Best Diet Strategies for Anxiety

Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

IN BRIEF

What are some of the ways that you can begin to address anxiety in your day to day life? One of the easiest, is what you put in your mouth. You are what you eat, and when you eat these foods, you're cool as a cucumber.

What Is Anxiety?

Generally, anxiety is thought of as feelings of fear, worry, and discomfort. Anxiety is experienced by everybody in some form, and it is usually triggered by certain circumstances in people’s lives. These can be instances of family problems, relationship struggles, work stress, or financial worries, to name a few.

When these situations begin to overwhelm, the body reacts in a certain way that produces a variety of uncomfortable symptoms. That’s one easy way to describe anxiety.  

People with certain personality types may be more prone to anxiety than others, and frequent feelings of anxiety can lead to certain physical symptoms such as nausea, stomach upset, dizziness, dry mouth, and tension. 

When chronic stress leads to constant or prolonged anxiety, serious disruptions to daily life can occur. These include agitation, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, tense muscles, trouble sleeping, and even depression.

Can Diet Help Ease Anxiety?

Studies and health guidelines have long shown the benefits of eating a mediterranean diet, coupled with drinking adequate amounts of water to stay hydrated. But what are the correct types of food to promote wellbeing both physically and mentally?

One of the best ‘recipes’ for anxiety is a change of diet. What we eat, and the nutrients contained within those foods, can be hugely important in the fight against the stresses and strains of modern living. Similarly, many foods may increase anxiety or depression and their consumption should be avoided (or lowered) to reduce risk. 

Let’s look at tailoring a diet for anxiety relief, and how certain foods can help promote a healthier, relaxing lifestyle.

Of course, diet is very complex and personal, and what may work for one person may not work for the next person who may have allergies or intolerances to some of the foods below. Needless to say, please consider the list below one to experiment with and if you cannot tolerate something below, then of course follow your own inner knowing.  

A Diet For Anxiety

Eat Organic

The number one consideration in our world as far as diet and anxiety goes is minimizing all sources of toxins and potentially inflammatory chemicals.  This means eating organic, whole foods with little or no processing. 

Minimize Simple Carbs and Processed Foods

Complex carbohydrates metabolize slowly which means the body can more easily maintain steady blood sugar levels. This creates feelings of calm and may prevent restlessness and stress. If blood glucose levels drop, the body produces adrenaline, which can cause anxiousness. (1) 

It is always best to consume complex carbohydrates that have not been processed such as:

  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Barley
  • Bulgar wheat
  • Quinoa
  • Starchy vegetables – Sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn.
  • Non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, zucchini (2)  
  • Beans and lentils. 

Most of these are also excellent sources of fiber which helps keep blood sugar on an even keel. They regulate cholesterol and are important for intestinal health.

However, certain complex carbohydrates that have been processed typically contain fewer nutrients and higher amounts of added sugar, which makes managing glucose levels more difficult for the body. (2) Some of these are:

  • Bagels
  • Sweet baked goods – cakes, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, and pastries.
  • Cereals made from refined grains and highly sweetened
  • Crackers
  • Pancakes and waffles
  • Pizza dough
  • Rice snacks
  • Bread 
  • White rice and pasta

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

A 2011 study involving 68 medical students showed a reduction in anxiety after supplementation of Omega-3 fatty acids. (3) These fats are not produced by the body but are found in a variety of nutrient-rich foods like:
 

  • Fish and other seafood. Deep sea fish such as mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines are particularly high in Omega-3. Wild Salmon is also an excellent source.
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Plant oils such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil
  • Food fortified with Omega-3 such as yogurt, juices, milk, and soy 
  • Eggs

B Vitamins

Vitamin B complex is composed of eight B vitamins that are essential for maintaining good health and wellbeing:

  • B-1 (thiamine)
  • B-2 (riboflavin)
  • B-3 (niacin)
  • B-5 (pantothenic acid)
  • B-6 (pyridoxine)
  • B-7 (biotin)
  • B-9 (folic acid)
  • B-12 (cobalamin)


As well as having a positive overall impact on the body, B vitamins can have a tangible effect on mental health. Some research has pinpointed that foods rich in vitamin B improve stress and anxiety. (4)

Foods with abundant levels of vitamin B include:

  • Whole grains (brown rice, barley)
  • Meat (red meat, poultry, fish)
  • Eggs and dairy products (milk, cheese)
  • Legumes (beans, lentils)
  • ​Seeds and nuts (sunflower seeds, almonds)
  • Dark, leafy green vegetables (broccoli, spinach)
  • Fruits (citrus fruits, avocados, bananas)

Magnesium

Nearly 68 percent of Americans’ dietary intake of magnesium is insufficient. This is linked to a variety of factors that may include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. Studies in animals and humans suggest that magnesium may also play an important part in the cause of affective mood disorders such as anxiety or depression. (5)  

Make the most of magnesium by adding these items to your shopping cart:

  • Whole grain bread
  • Spinach
  • Quinoa 
  • Tofu
  • Dark chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Edamame (soybeans) 
  • Black beans
  • Avocado

Antioxidants May Reduce Stress And Anxiety

The body faces increased demands due to stress and anxiety in terms of nutrition. The metabolism quickens and proteins, fats, and carbohydrates energize to overcome stress. As a result, stress and anxiety can deplete the body of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, and potassium. 

Some research has suggested a diet rich in antioxidants may reduce stress and anxiety by helping to replace diminished nutrients. (6)

To help replace antioxidants reduced due to stress and anxiety fill your diet with some of the following:

  • Beans such as black or red kidney beans
  • Fruits: Apples, prunes, cherries, plums
  • Berries: Blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries
  • Nuts: Walnuts, pecans (on their own or in salads)
  • Vegetables: Artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli
  • Herbs and Spices (Great in curries, stews, and pasta)
  • Anti-anxiety food such as turmeric and ginger also have high levels of antioxidants (7, 8)  

Herbal supplements, coffee, dark chocolate, and teas also contain antioxidant properties which may, due to those properties, help to reduce stress and anxiety. (9, 10)  

Enjoy The Preparation Of Putting A Healthy Meal Together

While it’s easy to list all the foods that make us healthy and less stressed, following a recipe or preparing a healthy meal can be a lot of fun too. From planning your meal, browsing through the store for ingredients, to placing the result on your plate and your fork, can not only provide you with the nutrients you need but may even give you a feel-good boost at the same time. 

Research has shown some positive results through the benefits of cooking, baking, and food preparation on mood, anxiety, and other physiological outcomes. (11)   

So why not get active in the kitchen and create some ‘real’ happy meals that could help banish the blues, reduce anxiety and improve the quality of your health and wellbeing? Let’s go! 

Sources 

  1.  https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/low-blood-sugar-anxiety-link
  2. https://www.verywellhealth.com/load-up-on-non-starchy-vegetables-1087520
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21784145/ 
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1756464617307077 
  5. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/9/5/429/htm
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3512361/ 
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20363635/ 
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25550171/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841576/
  10. https://www.researchgate.net/figure/50-Foods-with-the-Highest-Antioxidant-Contents-per-Serving-Size-Modified-from_tbl1_5298367 
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5862744/ 

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About Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

Dr. Morgan is an expert in Functional and Integrative Medicine with a Strong Emphasis in stress related illnesses like anxiety and insomnia. In addition to his 20 years of work in Functional Medicine, he has expanded his practice to include work on the deeper aspects of our being that point to the root cause of our illnesses working with Mind Body Wellness, Energy Medicine, and Healing with Consciousness.
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