- These Women Treated Their Anxiety and Depression with Food. Here’s What They Ate.
- The foods that help and hurt your mental health
- Going sugar-free to fight depression and anxiety
- The connection between food and mental health
- Should you try it?
- This New Diet Is Supposed to Help Your Anxiety—So I Tried It
- What You Should Know About the Anti-Anxiety Diet
- Nutrition for Anxiety: An Anti Anxiety Diet?
- How to Create An Anti-Anxiety Diet
- Foods to Eat That Weaken Your Anxiety
- Creating a Diet to Improve Anxiety – And More
- Anxiety-Fighting Foods that May Help Bring Calm, Balance
These Women Treated Their Anxiety and Depression with Food. Here’s What They Ate.
When Jane Green was 14 years old, she was walking offstage from a tap dance competition when she collapsed.
She couldn’t feel her arms, her legs, or her feet. She was hysterically crying, and her whole body was hot. She was gasping for breath. She blacked out for 10 minutes and when she came to, her mom was holding her. It took 30 minutes for her heart rate to calm down enough so she could breathe.
Green was having a panic attack — her first one, but not her last. Her parents took her to the doctor, who diagnosed her with anxiety and depression, and handed her a prescription for an antidepressant.
“I’ve had good times, but I’ve also had really low points. Sometimes it got to the point where I didn’t want to live anymore,” Green shares with Healthline. More doctors’ visits also revealed she had an irregular thyroid, which didn’t help with Jane’s anxiety. She started seeing a therapist at 20, which helped — but only so much.
At 23, after a particularly hard visit with her doctor who told her there was nothing that could be done about her symptoms, Jane had a meltdown in front of her friend Autumn Bates.
Bates was a nutritionist who had overcome her own anxiety issues by changing her diet. She convinced Jane to switch up her diet to see if it made her feel any better.
Green already ate a fairly healthy diet, but dinner was often unhealthy takeout. Sugar was a daily must-have, with candy throughout the day and ice cream at night.
Bates gave Green some new guidelines: no grains, no dairy, less sugar, more healthy fats, medium amounts of protein, and most importantly, lots of vegetables.
Green started drinking bulletproof coffee in the morning, reached for nuts as a snack, stuck to salmon or homemade burgers with veggies for dinner, and savored the small piece of dark chocolate she allowed for dessert.
“For the first three days, I thought I was going to die,” Green says about the switch.
But after a few days, she started noticing her energy level soaring.
“I wasn’t focusing on what I couldn’t eat — I was focusing on how great I felt physically, which made me feel better mentally and emotionally,” she adds. “I stopped getting the crazy highs and lows from sugar. I actually have bowel movements now, which makes such an impact on my mood.”
As for those anxiety attacks? “I haven’t had an anxiety attack in months,” Green says. “I’m completely off my antidepressants, which I 100 percent attribute to my diet and lifestyle changes.”
The foods that help and hurt your mental health
“Changing your nutrition can be a great addition to traditional therapy, like CBT and medication, comes at a much smaller cost and can be a great way to self-care,” says Anika Knüppel, researcher and PhD student at University College London and contributor to the European MooDFOOD program, which focuses on preventing depression through food.
There are two ways nutritional interventions can help mental health: by increasing healthy habits and reducing unhealthy ones. For the best outcome, you have to do both, says Knüppel.
Research has shown the most support for two diets: the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes more healthy fats, and the DASH diet, which focuses on reducing sugar.
Try It: Mediterranean Diet
- Get your starch fix with whole grains and legumes.
- Fill up on plenty of fruits and veggies.
- Focus on eating fatty fish, like salmon or albacore tuna, in place of red meat.
- Add in healthy fats, like raw nuts and olive oil.
- Enjoy sweets and wine in moderation.
The Mediterranean diet is more about what you’re adding in — fresh fruits and vegetables, protein-rich legumes, and fatty fish and olive oil (high in omega-3s).
One study looked at 166 people who were clinically depressed, some being treated with medication. The researchers found that after 12 weeks of eating a modified Mediterranean diet, the participants’ symptoms were significantly better.
An earlier study from 2011 found that when medical students increased their omega-3 fatty acid intake, their anxiety reduced by 20 percent (though with no changes to depression), while in 2016, Spanish researchers found people who followed the Mediterranean lifestyle closest were 50 percent less likely to develop depression than those who didn’t follow the diet as well.
