Foods to Help Lower Anxiety and What to Avoid Altogether

By May 4, 2017Nutrition

Everyone feels anxious from time to time. It’s a normal part of being alive. However, people whom experience intense, excessive fear and worry over everyday situations may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Traumatic life experiences can sometimes cause anxiety disorders and sometimes the cause is unknown. Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Talk therapy, creating coping mechanisms, exercise and diet are some of the holistic solutions to help deal with anxiety.

I won’t talk about prescription drugs in this article, other than mentioning the overuse that is rampant in our society.

As one of the many hats I wear, I work with teenagers who suffer from anxiety and depression at a treatment center in Malibu, California. As the resident nutritionist, my job is to review each client’s diet and health history and check for nutritional gaps that may be worsening their overall wellness. I prescribe food, not drugs, as a way to help heal the mind-body connection. Over the years of seeing hundreds of clients, I have noticed these main nutritional patterns:

  • Skipping breakfast or eating highly processed carbohydrates
  • Almost no sources of omega 3 fatty acids
  • Very little vegetables, especially dark leafy greens
  • Regular consumption of caffeinated beverages

I’m not saying that poor diet habits are to blame as the root cause for anxiety, but there are definitely foods that can make it worse and there is a way of eating that could improve it. So why not give food a try?

Consider limiting or avoiding the following food:

Caffeine:

What shocks me the most is how many YOUNG people are addicted to caffeinated beverages. No matter what your age, too much caffeine can have a negative effect on your emotional state.

Caffeine is a drug that causes your body to release adrenaline and norepinephrine, stress hormones, which are helpful if you are faced with a dangerous situation and you need the fight or flight reaction to save your life. However, sitting in an office and overdosing on caffeine can make you feel anxious due to the release of these potent hormones in our bodies. Caffeine is found in your coffee, tea, chocolate, colas and energy drinks.

If you are prone to anxiety (or any kind of human in general) skip energy drinks and soda altogether due to their high caffeine, high sugar and other chemical content. Many people can handle a couple of cups of coffee per day with no problem, but if you experience panic attacks and anxiety, you should put down the coffee cup. Experiment with green tea, which has a slower release of caffeine and see if it may be a good substitute for you, or stick to herbal and decaffeinated teas.

Bagels, cereal and morning pastries:

Highly processed carbohydrates first thing in the morning are the worst way to start your day, however, so many of us do exactly that. Foods like toaster strudels, muffins, waffles, cold cereal and bagels offer no nutritional benefits other than calories. They are all high on the glycemic index and will spike blood sugar levels. Insulin levels rise in response, which can set up a counter hormonal response that can leave someone irritable, anxious and hungry. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition links high refined carb intake to greater risks of depression.

In general, if you experience anxiety it is best to avoid processed sugar, alcohol, highly refined carbohydrates and focus on whole foods and meals that contain protein and healthy fats that will help balance your blood sugar.

 

If you do see the connection between food and mood and want to start eating to help lower your anxiety, incorporate these foods into your diet:

Seaweed:

Seaweed offers one of the broadest range of minerals than most food groups. Seaweed is another great source of magnesium and is a vegetarian source of tryptophan and vitamin B12, both of which are hard to find in non-animal foods. Tryptophan helps our bodies produce serotonin, which allows up to feel happy.

Fermented foods:

There is mounting evidence that a disruption in our gut flora balance can affect our mind and emotional state. So many common practices in our lives can disrupt this balance and kill off beneficial bacteria like: taking birth control pills, long term use of antibiotics, other prescription medications, a diet high in sugar and filled with processed foods, and even stress. Pickled vegetables, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut and good quality Greek yogurt all contain beneficial bacteria, AKA probiotics, and can help restore gut flora balance.

Dark leafy greens:

Spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens all contain large amounts of magnesium which many people lack in their diets. A magnesium deficiency can make mental disorders worse and magnesium supplies are deficient in the typical American diet.

Fatty fish:

Cod, halibut, salmon and mackerel are great sources of omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin D. Insufficient levels of vitamin D can make certain mental disorders like anxiety and depression worse. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for brain health. Aim to have at least 2 servings of these fish per week. Here are 7 more reasons to consider a pescatarian diet.

Looking for more help on how to go pescatarian, here’s my 21 Day Pescatarian Meal Plan

Seeds and nuts:

½ cup of pumpkin seeds provide nearly 100% of the daily requirement for magnesium. Walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds all contain omega 3 fatty acids as well as a myriad of vitamins and minerals.

I want to hear from you!

Have you healed yourself naturally from an anxiety disorder? If so, tell us how:

If you are looking for help designing your diet, i offer 21 Day Meal Plans here. They include vegan, gluten-free, paleo light and pescatarian meal plans.

4 Comments

  • Elizabeth Brigner says:

    Great article and advice.

  • Sanford DiDonna says:

    nice one Jennifer, i have been telling people this for years and no one wants to take the time to be natural -it’s truly a shame the way the country need everything fast, now, immediate… instant gratification.

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks Sanford! I hear ya! Magic pills and quick fixes that cover up symptoms and never wind up getting to the root cause.

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