Food and mood.
They’re more connected than you might think.
If you know which foods to eat and which to avoid, you can reduce stress and anxiety naturally, through your diet.
Some foods can increase your resilience to stress, while others can make you more vulnerable to it.
If you want to be happy and healthy, you have to be careful what you eat.
Is what you’re eating (or not eating) making your anxiety worse?
Time to find out!
Here are 10 of the best foods for anxiety:
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*This is Part 1 of a 2-part article. Here is a link to the second article:
10 Worst Foods for Anxiety (+ Stress-Reducing Alternatives).
Download all the recipes from this article!
Best Foods for Anxiety #1: Oatmeal
Oatmeal helps increase serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter that promotes happiness and relaxation.
I find warm oatmeal comforting to eat and I have it for breakfast pretty regularly.
Complex carbohydrates like oatmeal take longer for the body to process than refined carbohydrates (like white bread, pasta and candy).
This means you won’t suffer the kind of crash that comes after a quick spike in sugar levels.
Oatmeal also contributes to heart health. This is especially important for anxiety sufferers because anxiety increases the risk of heart disease or coronary events.
One Harvard study even found that among men and women with heart disease, those with an anxiety disorder were twice as likely to have a heart attack as those without an anxiety disorder.
Other complex carbohydrates that boost serotonin and reduce anxiety are quinoa, whole grain bread and beans.
Sweet & Simple Recipe #1: Cinnamon Oatmeal with Maple Syrup
-Bring 1 ½ cups water to a boil
-Turn burner off
-Stir in 1/2 to 3/4 cup oats (depending on how thick you want the oatmeal)
-Stir in 1 -2 tsp. chia seeds and 1-2 tsp. cinnamon
-Cover pot & leave for 5 minutes
-Drizzle 1 tsp. maple syrup on top
*For maximum benefit, choose steel cut oats or old-fashioned oats instead of the instant variety and cook them on the stove-top instead of zapping them in the microwave.
Did you know that just the scent of orange reduces anxiety?
This study found that the ambient scent of orange in a dental office reduced anxiety, improved mood and increased calmness in patients awaiting surgery.
Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruits) also contain high levels of Vitamin C, an antioxidant that prevents and reduces anxiety.
Blueberries contain high levels of antioxidants, which are associated with lower cortisol (“the stress hormone”) levels.
Avocados contain potassium which lowers blood pressure, and Vitamin B which helps in the production of serotonin and dopamine.
Bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan (which converts to serotonin, the happy hormone).
*Bananas have similar effects to beta blockers and can be particularly helpful if you eat one or two about a half an hour before a stressful event.
Sweet & Simple Recipe #2: Baked Cinnamon Apples
-Cut apples in half and core (I like to use granny smith, but any kind of apples are good)
-Sprinkle cinnamon generously on top
-Turn apples over and rub around tray to evenly distribute cinnamon
-Bake at 350 for 20-40 minutes (depending on how crunchy/soft you want them and how big the apples are)
*Try putting baked cinnamon apples on top of your oatmeal instead of maple syrup. They’re also just a great snack on their own. *
Sweet & Simple Recipe #3: Blueberry Compote
-Heat 4 cups blueberries (or other berries) on medium heat, until juice begins to leak out
-Lower heat and squash berries until they form a thick consistency
-Let simmer for 2 minutes
-Pour into glass container, cool & keep in refrigerator
-Serve as oatmeal, pancake or waffle topping, or as a replacement for jam or jelly
*If you want it thicker, dissolve 1 tbsp. of cornstarch in cold water and then add to pot & stir. But, it will thicken a little bit naturally as it cools.
Natural remedies like teas and extracts can be just as effective as prescription medication.
And, bonus: they don’t have all the dangerous side effects.
Some varieties of tea for anxiety reduction:
Passionflower is a mild, delicious herb that comes in tea, capsule or extract form. Scientific studies have found passionflower to be as effective as prescription medication.
Valerian root is another natural remedy that mimics the effects of pharmaceutical medications like Xanax and Valium. It increases the amount of GABA (which helps reduce anxiety) in the brain – once again, without all the side effects. It can also be taken in tea, extract or capsule form.
Chamomile is effective in significantly reducing anxiety symptoms, according to at least one study. It’s available in extract or capsules, but I recommend drinking it in tea form – the aroma has an additional calming effect.
Kava tea (paid link) is great for stress relief. When I drink it before bed, it helps me to relax and fall asleep faster.
*I also love this Tangerine- Positive Energy tea. (paid link) I've been drinking at least one of these a day and it really does boost my mood!
#4: Herbs & Spices
Herbs and spices are some of the best “foods” for anxiety.
What’s great about herbs and spices is that you can just add them to foods you’re already cooking!
For example, rosemary pairs well with chicken, and turmeric can be added to cooked rice along with some tomatoes.
Turmeric (curcumin) fights anxiety by elevating serotonin and dopamine while also lowering cortisol levels and counteracting inflammation. Studies have also shown turmeric to be as effective as Prozac in treating depression.
Nutmeg contains compounds that have a mild sedative and muscle relaxing effect. It has been shown to relieve symptoms of anxiety, bring down inflammation and relieve pain. The many benefits of this spice extend beyond anxiety relief and are truly amazing!
Rosemary is a calming herb that improves mood and relieves anxiety. Used by the Ancient Greeks, it is also said to help treat depression, improve sleep and enhance memory.
*Please do your research or check with your doctor before introducing any teas, extracts, herbs or spices into your diet. They may interact with medications you are currently taking.