Try It: DASH Diet
- Embrace whole grains, vegetables, and fruit.
- Get protein from chicken, fish, and nuts.
- Switch to low-fat or nonfat dairy.
- Limit sweets, sugary drinks, saturated fats, and alcohol.
Alternatively, the DASH diet is about what you’re taking out, namely sugar.
A 2017 study that Knüppel led analyzed the sugar intake of over 23,000 people. They found that men who ate the most sugar — 67 or more grams a day, which is 17 teaspoons of sugar (or just under two cans of Coke) — were 23 percent more likely to develop depression or anxiety over five years compared to those in the bottom third who logged less than 40 grams a day (10 teaspoons).
And new research from Rush University Medical Center (which will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting) reports that among older adults, those who followed the DASH diet closely were less likely to develop depression over six-and-a-half years compared to those who followed a Western diet.
Going sugar-free to fight depression and anxiety
Simply removing sugar has been life-changing for Catherine Hayes, a 39-year-old Australian mom who was in and out of mental health counseling offices, and on and off antidepressants for the better part of her life.
“My moods would be up and down — mostly down. I had feelings of not being good enough, and some days I wanted to die. Then there was the anxiety to the point I couldn’t leave my house without becoming violently ill,” Hayes explains.
It wasn’t until she realized how much it was affecting her family and that she wanted to get better for her kids that she started looking at alternative therapies. Hayes started doing yoga and found the book “I Quit Sugar.”
At the time, Hayes was eating packets of cookies with coffee in the afternoon and craving dessert before she even ate dinner.
“My new way of eating consisted of lots of greens and salads, healthy fats, protein from meat, switching sweet dressings for olive oil and lemon juice, and limiting fruits to those with low fructose like blueberries and raspberries,” she says.
Giving up sweets wasn’t easy. “In that first month of coming off sugar, I was tired with headaches and flu-like symptoms.”
But at the one-month mark, everything changed. “My energy levels picked up. I was finally sleeping. My moods weren’t as low. I was happier, and the anxiety and depression just didn’t seem to be there,” Hayes says.
Now, two-and-a-half years after going sugar-free, she’s been able to wean herself off her antidepressants. “It’s not for everyone, but this is what worked for me,” she says.
If you’re considering stopping your antidepressants, work with your doctor to create a tapering schedule. You should never stop antidepressant medications on your own.
The connection between food and mental health
Since we don’t have all the answers, biologically, behind anxiety and depression, there’s no clear reason why changing your diet can change your mood, Knüppel says.
But we do know a few things: “Vitamins in the body help the function of enzymes that enable reactions such as the synthesis of serotonin, which plays an essential role in our happiness,” she explains.
Meanwhile, too much sugar has been found to decrease a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is involved in the development of depression and anxiety.
There’s also emerging research that suggests that our gut plays an important role in mental health.
“The microorganisms in our gut can communicate with the brain and several systems that could play a role in depression and anxiety, and the composition of the gut microbiota is influenced by nutrition,” Knüppel adds.
Michael Thase, MD, psychiatrist and director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at the University of Pennsylvania, says there are a few other factors at play here.
“When you treat depression with medication, the actual ‘magical’ chemical ingredients matter maybe 15 percent. It’s really the process of working with a doctor and finding the motivation to recognize the problem and take steps toward fixing it that counts for most of the good,” Thase says.
“You can get that much of the good in a non-medication intervention that includes diet, exercise, and talking to someone,” he believes.
It’s really when you start taking care of yourself — which taking control of your diet certainly counts as — you get remoralization, Thase adds. “Your spirits pick up and that’s an antidepressant.”
Knüppel agrees: “Diet is a great way of active self-care and self-love — a key in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is often used to treat anxiety and depression. I believe seeing oneself as worthy of self-care and therefore worthy of being fed with nutritious food is a great step.”
Why certain foods are mood-boosting
- Some enzymes found in food boost serotonin levels.
- Sugar is associated with depression and anxiety.
- Emerging science shows gut health plays a role in anxiety.
- Eating healthy foods is a great way to practice self-care, important in CBT.
- Taking active steps to eat a nutritious diet can increase motivation.
Should you try it?
No treatment is perfect and no treatment works for everyone, Thase states. Both experts agree if you have depression or anxiety, your first step should be getting help from a mental health professional.
