The Connection Between Diet and Anxiety

the connection between diet and anxiety

When experiencing significant life changes, such as starting a new school, moving to a different city, or dealing with a global pandemic, it’s natural to experience anxiety and stress over the new uncertainties facing us. Managing anxiety can be challenging when you don’t know what to do or feel like you’re not in control. However, no matter the source of our anxieties, there are steps we can take to help manage them.

Eating a balanced diet is one of the easiest ways to support your mental health during difficult times. If you’re stressed, it’s understandable that reaching for a soft cookie or a cheesy pizza slice sounds more comforting than baked potatoes and vegetables. We hope this article inspires you to slowly switch from impulsive food selections that provide instant gratification to nourishing alternatives that sustain your mental health long-term.

How a Healthy Diet Can Reduce Anxiety

The food you eat can either soothe or exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. Don’t worry; this is good news—that means it’s possible to take more control over your anxiety. If you want a healthy brain, you should consume a diet that is full of high-antioxidant foods like fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains. Short term, this kind of diet can help you with your memory recall and concentration when you are having trouble with a difficult exam or meeting deadlines at work. In the long term, a healthy diet has been shown to increase the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to change and cope with stress.

Choosing healthy food options is a great way to support your body and mind when you’re feeling stressed. When you need a quick pick-me-up, try eating high-fat or high-protein snacks instead of sugar or caffeine. If you are feeling stressed, try soothing yourself with a warm caffeine-free beverage, such as herbal tea. Other comforting foods, such as oatmeal spiced with cinnamon and homemade soup, are excellent stress-relieving choices as well. 

Foods That Help Fight Anxiety

  • Foods rich in B vitamins, such as avocados and almonds, have been shown to help with anxiety. Vitamin B5 supports the functioning of the adrenal glands, which can help serve to reduce stress and anxiety levels. A good source of vitamin B9 (also known as folate or folic acid) and vitamin B12 are essential for balancing out depressive moods. The combination of magnesium and vitamin B6 can help ease symptoms of PMS-related anxiety.
  • Speaking of magnesium, a study on mice showed that magnesium-low diets were found to increase anxiety-like behaviors. Magnesium naturally present in foods may, therefore, be beneficial for maintaining calm. Leafy vegetables like Swiss chard, spinach, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and seeds are good sources of magnesium.
  • Probiotic-rich foods or probiotic supplements can be incredibly beneficial for improving the overall health of the gut. Various studies have linked good intestinal health and diversity in the gut microbiome with lower levels of anxiety.
  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including fatty fish like wild Alaskan salmon and walnuts, have been found to reduce stress and anxiety levels in students. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been linked with improving symptoms of depression.
  • Zinc can also be beneficial for treating anxiety. Studies have linked foods rich in zinc, such as oysters, cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolks, with reduced anxiety levels.
  • Foods high in antioxidants such as berries, nuts, beans, fruits, and vegetables all help lower a person’s oxidative stress, lessening the work of the antioxidant defense system and, therefore, the body’s stress levels.

Improving Mental Health Through Diet

In the event that you are experiencing severe anxiety symptoms lasting two weeks or more, it’s essential to speak to your doctor or licensed mental healthcare professional. However, even if your doctor recommends medication or therapy for anxiety, it is still worthwhile to examine whether you might be able to benefit from adjusting your diet as well. 

There is no doubt that nutritional psychiatry is not a replacement for other types of treatment at this time. Still, the relationship between food and mood and anxiety is gaining both attention and understanding. More research is needed to understand the full role that nutritional psychiatry can play, yet there is a growing body of evidence supporting its use.

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