What are the Best Foods for Reducing Anxiety?
The past few months have been especially difficult for many of us. With the coronavirus closures, quarantine, and a whole new way of life taking over, many people have been faced with difficult challenges and extreme stress. Anxiety is a normal response to the current situation, but that doesn’t mean we have to be a victim to it. We have the power to take back our mental health starting with our daily habits. And that includes eating!
While everyone’s experience is unique, the one thing we can all tackle during this time is diet change. Let’s dive in and learn what we can do now and, in the future, to eat for better mental health.
The Link Between Our Diets and Anxiety
I believe that diet has the power to make or break our health – and that holds true for our mental health, too. As a gut-health and anxiety expert, if there’s one thing I know it’s that food and mood are linked.
The food we eat has an immediate and direct impact on our mood and mental health. It affects how we process our emotions, recover from stressors, and take on challenges. A poor diet can lead to lack-luster brain health as our hormones and neurotransmitters fight to find balance and normality. Over time, these imbalances can cause or worsen the feelings of anxiety and panic that many of us have become accustomed to.
Diet change is not the cure for all anxiety sufferers, but it makes a huge impact in nearly all cases. A few food swaps and healthy eating guidelines can make a major difference in your struggle with mental health and provide you with the motivation and energy to take bigger strides in the right direction.
Let’s make some changes! It’s my mission to help you get out of this viscous cycle and finally find freedom from anxiety. I’ll teach you how to adopt a mood-boosting, brain-healthy, anti-anxiety diet with simple steps that you can take today.
Three Steps to an Anti-Anxiety Diet
After realizing that almost all my patients were noticing major shifts after incorporating diet change as their post-treatment homework, I asked myself, “Is there an anti-anxiety diet?”
My conclusion: YES! And it’s much simpler than you think.
Let’s start tackling anxiety from the core – starting with a mindful diet. My simple approach to the Anti-Anxiety Diet is accessible to everyone. Just follow these three simple steps.
1. Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
We’re all familiar with at least a few of the ways that sugar can make us feel less than perfect. From stomachaches to headaches, energy crashes to irritability, sugar can be a menacing, yet seductive, foe.
Unsurprisingly, sugar is also a major troublemaker when it comes to anxiety. When our bodies digest sugar, our blood sugar rises quickly, then drops suddenly. This cycle can cause us to feel uneasy or even mimic a panic attack. Low blood sugar also poses a problem. Too little blood sugar puts our bodies into stress, which then leads to anxiety and irritability.
Hormones like cortisol, testosterone, and estrogen keep a delicate balance in our bodies. Trouble comes when their levels spike, plunge, or become unbalanced. This may become more apparent at different times of the menstrual cycle as hormones fail to fluctuate properly. Food can greatly affect our hormone balance and it’s important to keep blood sugar levels regulated to stay on top of our mental health.
Neurotransmitters also need to be balanced for healthy and predictable moods. We all know the feeling of that rush of excitement and happiness that comes from a direct serotonin or dopamine hit. You experience this when you buy a great new pair of shoes, eat a delicious treat, or even get a hug from someone you love.
These moments make life great. The downside, however, is that as these neurotransmitters get unbalanced, they plummet and cause issues like depression, sadness, and anxiety. This, too, can be caused by poor diet and sugary foods.
The key, as with everything, is balance. We can moderate this balance with simple blood sugar management.
Easy Ways to Manage Your Blood Sugar
The first step on the Anti-Anxiety Diet plan is to keep blood sugar balanced. If you’re finding yourself snacking more at home, swapping sugary treats for better options can make a huge difference. Here’s how:
- Reduce sugar throughout your diet. This is not limited to obvious sweets and desserts. Reconsider the sugar you put in coffee and tea, breads, and processed food.
- Fill up on fiber. Fiber helps to prevent spikes in blood sugar. Fresh vegetables, berries, and whole grains are great sources of fiber and are typically low in sugar. These help to keep blood sugar balanced and your moods stable.
- Don’t eat before bed. It’s best to have your last nibbles of the day at least 2 hours before bedtime. This is a good habit to keep in general, as it’s easier on your digestive system. The added benefit is that this prevents sugar spikes from causing nighttime anxiety and insomnia.
