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If you’re looking for natural ways to reduce and manage your anxiety, and you’d like answers to the following questions, then you’ve come to the right place.
- Can diet cause anxiety?
- What kind of diet helps with anxiety?
- What diet is best for anxiety?
- How can I kill anxiety naturally?
In this article, I provide specific details about the anti-anxiety diet that helped me control my symptoms through food.
What is my anti-anxiety diet?
In a nutshell, it is a healthy and balanced diet that aims to optimize your intake of essential nutrients including carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals and in their recommended amounts.
The main ingredients include natural whole foods such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fruit, nuts and seeds, as well as fresh fish and lean meats. Though if you are vegan or vegetarian, you’ll be able to effectively replace the last two ingredients.
Foods that are avoided on this diet include dairy, spices, and a few other items.
This anti-anxiety diet is simple and you won't need to buy any special or expensive ingredients or supplements.
How did I come up with this diet?
After battling with chronic anxiety for 20 years I was given a basic anti-anxiety diet by an alternative health practitioner (phytotherapist). As I started to follow this diet, I quickly noticed positive changes in my anxiety, and this inspired me to start researching intensively about nutrition and mental health.
Over time I perfected the basic diet that I was given and created my own version that is extremely effective at reducing and managing anxiety.
While there are other anti-anxiety diets out there, I am only going to comment on the diet I have personally used and know that it works.
To give you some confidence, my anti-anxiety diet includes most of the nutrition and anxiety recommendations outlined by Uma Naidoo, M.D. an Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. But the recommendation that Dr. Naidoo is far less detailed than what you will find in this article.
So, please keep on reading as I have so much to teach you about anxiety and food.
An anti-anxiety diet can ease or eliminate anxiety symptoms. It includes foods that calm nerves, while it aims to eliminate anxiety trigger foods.
A Guide to the Anti-Anxiety Diet that Helped Me Manage Anxiety
Over the years I have learned how to effectively manage my anxiety through food.
At the start of this journey a phytotherapist gave me a simple list of foods that I can and cannot eat to manage my anxiety.
But since then I have spent years reading, researching and studying about nutrition and mental health. I have read many books and articles, watched countless documentaries, attended seminars, and workshops to expand my knowledge of healthy eating.
I have also tried and tested different diets ranging from Mediterranean, vegan, raw vegan, vegetarian, high-protein, high-fat, low carb, and macrobiotic.
The anti-anxiety diet that I’m sharing with you is a combination of the following:
- The list of foods I was given by my phytotherapist
- Everything I have learned about nutrition, and
- My experience of managing anxiety through food and different diets.
A few points before we get started:
1. Adopt Clean Eating
For your body and mind to function properly, you need to get all your essential nutrients through food.
These include carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals.
The best way to optimize your intake of these nutrients is to adopt clean eating.
Clean eating is a simple diet strategy that involves eating foods as close to their natural form as possible, thereby maximizing nutritional value.
Natural, whole foods or minimally processed foods are considered to be clean foods.
Clean eating also involves limiting the intake of chemicals in food from conventional farming by choosing organic, local, and seasonal whenever possible.
Foods that should be excluded as part of clean eating:
Studies show that anxiety, depression and other common mental disorders are linked to deficiencies in certain nutrients including
- B vitamins
- Antioxidants – vitamin C, E, and A
- Omega 3 essential fatty acids
- and other minerals including manganese, selenium, iron, and zinc.
Clean eating is a perfect strategy to counteract nutrient deficiencies.
Anti-Anxiety Diet Principle 1
Consume natural whole foods – vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fruit, herbs, nuts, seeds, fresh meat, and fish – while avoiding processed foods.
2. Get Plenty of Fiber
Dietary fiber is essential for gut health, and a healthy gut is necessary to mange your anxiety.
The best source of dietary fiber are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
The top 27 high-fiber foods include:
There is growing evidence that an unhealthy gut is a potential cause of mental illness including anxiety and depression.
Studies also show that consuming high-fiber foods is beneficial for managing anxiety because dietary fiber helps to keep your digestive tract healthy by
- promoting regular bowel movements
- preventing constipation, feeding healthy bacteria, and
sweeping out toxins.
There are two types of dietary fiber – soluble fiber and insoluble fiber – and both are important for your digestive health.
- Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in the large intestines (colon). It slows down digestion and nutrient absorption.
- Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and is left intact. It helps to speed up the passage of food through the digestive tract and it also adds bulk to the stool.
Most high fiber-rich foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber but in varying quantities.
Anti-Anxiety Diet Principle 2
Get plenty of fiber in your daily diet by eating a variety of high-fiber foods.
3. Load up Your Plate with Whole Grains
Whole grains are calming foods that should be consumed daily when managing anxiety.
I have been consuming whole grains for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a number of years now and I can’t begin to tell you how much they have helped me to improve my mental health.
It’s important to eat a variety of whole grains to optimize your intake of different beneficial nutrients.
I have found that it’s particularly helpful to eat whole grains for breakfast.