But trying out nutritional changes in parallel with whatever steps you and your doctor decide may potentially bolster the improvements.
Still, Thase says diet isn’t a silver bullet for anxiety and depression.
“I’m all in favor of helping people take a look at their fitness and diet as a holistic plan to help recover from depression, but I wouldn’t count on it solely,” Thase says.
For some, nutritional intervention may work wonderfully as a primary treatment. But for others, including people with specific disorders like bipolar or schizophrenia, sticking to a specific diet would need to be used as complementary to other treatments, like medication, he explains.
And even though Thase doesn’t incorporate nutritional interventions with his patients, he adds that he could see this becoming another tool for psychiatrists or mental health professionals to consider in the future.
In fact, there’s a field called nutritional psychology that’s gaining steam.
“There is a real movement toward mindfulness and holistic approaches in our culture right now, and in psychiatry, there’s a movement toward personalized medicine, in the sense that our patients are the captains of their own ship and their own treatment planning,” he explains.
As people become more interested in alternative therapies like this and continue to see results, you may see more mainstream docs writing prescriptions for healthy foods in the future.
Rachael Schultz is a freelance writer who focuses primarily on why our bodies and brains work the way they do, and how we can optimize both (without losing our sanity). She’s worked on staff at Shape and Men’s Health and contributes regularly to a slew of national health and fitness publications. She’s most passionate about hiking, traveling, mindfulness, cooking, and really, really good coffee. You can find her work at rachael-schultz.com.
This New Diet Is Supposed to Help Your Anxiety—So I Tried It
I live by an “everything in moderation” mantra—which means I turn up my nose at diets, since they usually restrict or eliminate of certain foods, and I toss review copies of books about diets on the free table at the publishing company where I work. This happens a lot.
Recently, though, I came across a book promising to change everything I thought I knew about the mind-body connection and help banish my anxiety. “The Anti-Anxiety Diet: A Whole Body Program To Stop Racing Thoughts, Banish Worry, and Live Panic-Free” is authored by nutritionist Ali Miller, RD. The book caught my eye because I had been Googling “How to reduce anxiety naturally” and “How to get rid of breakup-induced anxiety without drugs” the night before. (Yep, both describe my life at the time.)
RELATED: What Is Panic Disorder—and How Do You Know if You Have It?
Intrigued by the possibility of beating anxiety with the right foods, I did some serious digging on this diet. I read it cover to cover and interviewed Miller herself. I also spoke to Josh Axe, a doctor of natural medicine and author of the upcoming Keto Diet, and Maya Feller, MS, RD, of Maya Feller Nutrition, to find out if other nutrition pros thought the plan would work.
What I learned about the anti-anxiety diet—from what you can and can’t eat, to why the foods you consume actually matter when it comes to beating anxiety—convinced me to give it a try. Here’s what happened.
What is the anti-anxiety diet?
“The anti-anxiety diet is a food-as-medicine approach, which means understanding that food can contribute to disease and dysfunction, or be used to promote healing and prevent disease and anxiety,” says Miller.
This 12-week plan employs what Miller calls The Six R’s: removing inflammatory foods, resetting your gut microbiome (the trillion-strong collection of bacteria that live in your GI system), repairing your GI lining, restoring your micronutrient status, and rebalancing your neurotransmitters.
Sounds confusing and hard, right? But it’s essentially a combination of the ketogenic diet and an anti-inflammatory protocol. That means you simultaneously stop eating anything containing inflammatory foods (Miller says there are five: gluten, corn, soy, sugar, and dairy) and start consuming a high-fat, moderate-protein diet. The latter sends you into ketosis—the state your body enters when it stops burning glucose from carbs for energy and starts burning ketones from fat.
Beyond that, the plan emphasizes eating to support gut health, so you increase your levels of serotonin (the “happy” hormone) and GABA (a neurotransmitter linked to feelings of relaxation). This part of the plan is specialized per participant, based on answers to three in-book quizzes: one about your gut bacteria balance, another about leaky gut, and a third concerning your adrenal glands, which produce hormones.
Based on my quiz results, the book recommended that I try a capsule containing herbal adaptogens, which are botanical extracts that reportedly restore balance to the body and may fight anxiety (though more research is needed to confirm this). I’m also supposed to limit my caffeine intake to one cup of coffee a day—or better yet, swap it for matcha tea. But other people who try the diet may be asked to adopt different changes and restrictions.
