As one of the 40 million adults in the United States who suffer from anxiety, I am keenly aware of how disruptive the chronic worry and stress can be to your everyday life and how depleted and week anxious episodes leave you. To make it worse, during bouts of anxiety, we often turn to comfort foods high in refined carbohydrates to make us feel better but which often leave us with mood swings and low energy.
Here are five foods that can help you eat your way to calm by maintaining stable blood sugar and providing nutrients that support an anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) response in the body.
1. Leafy Greens
Swiss chard, spinach, turnip greens and collards are examples of dark leafy greens that serve up excellent sources of magnesium and Vitamin C. Magnesium acts like a relaxing agent responsible for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body including helping the cells make energy, relax muscles and stabilize membranes. Vitamin C helps reduce the effects of stress and recoup from illness, trauma or anxiety. Stress depletes the body of both magnesium and Vitamin C- in fact those Type A people we all know are the most likely to be deficient - so ensuring your diet includes lots of leafy greens along with brightly-colored vegetables and fruits, beans, nuts and seeds will help relax mind and body.
2. Chamomile Tea
The chamomile flowers in dried chamomile infusion, or tea, are powerful calming agents for the central nervous system. The flowers contain concentrated calcium which is helpful to relieve tension and also relaxes the gastric system which can tighten up and create nervous stomach. To get even more benefits, chamomile can be taken in tincture or capsule format as well.
Oysters provide the most plentiful source of zinc which when deficient can cause anxiety, depression and other mental and behavioral issues. Zinc is found in abundance in the brain and is thought to play a large role in brain signaling which when imbalanced can enable too many excitatory neurotransmitters to be at play. Other foods high in zinc include beef, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds. chickpeas, chicken, pork and yogurt.
Rich in omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, salmon can provide elements essential for proper brain function. Numerous research studies have shown Omega-3 fatty acids to correlate highly with improved mood and reduced anxiety. Two 4 oz. servings of wild-caught salmon contain one-day's recommended omega-3 allowance so consider supplementation with a high-quality extra virgin cod liver oil or fermented cod liver oil if you aren't eating enough seafood. Other good Omega-3 sources include halibut, scallops, sardines, herring as well as flaxseeds and walnuts.
5. "Real" Sauerkraut
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, miso and kimchi contain live, active probiotic cultures which have been shown to reduce inflammation in the gut. Gastrointestinal disorders have often been linked to mood disorders and modify the body's response to stress. In addition, fermented foods help the body absorb more Vitamin B which helps ensure the body is not deficient in serotonin and improves mood. Those who take probiotics are consistently shown to have reduced anxiety and improved mental health.
- ADAA: http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
- Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. (2014)."NC209: Mental Health, "Easing Anxiety: Nutritional Considerations for Panic Disorder". Therapeutic Nutrition. Pennsgrove, CA: Bauman College.
- LEF.org: http://www.lifeextension.com/Protocols/Emotional-Health/Anxiety/Page-01