Updated: Jul 19
By: Taylor Akers, Winthrop University Graduate Student
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders fall as one of the most common mental disorders, affecting over 40 million people a year. There are many reasons someone can feel anxious or depressed, whether you are stressed out about work or school, you recently went through a breakup or maybe your hormones just feel out of whack and you don’t know what is causing these feelings. People who seek treatment often go to their physician for medicines or seek out a therapist for counseling, but have you ever considered that the foods you eat are making you feel this way?
Foods to avoid:
Processed sugars and foods can lead to anxiety symptoms by spiking your blood sugar or cause inflammation. Consuming these foods on a regular basis can lead to a disturbance in your gut microbiome, causing your body to function improperly.
Caffeine and energy drinks activate adenosine receptors in the peripheral and central nervous systems. This sends our body into flight or fight mode, making us feel on edge all the time.
Alcohol can lead to a disturbance in our emotions as well. Although it is a depressant, drinking in excess can lead to other health problems such as sleep impairments and blood sugar spikes. This can further lead to an increase in anxious feelings and sometimes cause “hangiexty” the day after drinking.
Processed vegetable oils such as canola, soybean and corn can cause inflammation or make you feel jittery. They are most often found in fast foods or when you go eat at restaurants.
Foods to include:
Eating foods that are high in magnesium are found to decrease anxiety symptoms since magnesium promotes our calming receptors. Foods rich in magnesium include legumes, nuts and seeds.
Including fatty fish in your diet is important because of the high omega-3 content. A study completed on medical students in 2011 found that high levels of omega-3 reduced their depression and anxiety symptoms. Some fish to include are Salmon, Tuna and Herring.
Chamomile is a herb that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may reduce symptoms. It is believed to regulate neurotransmitters related to mood such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA. The most common form of chamomile consumed is chamomile tea but you can also buy the extract.
Adding dark chocolate to your diet may ease some anxiety symptoms. Dark chocolate contains flavanols, such as epicatechin and catechin, which are plant compounds that act as antioxidants. There is research that states some flavonoids may help brain function by increasing the blood supplied to the brain. Other research indicates that the taste of dark chocolate alone can be soothing for some people. It is best consumed in moderation, with about 1.0-1.5 oz per serving.
While it doesn’t seem like the foods we eat daily are affecting our mood, little changes can add up to big results. Just swapping out your morning coffee for chamomile tea might make you feel less anxious throughout the day. There are many other foods or treatments to help reduce these unwanted feelings but these are always a good start.
Uma Naidoo, MD. “Nutritional Strategies to Ease Anxiety.” Harvard Health, 28 Aug. 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-strategies-to-ease-anxiety-201604139441#:~:text=Foods%20naturally%20rich%20in%20magnesium,been%20linked%20to%20lowered%20anxiety.
“Facts & Statistics: Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA.” Facts & Statistics | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics.
10 Foods and Drinks Linked to Anxiety | U.S. News. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/food/articles/foods-and-drinks-linked-to-anxiety.
Elliott, Brianna. “6 Foods That Help Reduce Anxiety.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 24 May 2021, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-foods-that-reduce-anxiety#TOC_TITLE_HDR_5.