RELATED: Woman Dies From Rabies After She Was Misdiagnosed With Panic Attacks
Okay, so how does this help anxiety?
The theory behind the plan is that inflammation, gut distress, and neurotransmitter imbalances can lead to and amplify anxiety—while anti-inflammatory foods, the keto diet, and gut-friendly foods can reduce it.
How does the super trendy keto diet help? By going low-carb, you can change the rate of glucose metabolism in the brain so there’s a more active conversion of glutamate to GABA, the neurotransmitter linked to relaxation. “Because GABA is a mood stabilizer, the idea is that the ketogenic diet acts as a mood stabilizer,” says Feller. Anecdotal reports have also suggested that following keto can help reduce anxiety symptoms, fear, and depression, adds Feller.
As for how inflammation and anxiety are linked, Miller says that people who have anxiety tend to have a high amount of inflammatory chemicals in the body. That “causes a surge of excitatory neurotransmitters, which creates even more anxious thoughts and feelings,” she explains. And since 90% of serotonin is made in the gut, when the GI tract and gut are inflamed, production of serotonin may be hindered. That in turn increases feelings of stress, she says.
Armed with this info and curious, I decided that trading 6-12 weeks of my life for a less stressed-out existence was a reasonable deal. (The diet takes a minimum of 12 weeks, but you can make it a long-term lifestyle by continually cycling between the two phases, says Miller.) So I put faith into this food-as-medicine approach, even if the research is still emerging, and investigated whether it could really ease my anxiety.
RELATED: Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack: How to Tell the Difference
Prepping for the plan
On the Sunday night before I embarked on the diet, with my anti-anxiety diet grocery list in hand, I filled my cart with some of my usual purchases: kale, eggs, spinach, leeks, nut butter, pickles, coconut oil, and kombucha. I added some new keto and anti-inflammatory eats: chicken, turkey, bacon, kimchi, nut cheese, and a ton of herbs and spices (ginger, basil, mint, sea salt, and garlic). I also picked up turmeric and a magnesium supplement, both of which were recommended based on my answers to the in-book quizzes.
As a New Yorker, I eat out a lot, so I knew keeping keto for the six-week minimum would be hardest when I went to restaurants or ordered takeout. I decided to look at the menus at the restaurants I frequent, and luckily, they all had gluten-free and dairy-free options, which I could doctor up to fit the anti-anxiety diet. (For instance, at one cafe I ordered a lox and eggs bowl without the side of toast, and at a deli I could easily get a spinach or kale salad with avocado, egg, and grilled chicken.)
With my research done, fridge fully stocked, shelves emptied of processed foods, and a restaurant game plan in place, I was ready to go. While Miller said a person could do phase one for up to 12 weeks, I decided to just do it for six, the minimum.
RELATED: 7 Dangers of the Keto Diet
Phase 1: A rough start, then calmness
I’d been warned by Axe and Miller about “keto flu,” the flu-like symptoms some folks experience right as they’re starting ketosis, such as nausea, irritability, and fatigue, I only experienced one symptom: brain fog. By the end of the week the fog had started to break, but mentally I was less with it than usual.
After a week, that lifted, and as the weeks went on, I had a few side effects. My cravings for sweets kicked in and my workout performance began to suffer. But at the six-week mark, I realized I had been feeling more grounded. While it’s true that trying the anti-anxiety diet isn’t the only thing I’ve started doing to manage my anxiety—I’ve also been gratitude journaling, going to yoga, drinking more water, and spending more time with friends—I really did feel calmer.
Phase 2: More carbs, but more grounded
After keeping keto, this phase was easy. Instead of a paltry 30 grams of carbs, I could have as much as 90 grams—bring on the granny smith apples! After two days, I was back to crushing it at the gym.
Three weeks into phase two out of a recommended seven weeks total, Miller gave me promising feedback. She said that I had repaired my GI lining and restored my microbiome, as well as reduced pre-existing inflammation, so my symptoms of anxiety should continue to stay where they are—at a level that’s a lot more manageable than when I started.
Did the anti-anxiety diet work?
In the end, I’m pleased with how I feel internally and externally. The anti-anxiety diet was a somewhat intensive undertaking, but I still really feel more grounded (and I’ve lost some belly bloat too). Oh, and I no longer feel the need to Google various versions of the phrase “how to get over anxiety.” So I’d say the results made the diet worth it.
