Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions, affecting over 40 million adults in the United States alone. While therapy and medication are effective treatments, modifying your diet can also help manage anxiety. Certain nutrients and foods have anti-anxiety effects that may help calm your mind and body. Here are some of the best anxiety-fighting foods to add to your diet.
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, and herring are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Research has found that omega-3s have significant anti-anxiety effects. For example, a study in brain scans of people with social anxiety found that taking an omega-3 supplement for 12 weeks reduced anxiety symptoms. Omega-3s are believed to have these effects by regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin in the brain. Try to eat fatty fish at least twice per week to get a regular dose of omega-3s.
Your gut and brain are closely linked, so the health of your gut can influence your mental health. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support gut and brain health through various mechanisms. Yogurts, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha are all probiotic-rich foods. Several studies have found probiotic supplements to have anti-anxiety effects. However, getting probiotics from foods is likely more beneficial. Eat a few servings of probiotic foods per day.
Turmeric is a bright yellow spice that contains the compound curcumin. Research indicates that curcumin influences neurotransmitter activity in the brain and can reduce anxiety and depression. For example, one study found that taking curcumin for 8 weeks significantly reduced anxiety in people with major depressive disorder. You can take curcumin supplements for added benefit. But also try cooking with turmeric, adding it to teas, smoothies, and soups.
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, antioxidant compounds that have beneficial effects on the brain. Human and animal studies have found that dark chocolate consumption can lower stress hormones like cortisol. The flavonoids are believed to modify neurotransmitter and neuroendocrine pathways involved in the stress response. Have one to two squares per day of chocolate with at least 70% cocoa to get anxiety-reducing benefits without excess sugar and fat.
Chamomile is an herb often consumed as a soothing tea before bedtime. Chamomile contains apigenin, an antioxidant compound that binds to certain receptors in your brain that may decrease anxiety and initiate sleep. Several studies have found that chamomile extract can reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. Drink one to two cups of chamomile tea per day or take chamomile supplements.
Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast that is sold as yellow flakes or powder. It has a savory, cheese-like flavor and can be added to dishes for a boost of nutrients. Nutritional yeast is an excellent plant-based source of vitamin B12. Research has shown that deficiency of B vitamins, including B12, can be a risk factor for anxiety and depression. Just 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast contains 4 mg of absorbable vitamin B12. Sprinkle it on popcorn, pasta, soups, and salads.
Oranges and other citrus fruits contain the antioxidant vitamin C. Studies have found that vitamin C deficiency is associated with increased anxiety and depression. Consuming more vitamin C is linked to lower stress levels and improved mood. Oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines are among the highest dietary sources of vitamin C. Aim for one serving per day of fresh citrus fruit to maximize anxiety-fighting benefits.
Almonds provide a significant amount of magnesium, providing about 15% of your daily needs in just 1 ounce. Magnesium deficiency has been associated with anxiety and depression in multiple studies. One trial found that magnesium supplements helped reduce anxiety in people with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder. Enjoy almonds as a snack, add them to salads, or incorporate almond butter into smoothies.
Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that crosses the blood-brain barrier and affects areas of the brain related to anxiety. Human trials have found that L-theanine significantly increases alpha waves in the brain, indicating a state of relaxation without drowsiness. In one study, anxiety scores were lower in people who drank green tea compared to placebo. Sip on hot or iced green tea throughout the day to promote calmness.
Making simple dietary changes can help manage anxiety naturally. Focus on eating more fatty fish, probiotic foods, turmeric, chamomile tea, citrus fruits, almonds, and green tea. Limit caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, which can worsen anxiety. Combined with other lifestyle and treatment methods, an anxiety-fighting diet can promote mental wellbeing.