Food For Anxiety: What To Eat & What To Avoid

by Prachee last updated -

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Anxiety is more of a mental health situation rather than a gut-health crisis. However, our food habits affect several aspects of our health, including our mental health, which is not a separate entity but a part of our overall being. Thus, making mindful, conscious food choices can help you manage your anxiety better.

If you are dealing with anxiety or have been reading up about it for the sake of a loved one, you might have recognized a few ingredients as ‘friends of anxiety management’ efforts. There are foods which might make you feel better, less anxious in the moment, but are only helping your anxiety grow in the long run. While excluding these will certainly make things better, recognizing foods that will further aid a positive change is also important.

Food for Anxiety: What to Eat

Anxiety is the triggering of ‘fight-or-flight’ response in the body, which means you are experiencing stress, excitement, fear, or even a sense of imminent danger. To cope with this efficiently, you should ensure the intake of certain food groups and nutrients, such as:

These are only some of the food groups that are recommended to help with anxiety. In addition to this, Uma Naidoo, Instructor in Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, also suggests that foods rich in antioxidants could help in lowering the levels of anxiety.

Woman suffering burnout and leaning against a glass wall

The top foods which can help reduce anxiety include asparagus, yogurt, cilantro, and salmon. Let’s find out why they are good for anxiety management.

Asparagus

The extract of the asparagus stem was found to have an anxiolytic effect. A 2013 study found that this effect might be due to asparagus reducing the secretion of cortisol, also called the ‘stress hormone’. The study also attributes the anti-anxiety effects of asparagus to its capacity of endocrine modulation. It is a strong candidate to be considered when making thinking about appropriate food for anxiety.

Yogurt

Probiotics are generally known to have a positive impact on the stomach as well as the overall health. The Harvard Medical School suggests that it can also help manage your anxiety symptoms in the long run. Regular intake of yogurt, a probiotic food which can be had in multiple ways, is worth a try. However, be sure you are buying the no-sugar variant.

Salmon

Including salmon, or other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids could do more than give some relief from anxiety. It is helpful in maintaining your heart health and can manage the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis when used as a supplement with mainstream treatments. With respect to anxiety, a research paper studying the effect of salmon consumption on anxiety noted that it helps in controlling heart rate as well.

Tea

A variety of teas are available all over the world, each relevant to regions and cultures for a variety of reasons. When considering food for anxiety, you don’t have to go too far to find any exotic tea. Camellia sinensis, commonly known as the tea plant, has anti-anxiety benefits to offer. Noting the need for large-scale studies, a research paper published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology concludes that the anxiolytic effects of tea, especially green, is comparable to diazepam, a drug commonly used to treat anxiety.

Cilantro

Also known as coriander or Chinese parsley, cilantro is usually found and widely used in several regions across Europe and Asia. Amongst various other studies aimed at understanding the positive effects of this herb in alleviating anxiety, a review published in the African Journal of Plant Science cites animal studies which determine coriander to have a relaxing effect on the muscles.

Dark Chocolate

Chocolate, in its dark and unsweetened form, is rich in antioxidants which in turn are beneficial when coping with anxiety. Apart from this, dark chocolate is also known to be associated with improved cognitive functions and a lower body mass index. According to a study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, animal studies suggest that it could also lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Complex Carbohydrates

While carbohydrates are making a comeback, some of us might still be skeptical. Carbs are necessary and can be helpful with stress and anxiety. However, it is important to choose complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and vegetables, as opposed to simple carbohydrates such as bread and candy. Complex carbohydrates break down slower, thus maintaining blood sugar levels better.

Food for Anxiety: What to Avoid

When taking a proactive step to eating healthier, it is precursory to know what kind of food to avoid. If trying to cope with anxiety, here are the foods which are best avoided:

Sugar

Sugar might make you feel much better at the movement, but in the long run, it is only fuelling your anxiety. When craving or reaching for sugar, it is best to avoid it and opt for nuts or dark chocolate instead.

Caffeine

Irrespective of how popular it is all over the world, beverages with caffeine are not the food for anxiety. It is best to avoid caffeine. Instead, try drinking green tea, chamomile tea, rose tea, lemon balm tea, and peppermint tea. These are known to have a calming effect, sans the rush that caffeine can cause.

Alcohol

It is best to avoid alcohol when dealing with conditions such as anxiety. Not only does it aggravate anxiety by affecting the balance of hormones such as serotonin, but you could also be facing the risk of addiction or dependency.

Apart from this, it is also important to stay hydrated, maintain a balanced diet, and eat light & regular meals. Home meals prepared with fresh ingredients are your friends, whereas processed, deep-fried, pre-packaged food is only fueling your anxiety.

The concern around anxiety is growing and rightly so. While there is a rapid rise in the reported cases of anxiety disorders, there is also increasing awareness and spread of information about how to cope with it. While food for anxiety management needs more in-depth research, it is also a good time to take advantage of the information available.

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About the Author

Prachee is a content writer for Organic Facts and is responsible for writing on the latest wellness trends. A former Journalism & Media teacher, she prides herself on being able to seamlessly dabble between health, science, and technology. She has completed her Masters in Communication Studies from the University of Pune, India and is currently pursuing an online course on “Introduction to Food and Health” from Stanford University, US. Prachee fancies herself to be a poet and a cook when the rare lightning of inspiration strikes.

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