Learning about foods that lower anxiety is important for managing it in a constructive way and not just relying on medication.
Anxiety is a common mental health condition that is more talked about than it used to be. It affects millions of people worldwide and its intensity can be described in many forms ranging from mild to acute.
It’s usually characterised by feelings of fearfulness, worry, and a chronic sense of unease. The effects can be overwhelming. The worst part is the effect it can have on daily life. From interfering in mundane activities to more competitive settings like socialising and the workplace.
Anxiety manifests in various forms. You may or may not be familiar with some of these terms such as anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias (a common one is social phobia).
The impact anxiety has on mental health is significant and can be debilitating depending on how acute the condition is and its effects. It can lead to reduced productivity and poor personal and professional relationships.
If you suffer from anxiety, you know that it generally reduces the quality of your life and hinders you from living it to the fullest.
This blog post explores the connection between food and the symptoms of anxiety. It discusses the basic nutritional science behind it and how it reduces these symptoms. Also included are practical tips and a list of 10 foods that lower anxiety.
Some of these foods you might be familiar with, which is great because you may already have them in your pantry.
By the end, you will see that foods that soothe anxiety naturally, can help you manage it better and hopefully improve your overall well-being.
We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
The Link Between Food and Anxiety
Therapy and medication is available for treating anxiety, but the role of food and diet as a strategy for managing it, is often underplayed.
Research suggests that certain foods have a positive impact on mental health by reducing symptoms and promoting a sense of calm.
How certain foods can influence the chemical profile of our brain
For our brains to function optimally it relies on chemicals called neurotransmitters to regulate our mood and emotions. Nutrients present in certain foods play a crucial role in the production and normal functioning of these neurotransmitters.
No doubt you’ve heard of Tryptophan. It always comes up when talking about mood boosts and mental health in general. This amino acids is essential for producing Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. When you consume foods rich in these nutrients, you will experience an increase in relaxation and reduced anxiety symptoms.
How neurotransmitters regulate anxiety
Serotonin, Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and Dopamine are neurotransmitters that play an active role in regulating anxiety. While Serotonin helps stabilise mood, GABA can have a calming effect on the nervous system.
Dopamine is well known for promoting feelings of pleasure as well as motivation – both these influence anxiety. The more motivated your feel, the more confident you become and the more open you will be to experiencing pleasure.
By consuming foods that promote the production or function of these neurotransmitters, so you will help regulate anxiety symptoms.
The mind-gut connection and its role in mental health
Contemporary research suggests a strong connection between the gut and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis (GBA1). It has been found that the gut microbiota that live in our digestive system influences brain function and mental health.
A healthy gut microbiota, that contains a diverse range of beneficial bacteria can improve anxiety levels.
So, consuming fermented foods such as Sauerkraut, Kefir, Kimchi, and dairy yogurt, rich in probiotics, can help to improve mental health by lowering levels of anxiety.
Nutritional profile of foods that can lower anxiety
Berries and Citrus Fruits
These are naturally high in antioxidants and potent micronutrients like Vitamin C, magnesium, and prebiotics. Antioxidants – found in Vitamin C – is well known for alleviating stress by lowering cortisol levels. And of course, it helps in building up a strong immune system.
Include a variety of berries and citrus fruits, such as strawberries, blueberries, oranges, lemons and grapefruits, in your meal plans to provide a natural boost of vitamin C.
How antioxidants affect mood
Getting a healthy does of Vitamin C is a good base to start with because the high level of antioxidants is beneficial for many metabolic functions.
It has cancer-fighting properties in that it reduces oxidative stress on cells at a metabolic level and is also essential for the proper absorption of iron.
TIP Take a maximum of 500mg of Vitamin C a day to help with the absorption of iron. A possible iron deficiency can lead to increased fatigue and brain fog.
Symptoms of excessive fatigue and brain fog could overlap with symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety. So, be mindful of this factor and have your iron levels checked.
Fatty Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
1. The role of Omega-3’s in reducing symptoms of anxiety
Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids and it’s all alkaline – meaning, it doesn’t trigger inflammation.
