We live in a high-stress world in which we get very little time to switch off. In fact, to completely submerge ourselves into our own worlds, we have to turn off our phones, leave our computers, and forget about our ever-increasing number of responsibilities, at least for a short time. However, doing so can lead to feelings of guilt, anxiety, and a sense of impending doom as to what you may return to, despite switching off to ease these feelings in the first place.Stress management is essential to our health, and what will work best for you will depend on your personality type and lifestyle. However, there is one thing we all have control over that will help ease anxiety, and that’s our food.
6 Foods Proven to Help Ease Anxiety
#1 Dark Chocolate
You won’t find me suggesting chocolate very often, but dark chocolate (the darker, the better!) has a range of health benefits. Studies have shown that palatable foods like dark chocolate stimulate the reward center of the brain with an increase in dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of happiness and pleasure.Small amounts of dark chocolate can stimulate this response without also hitting you with a lot of sugar. Many people like to ease their minds (and their sweet tooth) with a small piece of dark chocolate after dinner to ease anxiety and promote a relaxed state before bed.
We all know that salmon is good for you, but did you know that foods high in omega fatty acids have been shown to decrease anxiety? A study showing the effects of foods rich in fatty acids (like salmon) found that increasing these foods eased premenstrual cramps and PMS symptoms (which often includes anxiety).It is also believed to help ease anxiety thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties because omega fatty acids reduce inflammation in the brain which is believed to be a cause of anxiety and depression.
#3 Raw Fruits and Vegetables
Recent studies have found that, along with their many other benefits, the ingestion of raw fruits and vegetables can result in improved mood compared to ingesting processed, canned, and even cooked fruit and vegetables. Why? Researchers believe that this difference is due to the lost micronutrients in canned and cooked fruit and vegetables. When raw, the increased micronutrient delivery improves mood and can decrease anxiety symptoms. Of course, if you hate raw vegetables and love cooked vegetables it may not work for you, but it’s worth doing where you can!
#4 Citrus Fruits
Foods high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, such as citrus fruit, have been seen to reduce symptoms of anxiety. Researchers believe that the oxidative stress in cells caused by aging, chronic diseases, and obesity is a major cause of anxiety. Foods high in antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress resulting in better overall wellbeing and decreased anxiety symptoms. Other foods that are particularly high in antioxidants are:
- Dark chocolate (darker the better)
- Berries, such as strawberries and blueberries
- Artichokes, kale, red cabbage, beets, and other brightly colored veggies
Turkey is one of the healthiest meats to eat because it is so lean, but it is also high in the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is one of the precursors of serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter. Increasing your tryptophan intake can result in reduced anxiety symptoms. If you are vegan or vegetarian, tofu is a great replacement. Other foods high in tryptophan are:
- Pumpkin Seeds
Milk is also high in tryptophan, but be cautious as whole milk is extremely calorie-dense. Lean meat like turkey or tuna, or a soy alternative like tofu, is a much healthier way to increase your tryptophan intake.
Foods high in probiotics are shown to have calming effects because it is now understood that the health of your gut bacteria not only helps you have a healthy digestive system but also helps reduce inflammation throughout the body. Studies have found that neuroinflammation has profound negative effects on many emotional states, including depression and anxiety, and keeping the gut bacteria balanced helps to reduce inflammation around your brain. Keeping your gut bacteria happy will also help keep you happy!
Eating healthy foods that increase serotonin levels and decrease inflammation throughout the body combined with stress management techniques is the best way to keep feelings of anxiety to a minimum. Make sure you experiment and find ways to manage your stress that work for you; if you’re introverted, make time to spend time alone to reset and recharge. If you’re extroverted, make sure you have outlets with friends or family where you don’t feel like you have to be “on” in the same way you may need to be at work. Getting enough exercise, reducing alcohol intake, and mindfulness are all great habits to get into for all of us.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.