Inadequate magnesium reduces serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates anxiety, happiness, and mood.
Low levels of magnesium have also been linked to many neurological diseases.
Manganese – studies show that low levels of manganese are associated with mental disorders.

B Vitamins are essential for synthesizing and circulating neurotransmitters – brain chemicals that regulate digestion, respiration, and heartbeat.

According to Harvard Medical School foods rich in B vitamins help ward off anxious feelings. “B vitamins have positive effects on the nervous system, and deficiencies have been linked to anxious disorders,” says Brunetti.

2. Green Bananas

Bananas are an excellent source of potassium, an essential mineral that helps with nerve transmission, muscle function, and maintaining fluid status in cells.
Eating potassium-rich foods such as bananas, help to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Green bananas are more stable on blood sugar than ripe bananas, which is important for health, and when managing anxiety. Sudden changes in blood sugar levels can raise anxiety symptoms.

Bananas are also a good source of magnesium and manganese.

3. Salmon

According to research eating salmon has cognitive benefits.
Salmon and other fatty fish – such as mackerel, trout, and herring – are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, a nutrient that has an important role in cognitive functioning.

Omega 3 fatty acids serve to protect nerves – nerves have sleeves of fatty tissue containing high levels of fatty acid. Studies show that a deficiency in this nutrient can lead to nerve damage, smaller brain volume, and poor mental performance.
Omega 3 fatty acids also help to regulate neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, as well as promote healthy brain function!
In addition to healthy fats, salmon also contains vitamin D which is another important nutrient for mental health. A lack of vitamin D affects mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

According to a report in the Journal of Affective Disorders, vitamin D deficiency can contribute to the development of, or worsen existing, mood disorders.

Salmon is rich in B vitamins and minerals including selenium, potassium, and magnesium.

Consuming fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring 2-3 times a week can help you get sufficient amounts of omega 3 fatty acids in your diet.

One study found that men who ate salmon three times a week reported reduced anxiety.

4. Chamomile Tea

Chamomile is an ancient herbal remedy with many healing properties.
It’s high in antioxidants proven to reduce inflammation, reducing the risk of anxiety.

Chamomile is also antibacterial and has relaxant properties.

Multiple studies show that there is a positive connection between chamomile and anxiety relief. Patients diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experienced a significantly greater reduction in symptoms after consuming chamomile extract, compared to those who did not.

One study showed that patients who consumed chamomile extract for eight weeks experienced reduced symptoms of both depression and anxiety.

5. Turkey Breast

Turkey breast without the skin is a great source of low-fat protein.
It is also high in tryptophan, an amino acid that the body needs to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate sleep and moods.

Studies also show that tryptophan may help reduce anxious feelings.

Turkey is a good source of selenium as well.

6. Almonds

Almonds provide a significant amount of brain-protecting vitamin E and are a good source of magnesium; both are which are important for mental health.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant and it protects cell membranes from free radical damage thus helps to slow mental decline. Studies show that vitamin E helps to reduce anxiety in humans.

As mentioned above inadequate magnesium reduces the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain which affects mood disorders.

Almonds are also rich in healthy fats that promote brain health.

7. Butternut Squash

Butternut squash is packed full of mood-boosting ingredients.
It’s a good source of magnesium, potassium, and manganese; all critical minerals for managing anxiety and mental health.

Butternut squash is also high in antioxidants – vitamin A and vitamin C.

One cup of butternut squash provides 49 percent of the daily recommended intake for vitamin C and a whopping 298% of vitamin A.

Vitamin C helps to boost the immune system and central nervous system, as well as take part in the creation of neurotransmitters.

Both antioxidants help fight disease-causing free radicals, minimize oxidative stress and damage to your cells.

8. Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are awesome for mental health and your anxiety.
They are packed with lots of brain and mood-boosting nutrients.

Flaxseeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. But they are also a great source of plant protein, as well as B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, manganese, selenium, iron, and zinc.

We’ve already mentioned the importance of omega 3, B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, and selenium.

Zinc – is super important for nerve signaling. Studies show that low levels of zinc are associated with mental disorders, and many neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and depression.

Iron – Low iron can result in low serotonin, and dopamine, contributing to many common anxiety symptoms such as panic, irritability, insomnia, poor concentration, and restlessness.

9. Carrots

Carrots are exceptionally rich in antioxidants, proven to improve mental health. 1 cup of raw carrots (128g) contains 428% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A. They also contain a high amount of the calming mineral, magnesium.

10. Oatmeal

Rolled oats or old-fashioned oats (not fortified) are a great source of nutrients.
They provide blood-sugar-stabilizing complex carbs and are a good source of plant protein.

Oats are also high in essential minerals such as manganese, selenium, magnesium, and iron, all required for mental health.

  • What anti-anxiety foods to eat if I have Anxiety or Depression

    1. Brown Rice

    2. Green Bananas

    3. Salmon

    4. Chamomile Tea

    5. Turkey Breast

    6. Almonds

    7. Butternut Squash

    8. Flaxseeds

    9. Carrots

    10. Oatmeal

How to regain your appetite if you lose it because of anxiety

Black says she knows she should be eating, and has taken precautions to ensure her health is still a priority. She makes herself eat soup and tries to stay active.

“I make sure to go for a long walk twice a day with my dog to make sure my muscles aren’t atrophying from the weight loss, I do yoga to stay focused, and I play the occasional pick-up soccer game,” she says.

If you’ve lost your appetite due to anxiety or stress, try taking one of these steps to regain it:

1. Identify your stressors

Figuring out the stressors that are causing you to lose your appetite will help you get to the root of the problem. Once you identify these stressors, you can work with a therapist to figure out how to control them.
“Focusing on stress management will, in turn, lead to a decrease in physical symptoms associated with stress,” Purkiss says.