Omega-3 (essential fatty acids) are essential fats that play a vital role in brain health. Studies have shown that omega-3 supplementation can decrease anxiety symptoms, and improve mood and memory. This will naturally lead to an improved sense of well-being.
2. Best sources of omega-3 fatty acids
Besides fatty fish, you can get Omega-3 fatty acids from plant-based sources such as walnuts, hemp seeds, and algae-based supplements (think Nori and Spirulina2).
These are great options if you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet. You will increase your Omega-3 intake by adding these foods to your meals and potentially reduce anxiety symptoms.
Get a Homemade Granola recipe here. This one’s loaded with healthy fats like Omega 3, 6, and 9 – the ones that alleviate symptoms of anxiety
Transform your diet and treat eczema – includes a guided 7-day eczema diet plan + meal prep tips
This 63-page workbook includes a 7-day eczema diet plan, eczema-friendly recipes, a skin maintenance checklist, task lists, and more. You can use it over and over again to get your meal prep, planning, and eczema skin care maintenance under control. Best of all, these foods help calm your nervous system also as they’re all alkaline
Dark Leafy Greens and Magnesium-Rich Foods
1. The calming effect of Magnesium on the nervous system
Dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, are rich in magnesium, a mineral known for its calming effect on the nervous system.
Magnesium plays a crucial role in the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate anxiety. Consuming magnesium-rich foods can support healthy GABA levels and promote relaxation.
2. More Magnesium-rich foods you can eat
Other magnesium-rich foods include avocados, almonds, bananas, and pumpkin seeds.
You can incorporate these into salads, smoothies, or snacks to boost your intake. You will experience an improvement in your anxiety symptoms, especially at night before bed when it’s important to wind down for a calm nervous system.
TIP I highly recommend you read this article on Reducing Anxiety with Night time Drinks. These recipes will help bring your mind and body into a state of calm before bedtime.
Whole Grains and Complex Carbs help reduce anxiety
1. Blood sugar levels affect your manage your anxiety
Grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and oats, contain complex carbs that are digested more slowly than refined carbohydrates. The slower digestive action produces a gradual release of glucose into the bloodstream. So, it provides a more steady source of energy.
In other words, consuming these foods prevents energy slumps. Maintaining a stable blood sugar level is essential for managing anxiety because any fluctuation in blood sugar levels can trigger or aggravate its symptoms.
2. High Fiber can help stabilize mood
Whole grains are high in dietary fiber. Because high fibre foods provide a slower release of energy it promotes feelings of satiety and this, as we all know, affects your mood. Which in turn impacts symptoms of anxiety. You know how it is… when you’re hungry, you’re usually a little cranky. But, for some people that irritability can trigger anxiety or make it worse.
Try any one of these 5 oats-based recipes here
Include as many whole grains in your meals as possible. Try wheat bread, quinoa salads, or gluten-free oatmeal – these are versatile foods to cook and meal prep with.
The role of Fermented Foods and Probiotics in lowering anxiety
1. The Gut-brain connection and its influence on mental health
As mentioned earlier, the gut microbiota plays a significant role in mental well-being.
Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, are rich in beneficial bacteria known as probiotics. Probiotics help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which can positively influence brain function and reduce anxiety.
2. Examples of fermented foods and their benefits
Include a variety of fermented foods in your diet because it will introduce diverse strains of gut microbiota to support gut health.
Yogurt, for instance, contains Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains and is associated with an improvement in mental health.
Incorporate these foods as snacks or add them to meals. Once you’ve included this type of food into your meal plan, will potentially see an alleviation of your anxiety symptoms.
Dark Chocolate and other mood-boosting foods
1. Chemical compounds in dark chocolate that promote relaxation
Dark chocolate contains various compounds that contribute to its mood-boosting properties. One compound called Theobromine, has been found to promote relaxation and alertness. Dark chocolate (70% or more) also contains Magnesium, which can have a positive impact on anxiety levels when consumed in moderation.
2. Other foods known to enhance mood and relieve anxiety
Apart from dark chocolate, you can also try bananas and nuts such as almonds and cashews.
These foods contain compounds like Tryptophan, Serotonin, and L-theanine, which can enhance relaxation and decrease anxiety symptoms.