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What You Should Know About the Anti-Anxiety Diet
Photo: Claudia Totir / Getty Images
Chances are you’ve either personally struggled with anxiety or know someone who has. That’s because anxiety affects 40 million adults in the United States every year, and about 30 percent of people experience anxiety at some point in their lives. There are many ways anxiety manifests itself-panic attacks, stomachaches, autoimmune disorders, and acne, just to name a few-but it’s often life-altering. (P.S. Here’s why you should stop saying you have anxiety if you really don’t.)
With so many people suffering, there’s increased attention on finding a solution for anxiety. Sarah Wilson, a clean-eating guru best known for her multi-platform business I Quit Sugar, is joining scientists and mental health professionals in their fight toward better mental health.
In April, Wilson released a memoir about her own anxiety, called First We Make the Beast Beautiful, in which she details her personal struggle and outlines the coping strategies that worked for her. Alongside the memoir, she released a two-week program and plan-out now as an e-book-which she calls The Anti-Anxiety Diet. (To avoid confusion, it’s worth mentioning that another expert in the wellness space, dietitian Ali Miller, R.D., released her own version of the anti-anxiety diet as well-which uses a slightly different approach than Wilson. Miller’s 12-week plan implements some of the anti-inflammatory protocols that Wilson details below, but also requires that her followers use keto diet food guidelines.)
Wilson explains that her plan is based on the research-backed claim that anxiety is not just a chemical imbalance in the brain, but that it’s also a result of inflammation and imbalances in the gut. “Research suggests that mood disorders have a lot to do with your lifestyle choices and what you eat,” she says. “This means that the ‘fix’ for anxiety might not (only) be medication and therapy, but a few sensible dietary changes too.”
It certainly sounds compelling-but is a two-week sugar detox really enough to reduce anxiety? Below, Wilson explains the eight dietary shifts she claims can help reduce symptoms of anxiety. Plus, we’ll outline whether or not they work, according to research and other experts.
The 8 Rules of the Anti-Anxiety Diet
Wilson’s anti-anxiety diet isn’t based on counting calories or macronutrients, nor is its goal to aid in weight loss (though that may be a happy side effect for folks currently eating the “standard American diet”). Rather, the diet follows eight simple rules.
Unsurprisingly-given Wilson’s OG business endeavor-the first rule is to cut sugar (more on that below). However, she emphasizes that “this diet is not about what you can’t eat, it’s about what you can eat.” The other seven rules are about what to eat more of.
Together, she says, these rules have three main functions (all of which lead to decreased anxiety): Help interrupt the sugar and blood sugar roller coaster, reduce inflammation, and repair your gut microbiota.
1. Quit sugar.
Quitting sugar-one of the seven most addictive legal substances-is rule number one. “Anyone can benefit from cutting back on or quitting sugar,” says Wilson. “But if you’re anxious, reducing sugar in your diet is a must.” In fact, there have been studies that show a correlation between anxiety and higher-sugar diets.
That’s why Wilson’s approach is to crowd out the bad stuff (sugar) with the good stuff. Her tip aligns with the World Health Organization’s recommendations that adult women consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day. (Hint: If you don’t know how to find the number of teaspoons of added sugar in a serving, divide the number of grams of sugar listed on the label by 4.2.)
2. Eat more foods with tryptophan.
Yep, as in the amino acid in turkey that makes you sleepy.
Why? The neurotransmitters in your brain and body are made from amino acids that you can only get via dietary protein. “If you don’t get enough of these aminos-especially tryptophan-there’s not enough to synthesize serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which can lead to mood issues,” she explains. And, yes, research suggests that this is true. (FYI: Serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine are all neurotransmitters important for mood regulation.)
Her suggestion is to eat three servings of protein such as turkey, chicken, cheese, soy, nuts, and peanut butter, a day. The only caveat is to opt for grass-fed or free-range animal-products when possible because grass-fed meat has been shown to have higher levels of omega-3s, which reduce inflammation.
3. Feast on fish.
Research has shown that one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in patients with mental disorders is a lack of omega-3 fatty acids, says Wilson. We still don’t know whether that omega-3-deficiency is a cause or effect of mental issues, but she suggests adding long-chain fatty-acid-rich fish like anchovies, herring, salmon, and trout to your diet two to three times a week. (If you’re vegetarian, these meat-free foods offer a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids.)
