This Is the Best Food for Anxiety, According to a Nutritionist and Psychologist

Here’s what you should carry – and what you should avoid.

If you struggle with anxiety, what you eat and drink each day can have a big impact on managing your anxiety.

“Diet can have a positive or negative impact on anxiety by addressing the underlying metabolic systems associated with anxiety, including inflammation, the microbiome, and nutrients needed to optimize brain chemistry and blood sugar,” he says. Maxine Smith, RD, a registered dietitian at the Center for Human Nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic. “They can act both positively and negatively.”

“Foods that are part of a Mediterranean anti-inflammatory diet have many variables associated with less anxiety,” says Smith.

And one food in particular can have big benefits for your anxiety. The #1 food for anxiety? Mandarins.

“They’re small, portable, and sweet, which helps satiate the craving for something sweet and comforting, but delivers the right nutrients,” he says. Dr. Susan Albers, PsyD, a Psychologist with Behavioral Health at the Cleveland Clinic. “They contain vitamin C, which is perfect for helping your immune system when under stress and anxiety.”

She adds that studies have shown that the citrus scent is calming, which is why a citrus scent is pumped into spas and hotels – it promotes an instant feeling of zen.

Another bonus of eating tangerines? The peeling.

“Peeling a tangerine can be both meditative and disturbing, just what you need to get you out of your anxious thoughts,” adds Dr. Albers. “As you peel, focus on one positive thought for each segment. Hold the tangerine up to your nose, close your eyes and inhale deeply to the count of three.

Other Anxiety Foods

If you’re looking to add more foods to your diet that can help you manage anxiety, here are a few to add to your shopping list:

pumpkin seeds

“Pumpkin seeds are a great anxiety-preventing snack because they contain zinc and magnesium. In fact, pumpkin seeds are one of the best natural sources of magnesium in the world,” says Dr. Albers. “Magnesium is known to help people relax and unwind. Pumpkin seeds also promote sleep. When you get enough sleep, it can help you deal more effectively with situations that trigger anxiety. The chewing motion when chewing pumping seeds can also trigger a calming response.

Brazil nut

“Brazil nuts can be a game changer for anxiety. All you need is two a day,” says Dr. Albers. “This was found to have as much selenium as a supplement.”

Seafood (oysters, crab, tuna, sardines, shrimp)

These are all good sources of zinc and selenium, which help create neurotransmitters and promote nervous system health,” says Smith. “Many fish are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which is the building block of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which modulates mood.”

Worst foods for anxiety

There is evidence that certain dietary patterns are associated with anxiety: a diet high in fat, inadequate dietary tryptophan and protein, and high intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates, according to a 2021 study.

If you struggle with anxiety, here are some foods you should consider removing from your diet:

Tacos, pretzels and frozen meals

“Whatever you do, avoid tacos, pretzels, and frozen meals when you feel anxious,” says Dr. Albers. “All are extraordinarily high in sodium. Excessive salt intake can increase your blood pressure, thereby increasing anxiety.”

Caffeinated drinks or foods (such as coffee and chocolate)

“When you’re already anxious, small amounts of caffeine can rev up the nervous system and mimic the hallmarks of anxiety,” explains Dr. Albers. “Even traces can push the anxious person over the edge in an extreme anxiety response.”

sugar-rich foods

“High-sugar foods displace other nutrient-dense foods in the diet, disrupt a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut (microbiome), increase inflammation, and lower immunity, which is linked to anxiety,” says Smith. “It can cause highs and lows in blood sugar, which in turn can cause mood swings, particularly when combined with caffeine, such as in sodas and energy drinks.”

If you’re struggling to identify which foods might be improving or worsening your anxiety, Dr. Albers suggests keeping a food diary.

“I recommend that people keep a diary and record the foods they eat,” says Dr. Albers. “Track your anxiety level from one to 10 at the end of the day. You’re likely to notice a pattern in which foods exacerbate anxiety and which ones calm your mood.”

She also notes that there are “3 Ms” to avoid when you’re feeling anxious when it comes to eating.

Mindless foods: “These are foods that require no effort to prepare. Things straight out of a bag or box, like a cookie sleeve or a box of cookies,” says Dr. Albers. “Preparing and plating food slows you down, like a bowl of soup or a sandwich, which you have to prepare. When you’re anxious, it’s easy to eat a whole plate before you even realize it.”

Chewing: “This is any food you can put in your mouth, like cereal, pretzels, popcorn, small candy,” says Dr. Albers. “This movement is rhythmic and can lead to chewing to calm down. It’s a recipe for eager eating.”

masks: “Certain foods, like processed foods and sugary snacks, instantly change your feelings. The glucose spike changes your emotions quickly,” explains Dr. Albers. “But it’s like a temporary band-aid for feelings, but it can exacerbate anxiety in the long run. The immediate drop in blood sugar can make you feel anxious.”


This Is the Best Food for Anxiety, According to a Nutritionist and Psychologist

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