Include these foods as standalone snacks or even better, incorporate them into various recipes.
How to incorporate anxiety-reducing foods into your diet
Meal planning tips
To get the most out of anxiety-reducing foods, incorporate them strategically into your meals.
Here are some practical tips for meal planning:
- Start your day with a breakfast rich in Omega-3 EFAs. You can try Salmon, Avocado on toast, or overnight oats with chia seeds.
- For lunch include dark leafy greens in your salads, wraps, or sandwiches to boost your magnesium intake.
TIP Swap out iceberg lettuce in sandwiches, tacos, wraps, and bowls with dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, swiss chard or baby spinach leaves.
To learn how to make the healthiest salad, follow the recipe here – the ingredients tick all the nutrition boxes!
- For dinner, include whole grains such as brown rice bowls, quinoa salads, or whole wheat pasta dishes.
- For AM and PM snacks try probiotic-rich foods like yogurt with fruits or sauerkraut with whole grain crackers or rye toast.
- For a late-night snack eat a few squares of dark chocolate (70% or more) or half a banana with almonds and maple syrup.
Try these deep-sleep Bedtime Drinks that reduce anxiety. Full recipes here
A balanced diet helps manage anxiety better
While incorporating anxiety-reducing foods into your diet is beneficial, it’s important to have a balanced approach to nutrition and lifestyle.
A healthy diet should include a variety of nutrient-dense foods, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and stress management techniques.
Also, consult with a healthcare practitioner or dietitian for personalised guidance on managing anxiety through diet and lifestyle changes.
1. Exercise and its positive impact on mental well-being
Physical activity is known to have numerous benefits for mental health, including alleviating anxiety. Regular exercises, such as cardio, strength training, or yoga, can release endorphins, improve mood, and promote relaxation.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week and find activities that you enjoy, that way you’re more likely to stick with it.
Read my article on How to maintain a healthy eating and exercise routine here.
2. Sleep cycles and it’s impact on anxiety
Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality can exacerbate anxiety symptoms and negatively impact mental health. Prioritize a regular sleep schedule and create a calming bedtime routine by winding down at least 1 hour before bed.
Ensure your sleep environment is comfortable and conducive to restful sleep – don’t fall asleep with the TV blaring and reduce technology near your bed..
If you need to switch off smart gadgets, then do so. A really calming way to illicit relaxation is to use a sleep app like Calm (I don’t receive any commission for mentioning this. I use the app regularly for relaxation and I’m happy to recommend it).
Another way to start the winding-down process is reducing the toxic overload on your eyes. If you have to do a last minute check-in, wear blue-light glasses. It reduces blue rays which certain cells – which are responsible for circadian rhythm – are sensitive to. You can read more about it here. But, wearing these will improve your sleep.
Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night to support anxiety management.
3. Stress management techniques for anxiety
Chronic stress can lead to increased anxiety levels. Implementing stress management techniques can help soothe anxiety and promote overall well-being.
TIP You don’t have to be an expert at yoga or meditation to reap the benefits of a meditation practice. Just knowing the basics will help bring your mind and body to a state of calm, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. Beginners can benefit from this practice also.
I find it works really well at work, when you experience triggers or related stress. Just being able to sit for 3-5 minutes – find a quiet space, even if it’s the bathroom stall – and just practice mindfulness breathing. It will bring you back to alignment and calm, and quickly diminish the effect of what’s triggering you.
Mindfulness meditation is excellent for bringing you back to the present moment – coming back to a clear mind can significantly reduce stress and anxiety. Deep breathing exercises, journaling, or engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation will also take the edge off.
Experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you.
10 foods that lower anxiety or could also help you avoid it altogether
1. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats have been linked to reduced anxiety and improved mood.
Get a recipe for Ginger-Poached Salmon here
Blueberries are packed with powerful antioxidants which have been known to have a positive impact on brain health and also reduce oxidative stress.
Read more on Superfoods and their benefits here
Almonds are a good source of magnesium, which promotes a sense of calm and relaxation.