4. Prioritize fermented foods.
By now you’ve probably heard that fermented foods contain good-for-your-gut probiotics. But did you know that one study found that those who eat fermented foods have fewer symptoms of social anxiety? That’s why Wilson suggests eating one cup of full-fat plain yogurt or 1/2 cup of sauerkraut every single day. (Note: Some sauerkraut is just pickled in vinegar, so make sure that if you’re getting store-bought kraut it’s actually fermented.)
5. Supplement with turmeric.
Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory powers. That’s why Wilson suggests consuming 3 teaspoons of ground turmeric a day. (Here are more of the health benefits of turmeric).
“The best way to eat turmeric is with a source of fat like coconut oil for bio-availability and black pepper which helps with absorption,” she says. This guide on how to add turmeric to pretty much every meal can help you get the most out of the spice.
6. Eat more healthy fats.
The last time there was an avocado shortage, widespread panic ensued. So, chances are, you already eat some healthy fats. But Wilson wants you to eat even more healthy fats-in the form of olive oil, butter, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds. (Related: 11 High-Fat Foods a Healthy Diet Should Always Include)
That’s because one study found that when men ate a high-fat diet (with 41 percent of their calories coming from fat), they reported fewer incidents of anxiety than the other group. More fat, less stress? Deal.
7. Gobble leafy greens.
You already know there are tons of benefits to getting your recommended servings of veggies each day. Well, in the name of improved mental health, Wilson suggests getting seven to nine servings a day (of green leafy veggies, specifically). (More incentive: Science Says Eating More Fruits And Veggies Can Make You Happier)
“Kale, spinach, chard, parsley, bok choy, and other Asian greens are chock-full of b vitamins and antioxidants and are all great options,” she says.
8. Sip bone broth
The benefits of bone broth are well known and well worth the buzz. That why Wilson recommends you “drink one cup of stock a day to help improve digestion, reduce inflammation, and reduce stress.”
So, Does the Anti-Anxiety Diet Work?
The basic guidelines-eat no sugar, but emphasize tryptophan, turmeric, healthy fats, fish, fermented foods, leafy vegetables, and bone broth-seem easy and healthy enough. But can following them actually help reduce anxiety? According to other experts, it actually might.
“I believe that nutrition therapy-the manipulation of nutrient intake to treat or prevent disease and improve physical and mental health-is sometimes more effective than traditional medicine,” says dietitian Kristen Mancinelli, R.D.N., author of Jump Start Ketosis.
And self-proclaimed biohacker Dave Asprey, founder and CEO of Bulletproof, believes that diet can be used to fight anxiety, specifically: “It’s true that when your gut bacteria is out of balance, it sends signals to your brain via the central nervous system, which can trigger changes in your mood and lead to mood disorders,” he says. That’s why he says a healthy gut will have a direct impact on your anxiety levels-and why eliminating sugar, eating anti-inflammatory foods, and consuming healthy fats are all tenets of his Bulletproof Diet, which has also been said to calm anxiety. (BTW: Everything You Need to Know About Biohacking Your Body)
Here’s the thing: Wilson doesn’t have any formal education in food, nutrition, or dietetics, and she’s not a licensed psychologist. And as of yet, there’s been no research specifically on Wilson’s anti-anxiety plan (or on the other specific diets that are cropping up and promising to reduce symptoms of anxiety). Research does confirm, though, that there may be anxiety-reducing and gut-health benefits to each of the rules in her program. Otherwise, any anxiety-reducing benefits of the specific two-week plan are largely anecdotal.
Should You Try the Anti-Anxiety Diet?
Ultimately, finding what works best for you is key. If you think you’re suffering from anxiety (or another mental health issue), your first line of defense and best bet is to find a mental health care provider to talk to so that you can create a plan of action. Together, you may agree that tackling anxiety through dietary shifts may be one piece of the puzzle toward more sound mental health. (These Anxiety-Reducing Solutions for Common Worry Traps could help too.)
- By By Gabrielle Kassel
Nutrition for Anxiety: An Anti Anxiety Diet?
While your diet is unlikely to cause you to develop anxiety, for those who already suffer from an anxiety disorder could benefit from making dietary changes. Certain foods are known to help nourish the body and relieve feelings of distress while others can cause changes in the body that may lead to anxiety increasing.
