10 Foods That May Ease Anxiety and Depression Symptoms
About 40 million adults in the United States are affected by an anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental illness in our country. Although anxiety itself is a normal human emotion that we all have at times, chronic feelings of anxiousness can lead to health problems and can interfere with the ability to lead a normal life.
Chronic anxiety symptoms should not go untreated. In addition to medical treatments such as medication and therapy, there are some steps you can take in your daily life that may help with easing anxiety. Improving your diet is a great place to start.
Certain nutrients may have a calming effect on the body and mind. In addition, most of these foods are healthful additions to any diet, providing nutrients that may also help with the treatment or prevention of other health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease. Tanya Zuckerbrot MS RD, dietitian and author of the F-Factor Diet, names her top 10 foods that may help ease anxiety symptoms.
Nuts are a great snack food, plus they carry nutrients beneficial to both mood and overall health. Almonds, for example, are rich in manganese and vitamin E, two nutrients that can help quell anxiety and depression symptoms. Manganese is a mineral needed for the proper use of certain vitamins, such as B and C. A deficiency may contribute to depression due to lowered levels of mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters.
People with depression have also been found to have lower levels of vitamin E circulating in their bloodstream. Antioxidant vitamins, such as E, may protect the brain against damage caused by free radicals.
Low levels of folic acid have been linked to depression. A deficiency in this vitamin is also associated with a poor response to antidepressant medication. Asparagus is one food that is rich in folic acid, providing two-thirds of your daily value in just a single cup. Other healthful foods with folic acid include dark leafy greens (spinach, collards, romaine lettuce), broccoli, and citrus fruits such as papaya, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, and raspberries.
B-vitamins are needed for healthy nerves and brain cells. A deficiency in B-5 (pantothenic acid), for example, is linked to fatigue, chronic stress and depression because the vitamin is needed for certain brain chemicals which work to prevent depressive moods. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is necessary for the manufacture of serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine. The avocado is rich in both of these vitamins, plus many more – including folate!
There may be a correlation between low potassium intake and depression and anxiety symptoms. Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the body and is also an electrolyte that helps regulate body processes such as blood pressure, muscle activity, and cell function. Bananas are one food very rich in potassium. Others include dark leafy greens, baked potatoes, yogurt, and dried beans.
There is also a theory that bananas may help with the production of serotonin, but research has yet to formally make the connection. However, as bananas are a healthful food rich in many vitamins and minerals, eating one a day couldn’t hurt.
Even slight deficiencies in vitamin C can produce depression symptoms. Blueberries and strawberries rank as the top two preferred berries in the US and also are great sources of vitamins and antioxidants. One serving (1 cup) of blueberries contain almost 24% of the daily need for vitamin C. Strawberries are even bigger vitamin C powerhouses, providing 98% of the daily value in just one cup.
Remember when mom would recommend drinking a glass of warm milk at bedtime to calm you and help you sleep? There’s a reason for that. Milk is rich in antioxidants, vitamin B2 and vitamin B12, as well as protein and calcium. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause mood swings, paranoia, and irritability. Calcium is a mineral beneficial to the central nervous system and low levels can lead to nervousness, apprehension, and irritability.
If you don’t care for a glass of milk, you may want to try eating a probiotic-rich yogurt each day instead. A recent study by a team at McMaster University has found that probiotics have an impact on brain neurochemistry which leads to lower levels of corticosterone, a stress-induced hormone.
Whole grains are not only good for the body, but also the brain. Oats contain folic acid, pantothenic acid and vitamins B6 and B1. In addition, the fiber can help keep you full and stabilize blood sugar. Being hungry and having low blood sugar are two common reasons for irritability.
Salmon and other fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential nutrients for the brain. This anti-inflammatory nutrient may help keep brain cells communicating with each other for proper functioning, including maintaining mood. Omega-3’s may also be useful in lowering stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline.
In addition to being rich in folic acid, vitamin C, and several B-vitamins, spinach may also quell depression and anxiety symptoms because it is rich in magnesium. This mineral helps regulate cortisol levels and promotes feelings of well-being. Just one cup of spinach can meet almost 40% of your daily need for magnesium.
You know that feeling you have after Thanksgiving dinner where you feel calm, happy, and sleepy? Yes, some of that is due to having a full stomach, but it is also related to a nutrient found in turkey. Tryptophan signals the brain to release the “feel-good” brain chemical serotonin, acting as a natural antidepressant. Turkey isn’t the only food rich in tryptophan though. Chicken, soybeans, tuna, salmon, and shrimp also contain more than 100% of the daily value for this nutrient.
In addition to these healing foods, don’t forget the power of exercise against anxiety. Daily physical activity can reduce anxiety by twenty percent and may actually be the best prescription you could receive for easing symptoms.
“Eat to Beat Stress – 10 Foods that Reduce Anxiety” – Tanya Zuckerbrot MS RD, Men’s Fitness Magazine
Coppen A, Bolander-Gouaille C. “Treatment of Depression: Time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12” J Psychopharmacol. 2005 Jan;19(1):59-65.
Psychology Today, “Anxiety and Omega-3 Fatty Acids”, Dr. Barry Sears PhD.
The World’s Healthiest Foods, www.whfoods.com