Try this recipe for an anxiety-reducing Cherry, Almond, and Banana shake
4. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids and other compounds that can help improve mood and reduce anxiety. You have to consume this moderation of course.
5. Green Tea
Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that has a calming effect on the brain. It can promote relaxation and improve focus without causing drowsiness.
6. Greek Yogurt (If you’re allergic to dairy try Sauerkraut, Kefir, Kimchi)
Greek yogurt is high in probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that support gut health. A healthy gut microbiota can improve mood and reduce anxiety.
Chamomile tea is renowned for its calming properties and is often used as a natural remedy to reduce anxiety and insomnia. It contains a flavonoid called Apigenin, which induces muscle relaxation and has a sedative effect.
Get this recipe for a calming, relaxing Chamomile and Lavender Tea
8. Whole Grains
Brown rice, quinoa, and oats, are low GI foods, meaning it provides a steady release of energy. Stable blood sugar levels can help prevent mood swings, keeps you feeling satiated, and promote a more balanced emotional state.
Get a recipe for natural Overnight Oats here
It’s rich in magnesium and also contains folate, a B vitamin that helps produce neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation.
These potent foods are synonymous with bringing your body back into alignment by reducing stress and fatigue. Both these factors can trigger anxiety or inflame the symptoms of it.
The trick is not to take as many ‘remedies’ as you can simultaneously. But rather, try one that would help in a specific situation, just to get the calming effect going.
Afterward, you can supplement with nutritious food to adequately satiate yourself. Remember that being hungry – and not conscious of it – can also contribute to feeling anxious.
So, before reaching for remedies, drink water or hydrate and have something to eat. Then see how you feel and if you’re still anxious, try a natural remedy.
Turmeric contains an active compound called Curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation has been linked to anxiety, so incorporating turmeric into your diet may help reduce those symptoms.
Get a recipe for Warm Turmeric Tea here
Caffeine and anxiety
If you love the taste of mushrooms and loathe to give up your coffee habit, try this mushroom coffee instead. It’s not for everyone, but you can still have a traditional coffee from your favourite barista once in a while as a treat.
This replacement can ‘even’ things out when you feel like you need to reduce your caffeine intake. Reducing or ditching caffeine has health benefits such as:
- less anxiety
- less energy ‘spikes’ and slumps
- less chance of getting heart palpitations
But, health-wise, I like to keep things balanced and my eating ‘conscious‘.
TIP Drinking out of your favourite mug or a chic coffee cup can make you feel like you’re treating yourself to a gourmet coffee… even if the contents are decaf‘ or a coffee replacement – it’s all in the mind sometimes!
For more on Adaptogens and their benefits, I recommend you read this article
Remember that while these foods may have anxiety-reducing properties, it’s not a replacement for professional treatment or therapy. If you’re experiencing frequent anxiety attacks or symptoms of it, you must consult with a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and appropriate treatment.
Making dietary changes and consuming more anxiety-reducing foods can be a proactive step toward improving your mental health. Diet alone may not eliminate anxiety. That requires changing your thinking ie. your thought patterns which take a lot more work and time to do.
But, you can help that along with these foods because you know that what you put into your body needs to work in tandem with the inner work you’re doing on your mind ie. your mental health.
Including these foods in your meal plan are a great way of forming a healthy habit of calming your nervous system and reducing anxiety.
A holistic approach
It’s important to remember that managing anxiety requires a holistic approach.
- Incorporate these anxiety-reducing foods
- Prioritise regular exercise
- Get sufficient sleep
- Use stress management techniques
- Get support from mental health experts (when needed)
Embrace a balanced approach to managing your anxiety and don’t underestimate the power of nutritional foods in helping to heal mental health.
If you liked this blog post, you’ll love this article on how to Reduce Anxiety with deep-sleep Bedtime Drinks.
Feel free to leave a comment, I value all feedback.
*cravenutritionalcooking.com does not give medical advice. Where there is a reference to it, the phrasing is used to illustrate a point or give context to food and cooking for nutrition. It is not related to a specific condition or any specific individual. Always consult your healthcare professional for medical and dietetic advice before embarking on any type of eating plan or ingesting nutritional supplements.
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