Best Foods for Anxiety #5: Nuts
Studies have linked anxiety to zinc deficiency.
Zinc is vital to neurotransmitter and hormone production, serotonin synthesis and maintaining a balanced mood.
These three nuts are great sources of zinc as well as other important vitamins and nutrients:
Almonds also contain B vitamins, which help us to be more resilient when experiencing stress and help us to maintain stable energy.
Cashews are rich in tryptophan, which improves uptake of serotonin in the brain and magnesium, a mineral that regulates the nervous system and helps us cope with stress.
Pistachios lower vascular constriction during stress. According to a Penn State study, they also lessen the body’s response to everyday stressors.
*Just be sure to get organic pistachios because this type of nut is at risk of contamination by aflatoxin (a carcinogenic mold).
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Just one serving of chia seeds contains 202 milligrams of tryptophan, which converts to serotonin (“the happy hormone”).
Chia seeds (paid link) contain Omega 3 fatty acids, which research suggests plays a vital role in reducing anxiety. Whenever I mix a little chia in my oatmeal for breakfast in the morning, I feel calmer throughout the day.
Flaxseed is also high in Omega-3s and it contains B vitamins, beta carotene, iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium and calcium.
Hemp seeds are packed with Omega-3s, protein, zinc, B vitamins and magnesium. Current research suggests that hemp seeds reduce anxiety and relieve some symptoms of chronic anxiety like headaches, migraines and inflammation.
*If you are vegan or vegetarian, chia seeds and flax seeds are the two of the best sources of alpha-linolenic acid (plant-based Omega-3). Chia is also really good for a detox/cleanse.
See Chocolate Banana Flax Milkshake recipe below under #10!
Known for its mood-boosting effects, asparagus is one of the best foods for anxiety.
It’s a super healthy vegetable that contains Vitamins A, C, E, K, iron, zinc, protein, potassium, and magnesium.
It also contains folate, a type of B vitamin which if deficient, may increase anxiety.
This study found that asparagus has an “anxiolytic effect” (inhibition of anxiety) and that it decreased the secretion of cortisol, the stress hormone.
One cup of cooked asparagus:
Spinach is not only one of the best foods to eat for anxiety, it’s also one of the best all-around foods you can eat – period.
Spinach is a superfood that’s got pretty much everything!
It’s high in magnesium, it helps to reduce levels of cortisol and it’s essential to more than 300 chemical reactions in the body.
Other leafy greens are also good anxiety reducers.
Swiss chard is probably the best because it contains magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, Vitamins, A, C, E and K as well as antioxidant betalains which lower blood pressure and blood sugar.
Leafy greens nourish our bodies and also help with detoxification.
Because accumulated toxins can contribute to anxiety and illness, it is important to incorporate a body detox regimen that includes regular consumption of leafy greens.
I LOVE juicing because I can get several servings of fruit and vegetables in one delicious drink.
I seriously doubt I’d be able to eat all the fruit and veggies I put in one of my juices in a day or even two days!
Spinach is one of my staple ingredients – I usually put about 4 cups in.
*Don't have a juicer? This is the one I use and recommend- Breville Juice Fountain.(paid link)
Sweet & Simple Recipe #4: Superfood Spinach Juice
Put through juicer:
-4 cups spinach
-1 bunch kale or swiss chard
-1 knuckle ginger (peeled)
-2 apples (cored)
*There are so many delicious combinations of fruits and veggies … experiment! Some of my favorite ingredients are: carrots, kale, spinach, beets, parsley, lemon, celery, ginger, apple, zucchini, cucumber, sweet potato & pineapple.
#9: Fermented Foods
Many people turn to “comfort foods” like pasta or ice cream when they’re feeling stressed.
This is actually a habit that makes anxiety worse.
Studies suggest that it would be way more effective to eat sauerkraut or pickles!
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi and kombucha contain probiotics which contribute to the health of your gut, making them one of the best foods for anxiety.
This is extremely important for treating anxiety because of what is known as the “Gut-Brain Axis”. On this axis, your brain and your gut communicate through hormones, cytokines and neurotransmitters.
Fermented foods reduce inflammation and relieve gastrointestinal symptoms often associated with anxiety.
One study published in the Psychiatry Research journal found that young adults who eat more fermented foods have fewer social anxiety symptoms. It also found that those who have neurotic tendencies benefited the most from fermented foods.
Best Foods for Anxiety #10: Dark Chocolate
I saved the best for last!
Dark chocolate is not only delicious but it is also one of the best foods for anxiety.
Dark chocolate increases levels of serotonin and endorphins and reduces cortisol and catecholamines – fight or flight hormones.
Rich in antioxidants, tryptophan and magnesium, dark chocolate is one of the best foods to eat if you want to feel happier and less stressed.
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry compared cocoa powder, unsweetened baking chocolate, dark chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate chips, milk chocolate and chocolate syrup.
The researchers found that cocoa powder had the most health benefits in terms of antioxidants and polyphenols.
Raw cacao and raw chocolate contain anandamide (“the bliss molecule”), a neurotransmitter that works with THC receptors in the brain to produce a temporary state of bliss.
*For optimal anxiety-reducing effects, dark chocolate and cocoa powder should be organic and unsweetened.
Sweet & Simple Recipe #5: Chocolate Banana Flax Milkshake
-1 large super ripe banana
-1/2 to 1 cup unsweetened cashew/almond milk (depending on how thick you want it to be)
-3 ice cubes
-1 tbsp. flaxseed
-1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
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