In addition, Purkiss recommends being aware of the physical sensations that can accompany stress, such as nausea. “When you’re able to determine that nausea is likely related to these feelings, it should be a cue that even though it may feel uncomfortable, it is still essential to eat for health,” she says.

2. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep

Li says that getting sufficient restful sleep is crucial for combating lack of appetite due to stress. Otherwise, the cycle of not eating will be more difficult to escape.

3. Consider eating on a schedule

Purkiss says a person’s hunger and fullness cues only regulate when someone’s eating consistently.
“Someone who has been eating less as a response to a decrease in appetite may need to eat ‘mechanically,’ in order for hunger cues to return,” she says. This can mean setting a timer for meal and snack times.

4. Find foods you can tolerate, and stick to them

When my anxiety is high, I often don’t feel like eating a big, indulgent meal. But I still know I need to eat. I’ll eat mild foods like brown rice with chicken broth, or white rice with a small piece of salmon, because I know my belly needs something in it.
Find something you can stomach during your most stressful periods — maybe a food bland in flavor or one dense in nutrients, so you don’t have to eat as much of it.

Foods to Avoid If You Have Anxiety or Depression

Fruit Juice

The fiber in whole fruit fills you up and slows down how your blood takes in energy. Without that fiber, you’re just drinking nutritious sugar-water that can quickly hype you up — and bring you down just as fast. That can leave you hungry and angry — “hangry.” That won’t help anxiety and depression. Eat your fruit whole. When you’re thirsty, drink water.

Regular Soda

There’s no win for you here: It has all of the blood-spiking sugar of fruit juice with none of the nutrition. Sugar-sweetened drinks like soda have a direct link to depression, too. If you crave a pop, try seltzer water with a splash of juice instead. It’ll give you a bubbly fix without too much of the stuff you don’t need.

Diet Soda

No sugar, so no problem, right? Not exactly. You may not have the energy crash that comes with having too much sugar, but diet soda may make you depressed. In fact, it could make you feel more down than its sugary cousin would. Too much of the caffeine that many sodas have can be bad for anxiety, too.

Toast

Wait, toast?! If it’s made from white bread, yes. The highly processed white flour it’s made from quickly turns to blood sugar after you eat it. That can cause energy spikes and crashes that can be bad for anxiety and depression. You can have your toast — and eat it, too. Just use whole-grain bread.

‘Light’ Dressing

You might know to avoid some pre-packaged dressings and marinades loaded with sugar, often listed as “high-fructose corn syrup.” But what about “light” or “sugar-free” dressings? Many get their sweetness from aspartame, an artificial sweetener linked to anxiety and depression. Check the ingredients or, better yet, make your dressing at home from scratch.

Ketchup

It’s mostly tomatoes, right? Well, yes, and sugar, lots of sugar. Four grams per tablespoon, to be exact. And the “light” stuff may have artificial sweeteners that could be linked to anxiety and depression. Try homemade tomato salsa instead. Want a little kick? Add a bit of cayenne pepper.

Coffee

If you’re not used to it, the caffeine in it can make you jittery and nervous. It could also mess up your sleep. Neither helps anxiety or depression. Caffeine withdrawal can make you feel bad, too. If you think it causes you problems, cut caffeine out of your diet slowly. If you’re OK with it, or drink decaf, coffee can actually help make you feel less depressed.

Energy Drinks

They can cause weird heart rhythms, anxiety, and sleep issues. That’s because it’s not always easy to know the sky-high caffeine levels hidden in ingredients like guarana. These beverages often have loads of sugar or artificial sweeteners, too. Drink water if you’re thirsty. Want a sugar hit? Eat a piece of fruit.

Alcohol

Even a little can mess up your sleep. Not enough rest can raise anxiety and cause depression. Too many ZZZs can cause even more problems. That said, a drink could calm your nerves and make you more sociable. That can be good for your mental health. The key is dosage: A drink a day for women, and two a day for men, is the limit.

Frosting

It’s the sugar, right? Well, yes, but that’s not all. It’s also loaded with around 2 grams of “trans fats” per serving. They’re linked to depression. Sometimes called “partially hydrogenated oils,” they’re also in fried foods, pizza dough, cakes, cookies, and crackers. Check your labels. If you do eat fat, make it the “good” kind you get from foods like fish, olive oil, nuts, and avocado. Those can lift your mood.

Soy Sauce

This one is only for people who are sensitive to gluten. In addition to breads, noodles, and pastries, it’s also in prepackaged foods like soy sauce. If you’re sensitive to gluten, it can cause anxiety or depression. It can also make you feel sluggish and not at your best. Check labels and try to steer clear.

Processed Foods

If you eat lots of processed meat, fried food, refined cereals, candy, pastries, and high-fat dairy products, you’re more likely to be anxious and depressed. A diet full of whole fiber-rich grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish can help keep you on a more even keel.

Doughnuts

We all love them, and little treats now and then can help your mood. But just so you know: Doughnuts have all the wrong kinds of fats, snow-white flour with little fiber to slow absorption, and lots of added sugar. So, if you must, make them a treat, not a routine.

The bottom line

Anxiety is a complicated mental health disorder that requires a multitude of approaches to manage it effectively.

Along with medication and therapy, the foods you eat may help support your mental health, reduce symptoms of anxiety, and promote better brain health. In particular, whole, minimally processed foods high in antioxidants appear beneficial.

However, there’s not enough research to support using food as a first-line treatment for anxiety and therefore should not replace any medications or therapies recommended by your healthcare provider.

Nonetheless, adding these foods to your diet is a great way to support brain health and overall well-being.

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