40 million adults - 18% of the population - struggle with anxiety.
The National Institute of Mental Health has published that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, with about half of those with depression also experiencing anxiety.
Some medications and treatments can help temporarily relieve the burden of anxiety, yet only about a third of people suffering from this condition seek treatment. Unfortunately, not enough people understand the importance of diet in helping to manage anxiety.
There are the standard healthy guidelines when it comes to your diet - drinking enough water to stay hydrated, eating a well balanced diet made up of whole foods, getting enough sleep, limiting alcohol and caffeine, and many more. But there are specific nutritional strategies that can be implemented everyday to help relieve anxiety.
For example, complex carbohydrates are metabolized slower than its unhealthy counterpart, simple carbs (think junk food). By metabolizing more slowly in our bodies, it helps to maintain a more even blood sugar level throughout the day, which creates a calmer feeling. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains is a healthier option than eating a lot of simple carbohydrates found in processed foods.
When you eat is also important. Don’t skip meals, and try to eat at the same times everyday. When you go too long without food, or skip meals, your blood sugar drops - causing you to feel jittery, which can worsen underlying anxiety.
About 95% of your serotonin receptors are found in the lining of your gut. Serotonin is the hormone responsible for maintaining your mood balance. This means that the gut-brain axis is very important in choosing what you eat. Feed your gut healthy foods and good bacteria to help kick out the bad bacteria. Researchers are currently investigating the effectiveness of using probiotics and probiotic rich foods in treating depression and anxiety.
Foods that can help suppress anxiety
You might be surprised to learn that specific foods have been shown to reduce anxiety.
Foods that are naturally rich in magnesium may help a person to feel calmer. These foods include dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard), legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Foods rich in zinc such as oysters, cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolks have also been linked to lowered anxiety levels in humans.
There have been many studies proving that foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce anxiety. You can find this in wild Alaskan salmon, avocados, chia seeds and coconut oil to name a few.
A recent study in suggested a link between probiotic foods and a lowering of social anxiety. Eating probiotic-rich foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir was linked with fewer symptoms.
Asparagus actually has known anti-anxiety properties.
Foods rich in B vitamins help suppress anxiety feelings, such as avocado and almonds
All of these foods spur the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, boosting your mood. They are a safe and easy first step in managing anxiety.
Anti-oxidants = anti-anxiety?
The lower your total antioxidant state, the higher your anxiety levels. Therefore, enhancing your diet with foods rich in antioxidants may help ease the symptoms of anxiety disorders. Foods containing high antioxidant levels:
Beans: Dried small red, Pinto, black, red kidney
Fruits: Apples (Gala, Granny Smith, Red Delicious), prunes, sweet cherries, plums, black plums
Berries: Blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries
Nuts: Walnuts, pecans
Vegetables: Artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli
Spices with both antioxidant and anti-anxiety properties include turmeric (containing the active ingredient curcumin) combined with black pepper, and ginger.
Using food to achieve better mental health
Make sure to talk to your doctor if your anxiety symptoms are severe or last more than two weeks at a time. But even if your doctor recommends medication or therapy for anxiety, it is still worth asking whether you might also have some success by changing your diet.