Foods to help with anxiety and stress

Anxiety and stress, though slightly different emotional states, are both natural reactions to danger or to an uncomfortable situation. Stress is a normal part of everyone's life. However, reactions to stress can culminate in anxiety that, depending upon its severity, can interfere with health. Here's how food can help affect the body's response to stress.

Foods to help with anxiety and stress

1. Symptoms

Symptoms of anxiety include a heightened sense of self-awareness and an exaggerated awareness of surroundings, muscle tension, nervousness, insomnia, heart palpitations, intense worry and feelings of dread and doom.

Prolonged feelings of anxiety may signal a more serious anxiety disorder, which can lead to depression. For most people, though, anxiety and stress are all too common hallmarks of living in a fast-paced world that often seems out of our control.

Certain factors can spur anxiety and stress, including real physical threats, job changes, hormonal changes, medications, financial problems, marital woes, illness and grief, as well as withdrawal from caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, sedatives, narcotics or other addictive drugs.

2. How food may help

Because anxiety and stress can often overstimulate nerves and cause muscles to be tight and tense, it may be helpful to eat foods rich in calcium and magnesium, two minerals that work together to help regulate nerve conduction and muscle contraction.

Dietary support from complex carbohydrates, which are found in most "comfort foods," is another nutritional defence against stress and anxiety. The amino acid tryptophan is instrumental in the manufacture of serotonin, a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter that will help you to relax and feel more calm.

Complex carbohydrates not only ensure proper absorption of tryptophan but they also may dampen the stress response by elevating levels of serotonin.

A number of B vitamins help to release energy from carbohydrates, maintain proper nervous system function and control glucose levels. Specifically, vitamin B6 assists in the manufacture of brain chemicals — such as serotonin, dopamine and melatonin — that control mood.

Because stress can create temporary high blood pressure by triggering the release of certain hormones, it would be wise to consume foods that can combat high blood pressure.

Also important are immune-building foods rich in vitamin C and zinc, whose substances may fight off viruses brought on by the body's weakened state due to stress. Diarrhea and cold sores, too, are frequent companions of stress.

3. Recent research

A small study recently showed that a vegetarian diet may be linked with reduced anxiety and depression levels. The study participants were divided into two groups, 40 vegetarians and 40 non-vegetarians. Diet analysis of the two groups showed that the vegetarian group consumed more antioxidant-rich foods than did the non-vegetarian group. Psychological tests were administered to both groups to determine differences in anxiety and depression between both groups.

Interestingly, significantly more anxiety and depression were reported in the non-vegetarian group. Authors of the study speculate that the higher level of antioxidants in the vegetarian group may account for this finding.

4. Foods to eat

  • Broccoli, cooking greens, dairy products, figs, beans, potatoes, rice, whole grains, amaranth, avocados, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, bananas, peas, poultry, turnips, salmon.
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