While anxiety is a complex condition, it’s no secret that a balanced diet and moderate exercise can help. I believe that good nutrition can have a benefit on mental as well as physical health, and there is strong science to back that up. Foods that can soothe anxiety include:
Tryptophan rich foods
When most people think tryptophan, they think of a big turkey dinner, and that feeling of being stuffed and sleepy afterwards. The truth is that lots of foods contain tryptophan, which is necessary for the production of serotonin, that feel-good chemical. While turkey does contain this amino acid, so do bananas, nuts and seeds, legumes, cheese, salmon and other meat and dairy products. These foods can be especially beneficial when eaten before bed, as they calm and relax you for a good night’s sleep.
Carbs are also necessary for the production of serotonin. However, simple carbs like white bread, pasta, pastries and even some fruits and vegetables are quickly digested, giving you an initial surge of energy followed by a crash. Instead, opt for 100% whole grain breads, oats, and barley. If you are gluten intolerant or have Celiac disease, brown rice, and quinoa are good options. These complex carbs will digest slowly over time, giving you sustainable energy, keeping you calm and helping to maintain your blood sugar levels throughout the day.
Times of stress may make you crave “comfort foods” that happen to contain a lot of simple carbs. I’d be lying if I said that I never pig out on pasta, mac and cheese or mashed potatoes. However, these foods will just give a short boost followed by a drop in mood and energy. If you must eat refined carbs, pair them with protein and a complex carb to balance it out. For example, if you’re going to have white pasta, try pairing it with a lentil soup before hand. Or have a cacao and chia-seed pudding for dessert. It’s all about balance!
Studies have shown that Vitamin C can help people adapt to stress.
While Vitamin C is water soluble, meaning your body easily expels it, there is no need to take mega doses of Vitamin C. Vitamin C is very abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables. So, have a glass of orange or pineapple juice, or a kiwi- all of which contain a full day’s serving of Vitamin C.
B vitamins are another group of water soluble vitamins that may help ease anxiety. Fish, poultry, eggs and dairy are all good sources of B vitamins. Bananas, leafy greens and many whole grain breads and breakfast cereals are great sources of B vitamins. Personally, I like to sprinkle nutritional yeast on some homemade popcorn for a B vitamin boost that tastes awesome! You can also take a B complex supplement if you believe that you are deficient (if you are a vegetarian, pregnant, or if you tend to eat a lot of processed foods you may be deficient. Speak to your doctor if this is a concern).
Magnesium is truly a wonder mineral. It is crucial for energy, strong bones and teeth, as well as muscle relaxation and contraction. Unfortunately however, many of us are deficient. Pumpkin seeds are one of the best sources of magnesium, as well as raw cacao, spinach, almonds, and legumes. You can safely supplement with magnesium as long as you don’t exceed 400 mg per day.