Overcoming anxiety without medications involves making lifestyle changes, and that includes changing your diet. There are foods that will help cure anxiety and foods that will contribute to anxiety, and by choosing the right foods, you can drastically cut down on the amount of anxiety you experience – and possibly improve your mood.
In this article, we'll take a look at some of the foods that improve happiness and reduce stress, so that you can make better decisions about your eating habits.
How Severe is Your Anxiety?
Foods are more likely to benefit mild anxiety, rather than severe anxiety. If you haven't yet, take our free 7 minute anxiety severity test to score your anxiety severity, compare it to others, and see the best ways to control it.
Crucial Foods to Avoid
There are foods that help anxiety, but just as important is making sure that you're not eating foods that contribute to anxiety. Examples of these types of foods include fried foods, high glycemic carbs, refined sugars, and alcoholic beverages.
Other foods depend on how much you understand you own anxiety. If you have panic attacks, you may want to avoid coffee, because coffee can increase your heart rate and trigger an attack. But if you have more general anxiety, coffee may actually be beneficial. Many find that caffeine (in low quantities, of course), can actually reduce stress and improve mood.
If you're not sure, take our free 7 minute anxiety test to get a snapshot of your own anxiety.
Seven Foods that Cure Anxiety
Whole Grain Foods
Those that can tolerate gluten may benefit from foods with whole grains, like whole grain pasta and bread. Studies have shown that true whole grains (some "whole grain foods" still contain processed ingredients) have several benefits for those with anxiety:
- Whole grain is rich in magnesium, and magnesium deficiency may lead to anxiety.
- Whole grain contains tryptophan, which becomes serotonin – a calming neurotransmitter.
- Whole grains create healthy energy while reducing hunger – both important for anxiety.
Whole grain foods can have a powerful effect on anxiety, and contain nutrients that have been stripped out of modern day diets.
Seaweed has many of the same benefits as whole grains. Not only is it rich in nutrients – it also appears to have a high magnesium content, and kelp and other seaweed appear to be very high in tryptophan content. Seaweed is a good alternative to whole grains for those that are gluten sensitive.
Blueberries are more than a delicious fruit. Many consider it to be a _superfood_. It's rich in vitamins and phytonutrients (plant nutrients), with a variety of antioxidants that are considered extremely beneficial for relieving stress. Many experts also believe that peaches fall into this category as well, because they have nutrients that appear to have a sedation (calming) effect.
Acai berry is essentially the newest super food, and one that has received a great deal of press recently. It may not be the weight loss fruit that many people claimed it was, but acai berries are still rich in phytonutrients like the blueberry, and the antioxidant levels are off the charts.
Almonds are an underrated food. They contain zinc, a key nutrient for maintaining a balanced mood – and have both iron and healthy fats. Healthy fats are an important part of a balanced diet, and low iron levels have been known to cause brain fatigue, which can contribute to both anxiety and a lack of energy.
Chocolate – especially pure dark chocolate without the added sugars or milks – is also a great food for those living with anxiety and stress. Chocolate reduces cortisol – the stress hormone that causes anxiety symptoms. There are also compounds inside dark chocolate that improves mood.
Maca root is not exactly a popular food item in grocery stores, but the powder can be added to several foods and beverages and is found in a variety of health food stores. It's believed that this root has more phytonutrients than nearly every type of fruit and vegetable, including magnesium and iron – two important nutrients for controlling anxiety. It also is often used for healthy stamina and energy.
Other Foods for Anxiety and Stress
Healthy eating is one of the best ways to control anxiety and stress. In fact, one of the best things you can add to your diet is more water. Many studies have found that dehydration affects as many as 25% of those with persistent stress or more, and dehydration is known to cause more anxiety.
As for foods, anything with magnesium, vitamin B12 (and other B vitamins), zinc, and antioxidants can be beneficial for helping you deal with stress. There are also herbal supplements like kava and passionflower that may be valuable for anxiety.
Food is NOT the only answer.
There are ways to improve your stress and anxiety with your diet, but lifestyle changes, training, and a better understanding of your own anxiety is crucial. Diet is only the first step.
Take the 7 minute anxiety test to understand your anxiety further.
Controlling Anxiety with Food
All of the above foods are beneficial for dealing with your anxiety. They provide vitamins and nutrients that are known to calm the mind and body while also increasing energy and stabilizing your mood. Combine those foods with a balanced diet that is free of fried foods and harmful ingredients and you should see a marked difference in your anxiety levels.
Still, it's important to remember that understanding your anxiety is still step one. I've helped thousands of people learn to deal with their anxiety and I always recommend they start with my anxiety test I created specifically to provide a snapshot of your current anxiety. This test will help you:
- Find out what symptoms you experience are caused by anxiety (if any).
- Understand the core components of your anxiety experience (with graphs).
- Provide the next steps for overcoming anxiety.
Foods for anxiety are a great first step, but they're only a first step. Take my anxiety test, and learn what it takes to cure anxiety once and for all.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Nov 21, 2017.