By: Anna Crawford MS, RDN, LDN, cPT, Joyfully Nourished, LLC
Let’s talk about “Diets” before jumping in to specific nutrition recommendations for Anxiety!
Diets can feel restrictive and the goal of kind, compassionate nutrition choices is to meet your nutrition needs in a way that creates relaxation and joy.
The goal of an eating plan for anxiety is to make food choices, in conjunction with other mental health care, that support the optimal functioning of your body and help you to feel well.
If you feel yourself becoming tense by the idea of putting an Anxiety “Diet” in place; first notice this, take a few deep breaths, and know that added tension around following an eating plan perfectly is not going to lead to less anxiety.
Approach the following nutrition recommendations from a place of curiosity and experimentation instead of perfection.
Most importantly notice how your body responds to any nutrition changes.
Finally keep in mind you do not need to make every change in one day; small and gentle changes over time typically are more sustainable. This also allows time for reflection on how each individual new nutrition choices affects your body specifically.
Every one and every body is unique and any nutrition recommendation and choice requires reflection and observation on how the new choice is affecting you.
Trust your body experience in addition to quality research-based education when implementing any new nutrition change. Make sure to speak to a medical doctor and qualified health care professional before making a dietary change.
If you would like guidance, support, and assurance on this process; that is what I do 😊, and I’m more than happy to help (contact information below)!
Begin with simple nutrition changes to aide in decreased anxiety and overall wellness.
Include more whole foods and fewer processed foods in each meal and snack.1
This simply means gently transition your diet to include fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes and fewer processed snack foods and meals. This can take some time, be patient with yourself as you adjust your diet.
Include brightly colored fresh, if affordable organic, produce each day.2
Including many colorful fruits and vegetables provides phytochemicals which are beneficial components of plant foods (many of which we probably haven’t even discovered yet!).3 Phytochemicals can participate in many roles in the body in including mental health. The Environmental Working Group Dirty Dozen list to guide organic produce decisions is found at this link: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php
Experiment with limiting caffeine and alcohol.2
Some individuals may be more or less sensitive, but this is an important area to experiment with and determine if your mood, stress level and sleep quality (all of which can contribute to mental health) are affected by caffeine or alcohol intake. Consider replacing these drinks with water, iced or hot tea, sparkling waters, or fruit infused waters.
My personal favorite replacement for coffee is a cup of vanilla chamomile tea with half-n-half or a non-dairy creamer depending on your individual nutrition needs and tolerance.
If curious, continue to experiment with more targeted nutrition support for Anxiety
Research shows insufficient Omega-3 Fatty Acid intake and/or an imbalance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acid intake can be associated with higher anxiety. Including food sources on Omega-3 fats such as tuna, sardines, salmon, mackerel, herring two to three times weekly or flaxseed (1000-2000mg/day flaxseed oil or 2 tablespoons/day ground flaxseed)4 as a regular part of the diet may be beneficial. Chia Seeds and walnuts are also sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.5
Amino Acids are the small building blocks of protein and available amino acids are important to form many neurotransmitters.3 Neurotransmitters are important communication signals in the body that contribute to mood.
Experiment with decreasing added sugars.2 Blood sugar regulation can influence mood and mental health.3, 1 Added sugar are now listed on the Nutrition Facts Label for each food and easier to spot!
Food Sources are recommended first to meet vitamin and mineral needs. If more targeted supplemental support is needed, work with a qualified health care professional to meet your individual needs.
Research supports that B vitamins including B6, B9 (folate), and B12 are beneficial in mood and mental health balance, playing a role in regulation of neurotransmitters which are important communication signals in the body that can affect mood.6
Food sources of Vitamin B6 include many nuts, seeds, avocados, black beans.3, 5
Food sources of Vitamin B9 include leafy greens, whole grains, soy avocado, white beans.3, 5
Food sources of Vitamin B12 include dairy, eggs, fish and meat.3, 5
Research has associated low Vitamin D levels with anxiety.3
Sources of Vitamin D include sunlight, egg yolks, liver, and fortified dairy.5
Research has associated low magnesium levels with anxiety.3 Stress can contribute to magnesium deficiency and magnesium deficiency can contribute to stress.2
Food Sources of magnesium include nuts, beans, seeds, leafy greens, soy, and whole grains.5
If really curious 😊 Here are some cool new areas of nutrition research to consider when reflecting on Nutrition for Anxiety
There are links between mental health and IBS symptoms and increased research focus on the “brain-gut-axis”.7 The brain-gut-axis suggests that the microbiome, the bacteria in our intestine, influence which neurotransmitters are released from the gut contributing to mental health. There is also a possible affect from intestinal permeability or leaky gut contributing to mental health.3 Following a diet to rebalance the microbiome may offer benefit in anxiety1 and is an area of nutrition and mental health for continued research and study.
There are multiple possible genetics links with mental health. More research is needed but just food for thought that we are individual and have individual nutrition needs!8
An anti-inflammatory diet such as the “Mediterranean Diet” has shown benefit in mental health.6 Certain individual food sensitivities may contribute to inflammation person-to-person and contribute to mental health symptoms.1
About the Author: Anna is a private practice registered dietitian in Mahomet, Illinois with a particular interest in mental health nutrition, eating disorders, and promoting a kind, curious and compassionate relationship with food, eating, movement and body image.
Connect with Anna: Joyfully Nourished, LLC www.joyfully-nourished.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Miller A. The Anti-Anxiety Diet: A Whole-Body Program to Stop Racing Thoughts, Banish Worry, and Live Panic Free. Berkeley, California: Ulysses Press; 2018.
Somer E. Food & Mood: The complete Guide to Eating Well and Feeling Your Best, 2nd Edition. York, New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC; 1999.
Korn L. Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health: A Complete Guide to the Food-Mood Connection. New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.; 2016.
Lee R. Chapter 6: Anxiety. In: Rakel, D, ed. Integrative Medicine, 4th Edition. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Elsevier; 2012.
Jensen M, Savoie Roskos MR, Yaugher A, Sulzer S. Anxiety and Depression: Can Diet Help?. Extension Utah State University. April 2019: FN/Nutrition/2019-01pr. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2993&context=extension_curall. Accessed March 6, 2020.
Young LM, Pipingas A, White DJ, Gauci S, Scholey A. A systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of B Vitamin Supplementation on Depressive Symptoms, Anxiety, and Stress: Effects on Healthy and ‘At-Risk’ Individuals. Nutrients. 2019; 11(2232): 1-19. www.doi.org/10.3390/nu11092232.
Zamani M, Alizadeh-Tabari S, Zamani V. Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis: The Prevalence of Anxiety and Depression in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2019; 50(2):132-143. www.doi.org/ 10.1111/apt.15325.
Tomasi J, Lisoway AJ, Zai CC, Harripaul R, Muller DJ, Zai GCM, … Tiwari AK. Towards Precision Medicine in Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Review of Genetics and Pharmaco(epi)genetics. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2019; 119:33-47. www.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2019.09.002.