Foods to Reduce Anxiety and Stress

We know that eating a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats can help prevent chronic illness and keep weight in check, but a new area of psychiatry is studying how diet impacts mental health and cognitive function.   After months of social distancing at home eating comfort foods, it may be time to take a closer look at how eating habits may be contributing to anxiety or depression. 

Nutritional Psychiatry explores how the North American diet of processed and fast foods may be linked with soaring rates of anxiety, depression, and stressed adults.  Up to 40 million U.S. adults experience clinically significant anxiety each year.  According to a recent Psychology Today post, highly processed foods are associated with mental health problems because they lack important nutrients influencing brain function, gut health, and inflammation throughout the body. 

Not only may mental health be worsened by a poor diet lacking in necessary vitamins and minerals, but there is also growing evidence that gut microbiota may influence the regulation of serotonin, the “happy chemical” and a natural mood stabilizer.  Probiotic-rich fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, or kefir can help keep the gut healthy and promote a strong immune response. 

Planning ahead for meals and snacks and sticking to a shopping list can help prevent unhealthy impulse purchases of sweets, chips, processed food, and sugary drinks.  Include plenty of immune-boosting citrus fruits and red bell peppers that are rich in vitamin C.  Ginger, garlic, turmeric, and capsaicin can also support the immune system and reduce inflammation.  Zinc, found in oysters, clams, mussels, cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolk may help fight off viruses. Magnesium, which can be depleted in our bodies from ongoing stress, can help create a greater sense of calm.  Magnesium is found in legumes, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and whole grains. 

Fatty fish contains omega-3 fats and vitamin D which may also help improve mood and reduce stress levels.  Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are rich in magnesium, vitamin C, and folate, which may help protect brain health and offer a calming effect.  Blueberries contain antioxidants that help to reduce inflammation and protect against stress-related cellular damage.  The humble chickpea is rich in vitamins and minerals as well as L-tryptophan and protein to help boost cognitive functions and regulate mood. 

If you need a little treat or something comforting try dark chocolate or oatmeal, which can boost mood, improve cognitive function and reduce stress levels.   Learn more about how diet and mental health are linked and take a healthy diet quiz by following this link to Deakin University’s tonline publication.