If you suffer from anxiety, you’re probably familiar with traditional treatment options, including mindfulness training, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication. But did you know the foods you eat and drink can contribute to and worsen your symptoms? While the anti-anxiety diet isn’t designed to replace therapy and/or medication, research strongly suggests that nutrition plays an important role in helping to manage – and prevent – the symptoms of anxiety.
What Is the Anti-Anxiety Diet?
Originally developed by Ali Miller, RD, the anti-anxiety diet is designed to reduce inflammation, repair your gut, and balance your hormones and stress chemicals through food and nutrition. It’s a natural approach to anxiety management that can compliment traditional anxiety treatment plans to help prevent and manage anxious thoughts and feelings.
If you’re interested in giving the anti-anxiety diet a try, we’re sharing a list of 14 foods to eat and avoid below, and you can also purchase a copy of Ali Miller’s book, The Anti-Anxiety Diet: A Whole Body Program to Stop Racing Thoughts, Banish Worry and Live Panic-Free, HERE.
6 Foods To Avoid On An Anti-Anxiety Diet
If you suffer from anxiety, it probably comes as no surprise to read that caffeine is one of the top things to avoid on the anti-anxiety diet. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it not only increases the symptoms of anxiety, but it can also trigger an anxiety attack. Caffeine also has a negative impact on sleep, so it’s best to limit your cup of jo to the morning, or eliminate it completely if possible. See below for my favorite herbal teas you can use as an alternative if you enjoy warm beverages throughout the day!
While a sugary treat may offer immediate gratification in times of stress, the highs and lows it creates in our bodies can leave us feeling jittery, nervous, and irritable. Sugar makes it harder for us to cope with anxious thoughts and feelings, and if you also suffer from depression, it can heighten feelings of sadness. Sugar withdrawal can also mimic the feelings of a panic attack, so back off slowly and use sugar substitutes like honey and maple syrup where possible.
As someone who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, I’ve done a lot of trial and error in creating my own anti-anxiety diet plan, and while a glass (or 2) of wine definitely helps me feel less anxious in the short-term, I’ve learned that alcohol consumption actually heightens my anxiety. Alcohol impacts sleep quality and changes serotonin levels, so once the positive effects wear off, it often makes the symptoms of anxiety worse.
4. REFINED CARBS
Cutting back on refined carbs – foods like cookies, cakes, pastries, candies, fast foods, breaded or battered foods, sugary cereals, pastas, bagels, and pizza – has many health benefits, especially when it comes to managing symptoms of anxiety. Refined carbs are absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, causing spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, which can mimic/worsen the symptoms of anxiety.
Gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley products – can trigger anxiety symptoms in some people. It’s also interesting to note that research has found that people with a gluten intolerance or allergy (Celiac disease) are more prone to develop anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Your doctor can order tests to determine if you are allergic to, or intolerant of, gluten. If you’re interested in giving the anti-anxiety diet a try and want to know if gluten is a trigger for you, consider cutting it out of your diet for 30 days to see if you notice a difference.
Yup, it’s true: dairy can exasperate the symptoms of anxiety in some people, even if they aren’t lactose intolerant. Dairy is an inflammatory food, and when eaten in large volumes, it can increase adrenaline and decrease magnesium in the body, both of which can cause/worsen anxiety symptoms.
8 Foods To Eat On An Anti-Anxiety Diet
1. PROBIOTIC FOODS
Probiotics are living microorganisms that live in certain foods. They’re created during the fermentation process, and are similar to ‘good bacteria’ that naturally occur in your digestive system. Since 70% to 80% of our immune system is located in our gut, a diet rich in probiotic foods will help with everything from indigestion and irritable bowl syndrome to arthritis and cancer. The link between probiotics and mental illnesses is still being researched, but many people notice that adding probiotic foods to their diet helps to boost their mood and decrease their symptoms of anxiety. Kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, and pickles are all great natural sources of probiotics that can help boost your immunity and digestive health while (hopefully) making your anxiety more manageable.
Dubbed ‘Nature’s Valium’ (source), research strongly suggests that magnesium can be extremely beneficial for people who suffer from anxiety. An anti-anxiety diet rich in magnesium reduces production of the stress hormone cortisol while also increasing production of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin. It can also help stabilize blood sugar, which helps to avoid the highs and subsequent lows in our bodies that can amplify feelings of anxiety. Leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes are all high in magnesium, as are avocados and dark chocolate.
If you’re a fan of fatty fish like salmon and tuna, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and plant oils, you’ll be happy to know that omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have positive effects on the symptoms of anxiety. If you’re not sure if you’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, talk to your doctor about supplements to see if they are recommended and safe for you.
We often take zinc lozenges during cold and flu season to help shorten the duration of our symptoms, but few of us realize just how important this essential trace mineral actually is. It boosts the immune system, helps prevent certain cancers, aids healing from a variety of skin conditions, and it’s helps the body make important neurotransmitters like serotonin, which helps regulate anxiety. Zinc also enhances GABA activity in the brain, which produces a calming and sedating effect. Red meat, shellfish, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains are all high in zinc.
Copper plays an important role in ensuring our immune, endocrine, and nervous systems are functioning properly, and helps regulate the synthesis of feel-good neurotransmitters. Foods like liver, oysters, lamb, lobster, mushrooms, oats, almonds, cashews, sesame and sunflower seeds, and dark chocolate are all high in copper. It’s important to note that when our copper levels are too high, it can cause us to feel agitated, increase feelings of anxiety and panic, and cause restlessness and insomnia. Zinc therapy can be effective in treating such an imbalance, so if you suffer from the symptoms of anxiety, talk to your doctor about having your zinc and copper levels tested.
If you suffer from PMS, you’ve probably heard that B6 can help improve your symptoms, but may not realize it can have a positive impact on anxiety as well. B6 helps make neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA, both of which help control anxiety and depression, so they are an important component of an anti-anxiety diet. Salmon, tuna, lean chicken, pork, beef, bananas, sweet potatoes, and avocados are all high in B6.
Research suggests a link between anxiety and low levels of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, with some studies noting that dietary supplementation for a period of 6 weeks decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression (source). Berries, fruits, and nuts are all high in antioxidants, so consider adding these to your anti-anxiety diet.
8. HERBAL TEAS
Certain teas have been praised for their calming effects on anxiety, and since they are caffeine-free, they offer a great alternative for those who enjoy hot beverages throughout the day. Chamomile tea is well-known for reducing feelings of stress and anxiety and easing problems with insomnia; the menthol in peppermint tea acts as a natural muscle relaxer to help calm tense muscles; and lavender tea can help reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, and general feelings of agitation.
I hope this posts helps you better understand the importance of nutrition in relation to your mental health. While the anti-anxiety diet won’t cure anxiety disorders, it can compliment traditional anxiety treatment plans to help prevent and manage anxious thoughts and feelings.