foods for anxiety

Foods for Anxiety & Depression: How nutrition can heal your mind

Stress. OCD. Depression. PTSD. Anxiety. Panic disorder. Specific phobias. If any of these words describe your daily life, you’re not alone. Around 20% of Americans suffer from mental illness. And around a quarter of them have experienced serious thoughts of suicide. It is likely that you have researched & Googled ways to be free, or ways to cope with these crippling mental illnesses. Improving mental health takes more than just therapy, and we’d like to touch on one aspect related to this topic – what and how you eat. Eating the right kind of foods for anxiety and depression can play a crucial role in coping & healing from these conditions.

How does your mental health affect your eating patterns?

A good first step is to look at any of your current food rituals, habits, or views on food. What does your relationship with food look like? Does a certain type of food bring you any anxiety? If you have any anxiety around food, or if your food habits are affected by your mental health, we recommend meeting with a dietitian specializing in disordered eating. We often see our clients have developed an eating disorder as a coping mechanism for a deeper rooted issue. For example, binge eating becomes a way to cope with negative emotions. Some clients restrict their food intake as a means of control. Whatever your food rituals are, we encourage you to get help immediately, whether or not you think you have an eating disorder.

Can food heal my mental health issues?

This answer is, yes! But it takes more than just food. Here are some things to consider:

  • Work with a mental health professional
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Engage in an active lifestyle, with daily physical activity
  • Stay hydrated
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Enjoy some self-care
  • Limit substance use
  • Learn healthy coping mechanisms for negative emotions
  • Consider the need for medication

What are some good foods for anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness?

Foods contain nutrients. Some nutrients can be very healing & helpful to our overall mental health. On the other hand, some foods can heighten feelings of anxiety or depressive episodes. Let’s start with the positive foods for anxiety and depression:

Fish

Nutrient: Omega 3’s

How it helps: Omega-3’s have anti-inflammatory effects that have been shown to prevent and/or treat depression while improving mood.

Ideas to incorporate:

  • Try a tuna sandwich for lunch
  • Swap out your dinner protein 2x during the week for salmon or your fish of choice
  • Don’t like fish? Consult with a dietitian on a fish oil supplement

Eggs

Nutrient: Vitamin B12

How it helps: High intake of vitamin B12 can decrease the risk of depression, while B12 deficiency is associated with depression & anxiety.

Ideas to incorporate:

  • Switch to buying only “farm fresh” eggs as they have more nutrients
  • Boil a bunch of eggs to have ready as a snack throughout the week
  • Incorporate eggs into your breakfast meals

Nuts/Seeds

Nutrient: Magnesium

How it helps: Low levels of magnesium are associated with a significantly increased risk of depression. Studies also show that magnesium does reduce mild anxiety, anxiety during premenstrual syndrome, postpartum anxiety, and generalized anxiety.

Ideas to incorporate:

  • Snack on some nuts & Lily’s chocolate
  • Sprinkle nuts in your oatmeal
  • Add ground flaxseed to your smoothies
  • Snack on nut butter and fruit

Leafy Greens

Nutrient: Folic Acid

How it helps: Studies have found significant correlations between folic acid levels and depression, where low blood levels were associated with increased risk and a high diet-based intake of folic acid with a protective effect against depression.

Ideas to incorporate:

  • Freeze raw spinach and kale so it doesn’t rot too quickly, and use it in smoothies
  • Saute greens with some eggs for a tasty omelet
  • Add kale to soups

Dairy or Fortified Plant-Based Dairy

Nutrient: Vitamin D

How it helps: Low levels of vitamin D are associated with poor mental health.

Ideas to incorporate:

  • Snack on yogurt
  • Drink a glass of chocolate milk after a workout
  • Have string cheese in your work fridge for a quick snack

Yogurt & Kefir

Nutrient: Probiotics

How it helps: Gut and brain are connected! The available research shows poor gut health and mental illness are correlated. Intake of probiotics and prebiotics (plant foods with fiber) lead to improved intestinal health, which can reduce inflammation and thus result in fewer symptoms of mental illness.

Ideas to incorporate:

  • Use Kefir as the liquid base in your smoothies
  • Use greek yogurt instead of sour cream 
  • Freeze yogurt and fruit for a sweet snack in the evenings

Are there foods/beverages to limit for anxiety & depression?

  • Foods that cause a sugar spike – ie. SUGAR (refined cereals, desserts, pastries, fruit juice, soda, etc.)! Instead of eating a sweet on its own, try pairing it with a protein, or having a small portion after a meal. That limits the blood sugar spike, and eventual drop, which can lead to heightened anxiety & depression.
  • Beverages with caffeine. Caffeine, for some, can heighten feelings of anxiety. If you feel like caffeine raises your heart rate, gives a jittery feeling, you may want to try cutting back on your coffee, energy drink, or soda intake.
  • Naked carbs. Wait, what? Yes, consuming carbs alone! Try to avoid something like chips, toast, or pretzels on their own. They can cause a similar response as the sugar on its own. Instead, try “dressing up” that carb with protein, fat, and/or fiber. For example, pretzels with hummus or avocado. 

As you can see, food can truly be your medicine! If you are having a hard time putting it all together, meet with one of our nutrition professionals. We will help you find foods for anxiety and depression to better help you cope with your mental struggles. We will take you, as an individual, and make a personalized plan to improve your mental health so that you can live a happier and healthier life!

Schedule with Andi, a wellness coach!

She can support you on your mental health journey. Here is what you might expect:

  1. Create a wellness vision
  2. Discuss challenges and generate strategies
  3. Education on necessary areas to assist you in moving forward
  4. Goal setting
  5. Accountability
  6. Celebrate successes
  7. Someone by your side to support your growth
foods for anxiety

Disclosure:

Some of our pages contain affiliate links that Anderson’s Nutrition may receive a commission from, at no extra cost to you. We only promote products that we have used & verified, finding helpful for our clients and friends. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Anderson’s Nutrition is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

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