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Anti-Anxiety Diet: Top 10 Anti-Anxiety Foods to Calm Your Nerves

Erika Krull, MSEd, LMHP

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Erika Krull, MSEd, LMHP

Last updated February 23, 2021

Anti-Anxiety Diet: Top 10 Anti-Anxiety Foods to Calm Your Nerves

Research studies from the last several years have shown a clear connection between diet and mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Diet changes alone won’t remove all anxiety from your life. But making a few adjustments may help your body respond to stress. 

A well-nourished body is better equipped to handle emotional ups and downs. By adopting an anti-anxiety diet, you give your body a better chance to keep your nerves calm every day. 

The Connection Between Anxiety and the Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system is responsible for unconscious activities in your body like blood pressure and breathing. This system is divided into two functional branches. The sympathetic system ramps up the body with cortisol and other body chemicals preparing you for either fight or flight. The parasympathetic system helps the body relax once the action is over. When both systems work well together, you can get the energy you need to be active and calm down when it’s time to rest. 

When you feel overly stressed and anxious, the sympathetic system goes into overdrive. When you develop ongoing anxiety symptoms, your sympathetic system keeps you in a state of mental and physical tension. Over time, it becomes difficult to tap into your parasympathetic system so you can recover. 

A healthy nervous system will help you stay in balance as each part does its job. Consider the following tips for creating your best anti-anxiety diet.

Nutrients that support anxiety treatment

The following nutrients are all vital for optimal nervous system health. Look for these on food labels and in fresh food descriptions on your next trip to the grocery store.

  • B vitamins - Vitamins B1, B6, and B12 play essential roles in keeping your nervous system healthy. 
  • Antioxidants (vitamins A, C, and E) - Experts believe that anxiety may be related to lower levels of antioxidants in the body. Increasing your intake of vitamins A, C, and E may lessen your symptoms.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids - Research has connected omega-3 fatty acids and improved depression symptoms for several years. Studies have not been looking at anxiety symptoms for as long, but there’s reason to believe omega-3 may have a similar helpful effect.
  • Minerals – Minerals such as magnesium, manganese, selenium, iron, and zinc are all necessary for good nervous system health.
  • Tryptophan - Tryptophan is an amino acid, a precursor to neurotransmitters. Studies have linked increased tryptophan with reduced feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • Low levels of Zinc - Consumption of foods with high zinc content has been linked with lower anxiety. And studies have demonstrated that anxiety can develop when zinc intake is lower than recommended levels.
  • Complex carbohydrates - Serotonin is a brain chemical that naturally produces a calming effect on the body. Complex carbohydrates are thought to increase the production of the calming body chemical serotonin. 

Top 10 Anti-Anxiety Foods that Calm Your Nerves

Wondering what foods can help calm your nerves? This list includes several delicious foods that are found in most grocery stores. Try a few in your diet this week.

Chamomile

Chamomile is a medicinal herb with well-known relaxation properties. Most people consume it as a warm and comforting tea. Chamomile also happens to be a mild diuretic, so be sure you drink a little extra water to stay hydrated. 

Brown Rice

Brown rice is a type of complex carbohydrate and has a high fiber content. The cooking time is longer due to the fiber content, but you’ll also be rewarded with a warm, nutty flavor. 

Butternut Squash 

This popular winter squash not only has a rich, smooth flavor, but it’s also a good store of vitamin B6. The B vitamins are essential for good nervous system health

Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are small but mighty. They pack in high fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which may help steady your nerves. These are easy to add to smoothies, oatmeal, or other breakfast foods.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is another complex carb food. It’s also a high fiber food, which means it takes longer to digest and keeps you feeling full. Oatmeal’s staying power means you’ll be let down more gradually than with high-sugar foods.

Green Bananas

Mental health and inflammation have been linked by multiple research studies. Slightly unripe bananas are a food that has resistant starches, a nutrient that helps limit the body’s inflammatory response.

Salmon

Salmon is one of the healthiest meats you can eat. It has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which has been shown to help with depression and anxiety.

Turkey Breast

One culprit for the typical post-Thanksgiving nap is the tryptophan found in turkey meat. The high protein content in turkey breasts can also keep you from getting the jitters between meals.

Almonds

Almonds have many nutrients that support the gut biome. Many research studies have linked gut health and mental health. Increasing your almond intake could make your mental health less vulnerable to stress.

Carrots

Carrots may be helpful in two ways. First, its high fiber content can keep you feeling full and prevent a stressful sugar crash. And second, carrots are a good source of magnesium, a nutrient that may have a protective effect against anxiety. 

Foods and Substances to Avoid When Coping With Anxiety

These foods and substances can amplify your anxiety. If you turn to these comfort foods or substances for relaxation, be aware that you could be making your symptoms worse.

  • Refined sugar is in more foods than most people realize. And when a person consumes a lot of sugar throughout the day, they can also develop blood sugar swings. When your body tries to adjust to the rise and fall of sugar in your system, your mood can become irritable and anxious. 
  • Caffeinated drinks are a popular method for waking up in the morning and staying alert. However, caffeine is a strong stimulant. It may take very little caffeine to overload your system. Giving up caffeine can change your life, but it can be an uncomfortable transition if you take it too quickly.
  • Alcohol has a calming effect on your nervous system when it first enters your body. But as it leaves your system, your body chemicals adjust to the change. This reaction can leave you feeling edgy and anxious. It can also disrupt your sleep, possibly making your anxiety worse than before you had a drink.
  • Nicotine has effects similar to alcohol. At first, nicotine calms and relaxes the nervous system. But it is also a powerfully addictive substance. When the body goes through withdrawal, a person may feel anxious and stressed. They usually only feel better with more nicotine.
  • Food sensitivities can cause numerous problems that can leave you feeling stressed and strung out. People sensitive to gluten, dairy, wheat, soy products, and other allergen foods can develop severe digestive symptoms. These reactions can be uncomfortable enough on their own. But the anticipation of having an episode without warning can also cause anxiety. 

Put an anti-anxiety diet to work for you

Eating more anti-anxiety foods isn’t like taking a magic pill. But the food you eat does matter to your mental health. Research studies continue to connect the dots between anxiety symptoms and your diet. By adopting an anti-anxiety diet, you keep your nervous system in top shape and keep anxiety symptoms at bay. 

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