- Provide yourself with better snacks. A lot of our daily food choices come down to availability and ease. An easy-to-grab cookie on the counter makes for a much easier decision when you’re hungry than whipping up a fruit salad or cutting up some veggies. Make the better choices easier for your hungry future self with snack-prepping.
2. The Right Fats Feed the Brain
Your brain thrives on fat – well, the healthy kind! Decades of low-fat crazes have confused us about our bodies’ need for fat. While many of us have learned to view fat in a negative light, we are now finding that fat is one of the most protective nutrients to the body, especially the brain.
Our brains require tons of energy just to function. In fact, over 20% of our daily energy is used up by the brain alone! Healthy fats are the best energy for the brain, as this ever-important organ is 60% fat itself.
Fueled up with healthy fats, the brain can perform better and help you feel happier. Better brain health leads to an increased sense of calm and wellbeing and less anxiety. Check out my favorite fats below.
3. Get Rid of the Garbage
- Say “No” to Processed Foods
If you can’t pronounce the ingredients on the package, don’t buy it. Better yet, avoid packaged goods in general! Shop the outskirts of the supermarket and opt for fresh or bulk items.
- Shop Local When You Can If there is a local farm delivery service or CSA program in your community, take advantage! You’ll not only be buying quality food, you’ll also be supporting our community members and benefit from all the feel-good rewards of helping out. When more normal shopping times return, be sure to hit the farmer’s market. A farmer’s market provides a variety of fresh, local, and seasonal foods that will nourish your body and mind. The added benefit is that you’ll reap all the rewards of beautiful human interaction. Meet your local famers and neighbors, share in the delight of healthy foods, and learn something new!
- Hydrate with Water or Tea Caffeine, sugar, and alcohol are major anxiety boosters. Swap coffee, sugary drinks, and wine with clean water or herbal teas. There are tons of delicious and fragrant teas out there that are not only healthy, but actually help to reduce anxiety. Consider peppermint, rose, chamomile, kava, lavender, or gotu kola.
- Stick to it with Acupuncture Maintaining a healthy diet can be difficult, but acupuncture makes it much easier. Regular acupuncture visits help to bust cravings, detox faster, and motivate you to stay on track. Not to mention, acupuncture itself is one of the best ways to beat anxiety naturally. Our acupuncture clinic will be safely reopening on June 1st! Reach out here to make an appointment. Calmer days are ahead!
My Favorite Anxiety-Busting Foods
Vitamins & Minerals
A quality multi-vitamin is a great way to support your entire body (and brain!) but be sure to get a good amount of vitamins and minerals from food sources, too.
- Magnesium: leafy greens, spinach, swiss chard, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains
- Zinc: cashews, liver, beef and egg yolks
- B-Vitamins: avocado and almonds
- Fruits: all berries, prunes, cherries, plums, apples and kiwis
- Vegetables: artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli and herbs
- Beans: red beans, black beans and pinto beans
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, pistachio and pumpkin seeds
- Herbs and spices: fresh and dried herbs, turmeric, cinnamon and ginger
Omega-3 fatty acids are the best fats for the brain and the body. Make the following healthy fats 15-20% of your daily diet:
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Flax oil or ground flax
- Chia seeds
- Nuts and seeds
- Fatty fish like salmon
Eat Your Way to an Anxiety-Free Life
Overcoming anxiety shouldn’t add more stress to your life. In my opinion, making healthy changes can be fun with the right preparation and attitude. Healthy choices don’t have to mean missing out – there are so many ways to enjoy healthy, delicious foods while healing your body and mind.
These easy guidelines help you approach an anti-anxiety diet in a simple and attainable way. You’re in control, now take the reins!
I love when simple diet changes make big differences for my patients. But sometimes there’s more to the story. If you’re ready to really tackle your anxiety for good, I’d love to have you in the clinic. Contact me for a consultation or book your visit with me here. We’re in this together!
Hi! I'm Angela
Acupuncturist, Herbalist, Integrative Wellness Consultant and Mood-Gut expert.
I want to hear from you:
Have you tried these foods for anxiety? Did you try any of the tips above? Please let us know! Leave a comment below.