Mood foods: eating for anxiety

Did you know that certain foods can improve anxiety, stress and depression? However, what you may find surprising is that a few simple dietary changes could improve your mood.

Some foods have been shown to worsen feelings of anxiety – winding us up in all the wrong ways. While on the other hand, there are foods that can actually improve symptoms of anxiety and stress. So, what should you consider changing in your diet? 

Foods that worsen anxiety: 

Coffee – many of us swear by a hot cup of java to wake us up in the morning and get us through the day. But what is it really doing to our brains? Caffeine has an interesting effect, in that it suppresses serotonin – a key hormone that helps us feel calm and relaxed. Furthermore, while caffeine can do an excellent job of keeping you awake, the downside is that it can wreak havoc with your sleep routine if you drink it at the wrong times, and sleep is a vital component of good mental health. 

Your body requires small amounts of glucose to operate properly and give you energy. Sugar might give our bodies that surge of energy we need, but too much sugar causes our blood-sugar levels to spike and our cortisol (the stress hormone) to take over. The following rapid drop in our blood sugar leads to feelings of sluggishness and anxiety. 

Alcohol is often treated as a way to promote relaxation, but it’s actually a depressant. It affects your mood by interfering with serotonin, a neurotransmitter in your brain, which helps to regulate your mood. Along with this chemical effect, alcohol also causes dehydration and fluctuating your blood-sugar levels. Symptoms of dehydration include nausea, fatigue and muscle weakness – none of which will help to alleviate feelings of anxiety.

Foods that improve anxiety:

Omega-3 fatty acids
Depression and anxiety are characterised by low levels of serotonin in your brain. Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression by producing serotonin and keeping cortisol and adrenaline from spiking when you’re feeling tense. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, trout and sardines), avocado, seeds, nuts and olive oil. 

Wholegrain foods
Studies have shown that wholegrains have several benefits for those with anxiety due to their richness in a key chemical called tryptophan, which turns into serotonin in the body. Wholegrain foods also contain magnesium and energy, both of which, when the body is in deficit, can lead to anxiety and stress. Wholegrain foods include bread, pasta, rice and cereal. 

We have to have some fun when it comes to eating, don’t we? Dark chocolate is known for its ability to reduce cortisol and boost serotonin, while containing high amounts of magnesium – all of which help to improve mood. However, before we go medicating ourselves with chocolate bars, the high fat and sugar content in milk or white chocolate makes it more likely to promote, rather than reduce, anxiety.   

Related articles:
Do you have a sugar addiction?
Five fatty foods to eat

Written by Amelia Theodorakis

A writer and communications specialist with eight years’ in startups, SMEs, not-for-profits and corporates. Interests and expertise in gender studies, history, finance, banking, human interest, literature and poetry.

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