Like many other anxiety sufferers, I had a lot of problems with morning anxiety and eating breakfast with whole grains would help me to calm my anxiety before starting my day.
The healthiest whole grains include brown rice, millet, spelt, buckwheat, quinoa, organic corn, and unsweetened oats.
Soak your grains in water overnight. This is important for effective digestion of grains.
Patients with mental disorders are usually deficient in omega–3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that are precursors to neurotransmitters.
Whole grains are…
…making them great anti-anxiety foods.
They also provide tryptophan, an amino acid that your body needs to produce serotonin and melatonin neurotransmitters.
Serotonin, is a feel-good hormone, while melatonin (“sleep hormone”) helps to establish and maintain steady sleep cycles, which are both crucial to managing anxiety.
Anti-Anxiety Diet Principle 3
Whole grains are great anti-anxiety foods. They are rich in complex carbs and many other important nutrients often deficient in anxiety sufferers. Use whole grains for managing morning anxiety.
4. Make Vegetables Your Priority
Eat plenty of vegetables every day.
Consuming a variety of vegetables and whole grains can help you effectively manage your anxiety.
Eat a variety of starchy and non-starchy vegetables to optimize your intake of nutrients.
Although tomatoes, cumbers, peppers, lettuce, and potatoes are very popular foods, they should be limited when managing anxiety.
Tomatoes are very acidic, potatoes are high in starch and can affect blood sugar, while peppers, cucumbers, and lettuce are better replaced with warm steamed vegetables.
Warm foods have a more calming effect than cold or raw foods.
I was on a raw vegan diet for 6 months, and I know how raw foods affect anxiety. Although I noticed improvements in some of my other health issues during that phase, my anxiety was very high on this type of diet.
Raw foods can be great for some people, but I recommend that you limit your intake of raw and cold foods while trying to get your anxiety under control.
This also means limiting your consumption of salads, raw juices, and smoothies. I would even eliminate juices and smoothies completely.
Like whole grains, vegetables are rich in complex carbohydrates which help to keep your blood sugar stable.
Vegetables also contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, healthy plant compounds, and many other beneficial nutrients.
Their packed nutritional value nourishes your cells and the nervous system helping you calm down.
Anti-Anxiety Diet Principle 4
Make warm vegetables your priority and eat a variety of non-starchy and starchy vegetables. Limit your intake of raw foods, cold foods as well as tomatoes, cumbers, peppers, lettuce, and potatoes.
5. Avoid Too Salty, Too Spicy, Too Sweet or Too Sour
Over the years, I noticed whenever I avoided foods such as limes, lemons, oranges and vinegar, spicy meals, sugar, sweet fruits, and salty foods I noticed positive effects on my anxiety.
But as soon I started eating these foods again, I experienced higher levels of anxiety, as well as white tongue coating, bad breath, vaginal itchiness, and acne.
Not all people are likely to experience anxiety from eating too salty, too spicy, too sweet, or too sour foods, but if you are struggling to manage your anxiety this is something I would definitely recommend.
Foods that are too salty, too spicy, too sweet, or too sour can negatively affect anxiety levels.
According to ayurvedic medicine, these types of foods excite (raise adrenaline levels – stress hormone) and intoxicate.
Although I cannot back this up with scientific research, I know it holds in practice.
Anti-Anxiety Diet Principle 5
Avoid eating foods that are too salty, too spicy, too sweet, or too sour.
6. Choose Healthy Proteins
Proteins are an essential nutrient.
The healthiest sources of protein are natural foods that are high in protein but low in fat, especially low in saturated fat and trans-fats.
16 of the healthiest sources of protein include:
Most plant proteins are not complete proteins, meaning they don’t contain all the 9 essential amino acids required to build a human protein.
But this is easily resolved by combining foods.
Combine whole grains and legumes, or nuts/seeds and legumes to get a complete protein.
This is why rice and peas are eaten together in some cultures.
Studies show that saturated and trans fats can cause inflammation, which in turn impacts mood disorders.
Anti-Anxiety Diet Principle 6
Consume a variety of healthy animal and plant sources of protein. When consuming plant sources of protein make sure you include whole grains or nuts and seeds in your meals.
7. Include Good Fats in Your Meals
Healthy fats are essential for mental health and according to research Omega 3 fatty acids are often low in anxiety patients.
The healthiest sources of fats and essential fats include:
Fatty fish, algae, and flaxseeds are great sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are essential fats that we need for proper body functioning. Further, Omega 3 is especially important for mental health.
Omega 3 and 6 are unsaturated fats.
Anti-Anxiety Diet Principle 7
Include healthy fats in your diet and make sure you eat foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids each week.
8. Limit Fruit to Less-Sweet Varieties
Fruits are high in simple sugars and can cause spikes in blood sugar after consumption. Blood sugar spikes are followed by sudden drops, that can raise anxiety levels.
But fruit also contains many important nutrients.
So, fruit should be consumed but in limited quantities.
