These Foods Help Ease Anxiety

The food on you eat can influence your mood and emotions. Certain foods can make you feel calmer because they contain magnesium and zinc. To reduce anxiety, start with food, here’s how.

By Aditi
05 Aug 2022

According to the Global Burden of Diseases, 2016, an estimated 275 million people suffer from anxiety disorders worldwide. A scientific brief by WHO in 2022 showed that anxiety and depression increased by 25 per cent post pandemic, from the previous numbers. While anxiety is not the leading cause of disability or the most pressing mental health issue, its importance can not be understated. Anxiety is commonly associated with other health disorders like depression, heart disease, thyroid disorders, and more.


The Lancet Commission report released in 2020 shows that poor mental health costs the world economy approximately $2 to $5 trillion per year in poor health and lost productivity. Anxiety not only takes a toll on your personal life but professionally too. It can deter you from pursuing opportunities that can help you succeed professionally, leading to worsening anxiety.


Anxiety-like behaviours, according to a 2017 study published in Dialogues of Clinical Neuroscience include increased vigilance, freezing, elevated heart rate, and suppressed food consumption.


A holistic approach is the best way to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. There are many ways to reduce anxiety. While not everyone requires medication to keep their anxiety in check, it might be best for you to see a mental health professional to plan the best course of action for your needs. Lately, there has been much discussion regarding foods that help ease anxiety and nervousness. Keep reading to understand how you can manage anxiety by making dietary alterations.


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The Role of Nutrition in Maintaining Emotional Balance

A 2017 report published in the journal, Nature shows that individuals can often feel better when they eat better. Eating better can entail making conscious choices about opting for healthy alternatives and having a healthy intake of fruits and vegetables. If you’ve heard the saying “you are what you eat,” it might be time to start taking it seriously. Nutritional psychiatry is a relatively new field of study that delves into understanding how what we eat can impact not just our physical health but our mental health too.


As the vagus nerve connects the gut and the brain, scientists have already researched the relationship between disease and diet. But as they study this connection more, they are also beginning to understand the relationship between diet and psychiatric disease.


According to Hopkins Medicine, your ‘second’ brain (which is in your gut) called the enteric nervous system links your digestion, braind, mood and health together. It controls your digestion and can trigger emotional shifts for those dealing with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.


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Serotonin is a neurotransmitter known to help maintain sleep and appetite, moods and suppress pain. A 2020 Harvard study shows that 95 percent of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, which is directly linked with the digestive tract.


Many individuals today opt to go for new-age treatments like food-mood interventions that can alter the way they feel daily. Changes in diet can alleviate your mood and stablise your hormone levels. Nutritional psychiatry has so far only been studied for mild to moderate depression.


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Foods That Help With Anxiety

There are several categories of foods that help reduce anxiety, with varying levels of results. According to various studies conducted over the years, the following foods can help ease anxiety:


1. Leafy greens

A 2012 study published in the National Library of Medicine conducted on mice shows that diets with low magnesium levels triggered various anxiety-related behaviours. Foods high in magnesium, like leafy greens, can help calm an individual.


2. Cashews

A 2013 study published in the National Library of Medicine shows that foods rich in zinc, like cashews, egg yolks, and chickpeas, can affect anxiety-like behaviour.


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3. Fatty fish

Another 2011 study published in the National Library of Medicine shows the positive correlation between omega-3 supplements and alleviation of anxiety symptoms in medical students.


4. Dark chocolate

A 2022 research paper published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry shows that consuming 85 per cent cocoa dark chocolate can improve mood and promote a healthy gut in adults. Dark chocolate has flavonoids, which can help in lessening neuroinflammation and improve blood flow to the brain. It is also a rich source of magnesium, which has already been shown to help with anxiety.


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5. Turmeric

A 2018 study published in the National Library of Medicine shows that curcumin (present in turmeric) can lead to lower levels of anxiety in individuals who consume it regularly. It also had a positive effect on other mental health disorders like chronic stress, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.


6. Asparagus

Many who suffer from anxiety tend to have a folate deficiency. A 2020 paper in the International Journal of Recent Research in Pharmacy shows that asparagus has been used medicinally for combating anxiety symptoms for many decades and has a positive effect on alleviating anxiety-like behaviours.


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7. Almonds

According to UCI Health, foods that are rich in B-vitamins, like almonds and avocados, have been shown to have a positive effect on improving mood and reducing stress and anxiety.


8. Probiotic foods

A 2020 study published in the journal, Frontiers in Neurology, shows that incorporating probiotic foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, miso, pickles) promotes gut health, which has a positive effect on mood and reduces anxiety.


9. Prebiotic foods

Prebiotic food helps feed the probiotic organisms present in the gut. Some foods that are high in prebiotics include onions, garlic, asparagus, and bananas. They support digestive health, improve metabolic health and can boost your immune system to fight diseases more effectively.


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Foods to Avoid With Anxiety

While there are foods that calm anxiety, there are also foods that can make anxiety worse over time. While you don’t have to completely eliminate these foods from your diet, it is important to remember to do it in moderation, so you don’t suffer the effects later. According to UCI Health (USA), you should avoid foods containing:


1. Various kinds of sugars

When you’re opting for processed foods like cookies, pastries, and sweetened beverages, you must keep in mind the amount of sugar you are consuming. A 2019 paper published by the School of Public Health, University of Michigan, shows that there is a correlation between blood sugar and worsening anxiety. Reading the food labels can ensure that you know what you’re eating and whether it contains sugar.


2. Alcohol

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that even moderate amounts of alcohol consumption can lead to worsening anxiety, especially if the consumption is triggered by a need to reduce anxiety. It is ideal to monitor your alcohol consumption and think about whether you feel like it’s making your anxiety worse.


3. Caffeine

High levels of caffeine can trigger anxiety attacks and nervousness. The American Psychological Association states that it can end up causing jitters and anxiety, especially when individuals are dependent on caffeine.


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4. Refined carbohydrates

A 2019 study published in the National Library of Medicine (USA) shows that consumption of refined carbs has been linked to depression and anxiety, especially in women. Refined carbs can include foods with sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and refined grains like white flour. Bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, and white rice are foods that are high in refined carbs.


It’s crucial to understand that these groups of food are not just bad for your anxiety but can be detrimental to your health overall. Maintain a healthy diet and try not to overeat items from these categories (like processed cookies, chocolates, alcohol and so on).


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Q: What foods calm your anxiety?

A: Here are some of the best foods for anxiety:

  • Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and arugula
  • Cashews
  • Fatty fish like salmon
  • Dark chocolate
  • Turmeric
  • Asparagus
  • Almonds
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Yoghurt


Q: What foods make anxiety worse?

A: There are several foods that can worsen the symptoms of anxiety and make you prone to suffering from anxiety attacks. These foods are:

  • Coffee and tea
  • Processed chips, cookies, bread, rice, namkeen, pasta, and breakfast cereals
  • Pastries and other savoury bakery snacks
  • Sugars like high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose


Q: Is there a best diet for anxiety?

A: A 2021 study published by the National Library of Medicine (USA) shows that opting for traditional diets that incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables like the Mediterranean diet can help improve mood and reduce anxiety.


Manage Your Diet for Anxiety Alleviation

When you’re looking to manage your anxiety better, ensuring that you have a good diet can go a long way. While minor alterations will need to be made to your lifestyle, they can ensure that you are better off in the long run. Anti-anxiety foods can go a long way in helping you cope with the symptoms and manage your mood.






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