What you eat affects how you feel and if you have anxiety if affects the severity of your anxiety. It stands to reason that changing your diet to one that is full of foods that help reduce anxiety while limiting those that increase anxiety can be a valuable part of treating your anxiety symptoms.
How to Create An Anti-Anxiety Diet
We have all heard recommendations about healthy eating and may have even resolved at certain times during our lives to eat healthier. However, many of us do not know what exactly it means to eat healthier. Here we will look at some of the foods that increase anxiety symptoms as well as some that can help to decrease anxiety symptoms.
You can start by avoiding foods that may contribute to your anxiety symptoms. It is recommended to limit consumption of the following:
- Fried Foods Fried foods are difficult to digest, have little nutritional content, and contribute to heart struggles. The stress they put on your body while working to digest can increase the feelings of distress you experience.
- Alcohol Alcohol dehydrates you, it throws off your hormone and nutritional balance, and it can cause physical symptoms from the toxins that trigger anxiety attacks. Further, many people report increased anxiety after a night of drinking.
- Coffee Coffee and other sources of caffeine are known to create a rapid heartbeat and some sensations that may create or mimic panic attacks. For example, caffeine may increase racing thoughts, rapid heartbeat, sweating, and hyperventilating.
- Dairy Products Dairy products aren’t necessarily bad for you, but in excess they may heighten your adrenaline levels and contribute to a more anxious state. Moderation is the key here, and if you find after consuming dairy products you feel more anxious, cut back.
- Refined Sugars Refined sugar is the added sugar in products such as cookies and juice. These refined ‘white’ sugars stimulate your body in a way that can create a jitteriness that exacerbates anxiety symptoms. Naturally occurring sugar such as those found in fruit are much safer and better tolerated by the body.
- Acidic Foods Foods like yogurt, pickles, eggs, sour cream, wine, and liver are all acid creating foods. Evidence has suggested that acid causing foods may cause a drop in magnesium levels. Magnesium levels have been shown to have a relationship with anxiety symptoms. Those who do not have enough magnesium are more likely to experience anxiety and at a higher intensity than others with anxiety and normal magnesium levels.
Avoiding these foods is will not cure anxiety, but they may provide some relief. If your diet consists mostly of these items you will likely notice more significant results.
Foods to Eat That Weaken Your Anxiety
There are several foods that may reduce your anxiety symptoms. Remember, healthy eating leads to healthy hormonal functioning, which leads to an improved sense of well-being. So the better you eat, the more likely it is that your anxiety will be more mild.
- Fresh Fruit Your body does need carbs and sugar, it just doesn’t need refined sugars. Fresh fruit has sugar that can be converted to energy, and provides necessary nutrients as well. Blueberries and peaches may be especially advantageous.
- Vegetables Of course, vegetables are arguably even more important, especially for those with anxiety. Vegetables are rich in fiber, and many of the vitamins that those with anxiety deplete regularly.
- Water A tremendous percentage of the population is regularly dehydrated because they do not drink nearly enough water. Dehydration nearly always leads to anxiety, which is why it’s crucial that you consume enough water regularly. If you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated. Try to incorporate water into your daily routine where it be drinking a glass before each meal or having the goal of drinking 1 bottle over the course of every 2 hours.
- Tryptophan Rich Foods Tryptophan has a natural relaxation component, and may increase your metabolism as an added bonus. Oats, soy, poultry, and sesame seeds all have a fair amount of tryptophan.
- Magnesium Rich Foods As much as 25% of the country or more is magnesium deficient, and magnesium plays a role in over 300 different processes within the body. It’s a crucial vitamin that few people get, so magnesium rich foods like black beans and tofu are very important.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids Research into Omega 3’s is still being conducted, but there is some evidence that Omega-3 is may have a correlation with anxiety symptoms. Omega-3’s can be found in fish, flax seed, and winter squash.
Eating these foods won’t cure your anxiety, but they may reduce your anxiety symptoms and make it easier for an effective anxiety treatment to work. Eating healthy does have an effect on your ability to handle anxiety, so altering your diet to include healthier foods is important.
Creating a Diet to Improve Anxiety – And More
Anxiety isn’t directly caused by diet, but your diet is a contributing factor to both the experience and the severity. Since eating a healthier diet is also important for your health and your self-esteem, changing your diet when you suffer from anxiety can provide many benefits. In addition to changing your diet, you should work to learn how to manage your anxiety.
