These days, considering the current state of affairs, anxiety is more common than ever. As it is, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults every year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. While seeking help and therapy are vital, there's also ways to combat feelings of unease with your diet. Aside from CBD and essential oils, incorporating foods known to help with anxiety can be a good course of action.
But how exactly is food linked with anxiety? "Research continues to grow around incorporating food as an integral part of an overall mental health plan," Dr. Amy Cirbus, Ph.D, LPC, LMHC, Director of Clinical Content at Talkspace, tells TZR. "We know that the body operates as a whole system, with increased cortisol and adrenaline being culprits of increasing anxiety. Current research points to the fact that maintaining a well-balanced diet, with foods rich in antioxidants as well as magnesium, zinc, healthy fats, and B vitamins, regulates cortisol and helps maintain mood overall."
And while there are a slew of foods proven to lower stress, there are also lots that do the opposite. "Refined sugars found in processed foods and sweets can cause a spike in your blood sugar followed by a sudden drop which can negatively impact mood and therefore increase anxious feelings," Tracy Lesht, MS, RD, LDN and Clinical Dietitian at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, tells TZR. Additionally, she says some drinks can increase anxiety. "Alcohol and caffeine can trigger anxiety by disrupting our sleep cycle which is essential for cognitive health and well-being. Disruptions in our sleep cycle in turn can decrease mood and negatively impact brain health, inducing anxiety."
Whether anxiety is new to you or has been a long time battle, below find 14 foods that might come to the rescue, according to experts.
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Turmeric
"Turmeric, or more specifically curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which reduces anxiety by elevating our feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin," Dr. Daryl Gioffre, celebrity nutritionist and author of Get Off Your Acid, tells TZR. "Serotonin is a hormone that lowers stress, helps to regulate your mood, and even [improves] sleep." Add the spice to tea, smoothies, soup, curry, or rice. Bonus: It's great for your skin, too.
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Dark Leafy Greens
"Dark leafy greens like kale, chard, and spinach contain high levels of magnesium," Maria Marlowe, Founder of Healthy by Marlowe, tells TZR. "Many studies have shown that low levels of magnesium are associated with depression and anxiety, and that taking magnesium can reduce anxiety. Plus, eating cooked spinach will reduce bloating."
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Broccoli
Feeling overly stressed? Make broccoli your go-to veggie. "Broccoli contains zinc, vitamin B6, and vitamin C which can help balance the stress hormone cortisol," Dr. Lanae Mullane, Director of Nutrition at Vejo, tells TZR. But if you aren't a fan of the vegetable in raw form, cook it with olive oil to give it some flavor.
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Avocado
Keep making your daily avocado toast — it's not only delicious, the fruit (yes, it's technically a fruit) has many benefits. "Avocados are what I like to call 'Gods Butter', as it’s the perfect food containing all of the right macros you need on a daily basis," Dr. Gioffre explains. "They are loaded with calming minerals and B-vitamins, which decrease tension in muscles and body."
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Blueberries
Grab a handful of blueberries for a quick, calming snack. "Antioxidants, fiber, and phytonutrients create a hormetic response that make your body more resilient to stress," Erik Levi, co-founder of Holistic Nootropics and a certified holistic nutritional therapy practitioner, tells TZR. "Blueberries are also rich in vitamin C, which is good for your adrenal glands where stress hormones are produced."
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Banana
"Bananas are higher in tryptophan, which is an amino acid that helps us to feel calm," Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN and founder of Real Nutrition, tells TZR. Snack on the fruit with peanut butter for some extra protein.
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Nuts
Not only ideal for on-the-go snacking, nuts also contain key nutrients. "Nuts, such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts are a good source of magnesium and zinc, both critical for managing stress," Marlowe tells TZR. "Zinc modulates the way the brain and body respond to stress, and a zinc deficiency is associated with anxiety."
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Quinoa
Quinoa has been popular for years now, and with good reason. "Quinoa is a complete plant-based protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that our body can’t make," Dr. Mullane explains. "This seed is a complex carbohydrate that helps keep your blood sugar levels steady, preventing spikes and dips in energy. Complex carbs consist of higher dietary fiber that can be absorbed and fermented by the intestinal bacteria into short chain fatty acids that contain neuroprotective properties."
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Chia Seeds
"Chia seeds are high in Omega-3s, essential fatty acids that provide anti-inflammatory benefits," Marlowe explains. "Research suggests that an Omega-3 deficiency is associated with depression and anxiety. It's important that we consume an adequate amount of Omega-3 through the diet." Make delicious chia seed pudding or add the seeds to smoothies.
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Salmon
Salmon gives you both protein and properties to reduce stress. And like chia seeds, salmon also provides Omega-3s. "Omega-3s can travel through the brain cell membrane and are important for nervous tissue and brain health," Dr. Mullane adds. "When picking fish, go for higher Omega-3s, lower mercury containing fish. Think of the acronym SMASH: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring."
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Oysters
While you might not currently have oysters sitting in your fridge, consider picking them up next time you're at the grocery store. "Oysters are loaded with the trace essential mineral zinc," Dr. Mullane tells TZR. "Zinc is necessary to make and maintain the balance of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and norepinephrine. These are all important for mood, sleep, and stress response."
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Turkey
If you get your protein from meat, consider opting for turkey. "Turkey is high in tryptophan," Shapiro explains. Again, the registered dietician notes that tryptophan is an amino acid that makes you feel relaxed.
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Yogurt
If you're craving something sweet, skip the ice cream and indulge in a yogurt parfait. "Yogurt has naturally occurring bacteria that we all know as probiotics," Dr. Gioffre explains. "Probiotics feed the gut, which sends signals to the central nervous system, connecting the gut with the brain. Considering 95 percent of serotonin, the feel good hormone, is made in the gut, it would explain why yogurt, more so the probiotics, gives you a happy-boost and lowers stress." (Just be sure to pick a yogurt that isn't loaded with sugar.)
Food That Helps With Anxiety: Dark Chocolate
You might not think of dark chocolate as being healthy, but it's proven to have many advantages. "If you find yourself craving chocolate, what your body is really craving is magnesium," Dr. Gioffre explains. "One of the reasons why there are so many health benefits to dark chocolate is because it’s high in one of the most important minerals your body needs to manage stress — magnesium. When our bodies are under stress, whether emotionally from this current pandemic, or chemically from eating too much sugar, your body will fire up its stress hormones — adrenaline and cortisol — all of which consume and deplete your body’s magnesium levels."