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Food as Medicine for Anxiety

The foods you choose to eat or not eat every day make a difference in your mental health. If you are experiencing anxiety, there are a number of foods that can support your efforts to feel calmer.

Here are some foods to incorporate:

High Fiber Foods: beans, brown rice, berries, bran, pears, apples, bananas, broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots, artichokes, almonds, walnuts, amaranth, oats, buckwheat, and pearl barley

Omega-3s: cold-water fatty fish like salmon mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines, grass-fed beef, edamame, walnuts, chia seeds

Aged, fermented, and cultured foods: yogurt, kombucha, miso, tempeh, apple-cider vinegar, and pickled vegetables

Tryptophan: turkey, other meats, and chickpeas, especially when combined with carbohydrates

Vitamin D: cod-liver oil, egg yolks, herring, sun-dried mushrooms, oysters, salmon, sardines, shrimp, canned light tuna, fortified milk

Vitamin B1 (thiamine): acorn squash, asparagus, barley, beef, black beans, cauliflower, eggs, kale, lentils, nuts, oatmeal, oranges, pork, salmon, sunflower seeds, tuna, whole grains

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, pork, poultry (chicken and turkey), whole-grain cereals (oatmeal and wheat germ)

Vitamin A: liver (beef, cod-liver oil, lamb), fish (bluefin tuna, mackerel, salmon, trout), cheeses (blue, camembert, cheddar, feta, goat, roquefort), caviar, hard-boiled egg

Vitamin C: black currants, broccoli, brussels sprouts, chili peppers, guavas, kale, kiwifruit, lemon, lychee fruit, oranges, papaya, parsley, persimmons, strawberries, sweet yellow peppers, thyme

Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol): almonds, avocado, beet greens, butternut squash, peanuts, spinach, sunflower seeds, swiss chard, trout

Magnesium: almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts, avocados, cooked black beans, edamame, peanut butter and avocado

Potassium: bananas, pumpkin seeds, bananas, cucumbers, mushrooms, oranges, peas, sweet potatoes

Selenium: brazil nuts

Turmeric: curcumin

Theanine: green tea

Herbs: lavender, passionflower, and chamomile

Foods to Avoid:

Just as food can be supportive of your mental health, it can also detract from it. Start to become aware of the relationship that the following foods have on your anxiety symptoms. As you notice the connection between food and mood, you may consider reducing or eliminating the following food:

Components of the Western diet (high fat, high carb diet): foods high in unhealthy fats (fried foods, red meat) and high Glycemic Index carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta, foods made from refined flour)

Caffeine: start by ensuring that you keep caffeine under 400 mg/day and consider slowly decreasing daily caffeine intake further. Less than 100 mg of caffeine per day is the amount least likely to contribute to your anxiety.

Some of you may know how rapidly or slowly your body metabolizes caffeine. But, what you might not realize is that genetic variants have an impact on the anxiety-provoking effect of caffeine and its contribution to insomnia.

Alcohol: avoid alcohol altogether if you have had problematic drinking in the past.

For men - stay well under 14 drinks per week and no more than 2 drinks in any single day

For women - stay well under 7 drinks per week and no more than 1 drink in any single day

Gluten: if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, avoid all wheat products including bread, pizza, pasta, and many alcoholic drinks

Artificial sweeteners: aspartame is particularly harmful and associated with anxiety but consider reducing all artificial sweeteners

Adapted from This is Your Brain on Food

Hungry for More? Check out these two great books on nutritional psychiatry

  1. This is Your Brain on Food by Dr. Uma Naidoo
  2. Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety by Dr. Drew Ramsey