The Anti-Anxiety Diet: Eat Your Way To Less Stress

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As strange as it may seem, much of our mental health is determined by our digestive system. What we feed our bodies can drastically effect our emotions, which is great news in that it means we can address certain issues—such as anxiety—holistically, using food as medicine. Here, 10 things anxiety-sufferers need to add to their diets before holiday-season madness (and its requisite sugar highs) kicks into high gear.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is high in magnesium and I-theanine, which are natural relaxants. Research has shown that eating 40 grams of dark chocolate every day for 2 weeks affects the way stress hormones are metabolized, and that people who drank 1.5 ounces of a dark-chocolate drink every day felt less anxiety than those who did not.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-rich foods can help reduce inflammation in the brain and prevent “the stress hormone,” cortisol, from spiking to levels that cause anxiety and panic attacks. Try adding fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines to your diet for best results.

Protein

Protein stimulates the production of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Studies have shown that people with higher dopamine stores in their brain scored lower on tests for anxiety than those with lower levels. Meat is a great source of protein—and organ meats are especially beneficial as they contain vital anti-anxiety nutrients such as vitamin D—but vegetarians and vegans can get adequate protein from sources such as nuts, beans, soy, lentils, avocados and greek yogurt.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates enable serotonin production in the brain, which has a calming effect. Try complex carbs, which are broken down more slowly by the body, to avoid a quick insulin rush and subsequent crash. Oatmeal, quinoa and whole-wheat breads are good options.

B Vitamins

Studies have shown that a deficiency in B vitamins can affect mood, causing anxiety spikes and depression. Make sure you’re getting your daily quota by increasing your intake of foods like citrus fruits, eggs, leafy greens, beef, pork, legumes and nuts.

Tryptophan

This one’s a bit of a no-brainer if you’ve ever experienced a post-Thanksgiving-dinner food coma. Tryptophan boosts serotonin production in the brain, and can be found in foods like turkey, chicken, oats, bananas, milk, cheese, soy and peanut butter.

Oysters

Research has shown that zinc deficiency may cause anxiety to spike. Oysters contain more than 7x the amount of zinc found in other foods.

Chamomile and Rooibos Tea

Chamomile tea is known for its relaxing effects, and can decrease overall anxiety levels within weeks if sipped daily. Rooibos tea works by balancing cortisol levels.

Leafy Greens

Leafy greens like spinach are full of magnesium, which is known to reduce anxiety. Swiss chard is an especially great option, as it is contains antioxidant-laden betalains and is rich in vital stress-fighting vitamins and minerals.

Asparagus

Asparagus contains B vitamins and folic acid, low levels of which can impair neurotransmitters and cause anxiety.