Less sweet fruits such as pears, green bananas, apples, papaya, mango, and berries are the best choice.
Choose organic whenever you can as fruit can be very high in pesticides.
Anti-Anxiety Diet Principle 8
Limit fruit to less-sweet fruits and avoid consuming fruit in large quantities.
9. Avoid Dairy
Dairy is one of the worst anxiety foods and should be avoided or preferably eliminated.
Foods such as milk, butter, yogurt, cream, ice-cream, margarine, or any other milk byproducts are anxiety triggers foods.
But there is one exception, and that is natural whey, the leftover liquid in cheesemaking when milk curds have been separated and removed. Unpasteurized liquid whey is very rich in beneficial nutrients and has many health benefits and healing properties.
The Science: Dairy
Studies show that intake of dairy is associated with increased depression, anxiety, stress, cognitive failures, and poorer memory functioning, as well as many other health issues.
The Science: Natural Liquid Whey
The only dairy product that is beneficial for managing your anxiety is natural liquid whey, and preferably kefir whey because it is 99% lactose-free.
Natural whey is the byproduct of cheesemaking. After milk curdles there is a separation of casein (milk curds) and whey, the translucent liquid that is yellowish-green in color.
Casein and whey are both milk proteins and while casein is inflammatory and has been linked to cancer; whey is anti-inflammatory, and has many health benefits and healing properties. In Ancient Greek medicine whey was known as “healing water”.
Natural Liquid Whey is rich in beneficial nutrients:
Natural Liquid Whey Health Benefits
Natural liquid whey is not to be confused with whey protein powders, which are processed versions of whey.
Anti-Anxiety Diet Principle 9
Avoid dairy or even better eliminate completely, with the exception of natural liquid whey. Unpasteurized natural liquid whey is great anti-anxiety food.
10. Proportions Matter
Carbs are the body’s preferred source of energy and since we need energy for every function in the body and brain, carbs need to make the bulk of our calories.
The World Health Organization recommends that carbohydrates should be between 55 and 75 percent of our total calorie intake.
The rest of your calories should come from healthy sources of protein and fat.
The healthiest source of carbs is whole grains and vegetables.
As mentioned above these foods are sugar stabilizing and are loaded with other essential nutrients including vitamins, minerals antioxidants, fatty acids, proteins, fiber, and other beneficial plant compounds.
Anxiety is linked to nutrient deficiencies and eating foods that are packed with a variety of nutrients is essential for managing anxiety.
Anti-Anxiety Diet Principle 10
Make healthy carbs the bulk of your calories (up to 75% of your total calorie intake). The rest of your calories should come from healthy sources of fat and protein. Watch a video on how to serve these proportions on your plate.
11. Eat Lots of Brown Rice
As mentioned above, whole grains are great anti-anxiety foods.
But brown rice is the king of grains and the number one anti-anxiety food.
It’s not a coincidence that brown rice has been consumed for centuries and that it’s a staple food across 100 countries around the world.
Eat brown rice at every opportunity and make sure you consume it at least 3 times a week, more if you wish.
Brown rice is an incredibly calming food, especially when consumed plain on an empty stomach first thing in the morning.
Brown rice contains B vitamins, vitamin E, fatty acids, magnesium, manages, zinc, iron, and selenium – often deficient in anxiety sufferers.
Plus, it’s also a great source of carbohydrates, fiber, and plant protein.
Anti-Anxiety Diet Principle 11
Eat brown rice at least three times a week.
Applying the Anti-Anxiety Diet into Daily Life
I know that this article has a lot of information to take in.
That’s why I have tried to break it down into science, explanation, and summary to help you use this as a guide going forward.
After all, the last thing I want to do is to cause you more anxiety!
I’m now going to further simplify the information in this article to give you an idea of what this anti-anxiety diet looks like in practice.
Example of a Meal Plan
- Breakfast – Oatmeal with linseeds and almonds
- Snack – Apple
- Lunch – Pumpkin soup with a few roasted pumpkin seeds. A portion of millet on the side.
- Snack – Pear
- Dinner - Brown rice with steamed vegetables (swiss chard, carrots, and zucchini), grilled salmon, and dash of olive oil, salt, and basil
Final Thoughts on the Anti-Anxiety Diet that Helped Me
Essential nutrients such as carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals are essential for physical and mental health. Studies show that patients with anxiety disorders are likely to have unhealthy eating habits and nutritional deficiencies.
The best way to optimize your intake of nutrients is to eat a healthy and balanced diet based on natural whole foods including vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fruit, nuts and seeds, as well as fresh fish and lean meats.
You should avoid eating dairy, spices, sugary foods and processed foods.
If you adopt healthy eating you can expect to reduce and better manage your anxiety symptoms. Anti-anxiety eating helped to get my anxiety under control.
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About the Author
Sandra is an anxiety expert and founder of Super Sensitive Sandi. Her anxiety advice has been featured in Best Life, Human Window, Life Hacker Guy, Morning Lazziness, and Blunt Therapy. Read more