About 30% Americans experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives, and women are almost twice as likely as men to have one, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. We’re overworked, stressed, exhausted, and burnt out — but changing what’s physically on our plates may help.
There’s a growing body of evidence suggesting pathways in your gut may affect mental health and anxiety symptoms. This makes sense given that your gut serves as a bodyguard to the rest of your immune and neurological systems. Taking care of your GI tract through diet can benefit you in the long run and it’s another way to help regulate mood, in addition to any therapies and medications prescribed by your doctor.
Placing an emphasis on veggies, fruit, 100% whole grains, nuts, seeds, and unsweetened dairy products benefits us in multiple ways at the biochemical level. But if you’re wondering about those CBD edibles and drinks you’re suddenly seeing everywhere, they may not help as much as you may think.
First, while hemp products are legal, CBD specifically is still not. Under current regulations, hemp-based foods and beverages cannot make claims about the purported health effects of CBD. Also, there aren’t any dosage guidelines or guarantees that a product even contains as much CBD as it says it does. Another factor to consider: Your body can use only a fraction (less than 20%) of the CBD it digests. CBD from pure hemp oil won’t cause you direct harm, it is pretty unpalatable. Products with CBD may also contain ingredients that’ll make anything taste better, like added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat-filled oils.
While there’s no magic food that can “cure” or “treat” anxiety and depression (talk to your doc if you’re concerned), there are a few shifts that we can make in our daily food choices that have been studied for mood-boosting properties. Assuming we all want to eat food that’s delicious, nutritious, and safe, try more of these picks instead:
Anxiety-Fighting Foods that May Help Bring Calm, Balance
While diet changes cannot cure anxiety alone, well-balanced meals and drinking enough water can be a great place to start to relieve stress and worry, as keeping blood sugar stable may help create a calmer feeling.
For example, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains are thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which can make you feel even-keeled and relaxed. The Mayo Clinic recommends steering clear of foods with simple carbohydrates, like sugary foods and drinks, as well as limiting alcohol and caffeine. A sugar rush, alcohol or caffeine can precipitate or mimic anxiety-symptoms.
Diving deeper, a healthy gut can promote a calm mind, so taking care of our GI tract is another way to help regulate mood and imbalances. Some studies show a healthy diet has the capability to promote the function known as the gut-brain network, where microorganisms in the digestive tract are linked to important pathways to the brain.
The gut-brain network serves as a bodyguard for our immune and neurological systems. About 95% of serotonin receptors, which are key to stabilizing mood and brain function, are also found in the lining of the gut. According to a Harvard Medical School health blog, research is examining the potential of probiotics for treating both anxiety and depression by boosting good bacteria in the gut.
While you should talk to your doctor to explore your individual nutritional needs and the recommended anxiety treatment for you, specific nutrient-rich foods have been shown to help reduce anxiety:
Magnesium: Nuts, legumes, whole grains and dark leafy greens, like spinach and swiss chard, are abundant sources of magnesium, which has been shown to help lessen anxiety and improve stress.
Zinc: The mineral found in oysters, cashew, liver, beef and egg yolks is also linked to lowered anxiety, as zinc plays a key role in the central nervous system.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Studies by the JAMA Network have shown that Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon or fish oils have shown therapeutic effects on anxiety and depression in some people.
Probiotic-rich foods: Probiotics can boost those beneficial microorganisms in the gut. Fermented foods like pickles, kefir and sauerkraut may introduce good bacteria to protect the body against the harmful effects of stress.
Dark chocolate: Chocolate lovers can rejoice, because studies show dark chocolate, which has less added sugars, can take a bite out of stress by helping to improve mood and reduce the stress hormone cortisol, which can be linked to anxiety.
Asparagus: The stalky green vegetable comes with another surprising nutritional benefit. The Chinese government approved the use of asparagus extract as a natural functional food to help lower anxiety.
Antioxidants: Blueberries, strawberries, apples, prunes, plums, acai, walnuts, pecans, beans and broccoli are all examples of foods designated high in antioxidants by the USDA.
Last, a food journal or app may also offer a helpful overview of your food intake and bring an overall awareness of how you nourish your body and mind. Tracking meals may give insight of how your diet can play a dynamic role in mood and brain chemistry and help ease the burden of anxiety.