Juggling family, social life, work tasks, and self-care can put us to the test. Sometimes, I feel pulled in too many directions and need to stop and collect myself. I usually do this with some focused breathing, a walking meditation, or by fixing myself a healthy snack. Yes—foods that can help mitigate anxiety do indeed exist!
What Is Anxiety, Really?
Anxiety refers to a wide range of conditions that stem from genetics, brain chemistry, events in our lives, and our personalities, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Forty million adults in the United States ages eighteen and older experience anxiety in the form of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depressive disorders, and phobias. The Mayo Clinic explains that GAD can cause you to feel panicky, on edge, or twitchy. You might also have trouble sleeping, excessive sweating, or digestion problems.
Bottom line: anxiety is common and very much treatable. If these symptoms affect your life, speak with your healthcare provider to learn how you can feel better. The Mayo Clinic advises that there are different treatment options, such as talk therapy and medications. There are also alternative treatment options, including dietary changes and relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation. You can discuss these with your healthcare provider to find the best option for you.
How Dietary Choices Affect Stress Levels
You know that feeling of butterflies fluttering in your stomach that you may get before speaking publicly? Or how proud you feel after choosing a green smoothie over a doughnut for breakfast? These feelings are a result of your gut and brain communicating with one another.
"A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person's stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That's because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected," according to Harvard Medical School.
Personally, I love using soothing aromatherapy, guided imagery, and nutrient-dense homemade meals to help manage anxiety. These approaches help me feel comforted and nourished both physically and emotionally.
Foods That Relieve Anxiety
As the Mayo Clinic suggests, eating healthy by focusing on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains may help relieve symptoms of anxiety. Specifically, experts have found the following foods may help us reduce stress and feel calmer. Try adding a few of these to your shopping list for your next trip to the grocery store.
- Fermented foods: Consider enjoying tofu or tempeh at dinner tonight if you want to improve cognitive functioning or reduce social anxiety, according to a review in Scientia Pharmaceutica. Other fermented foods you can to add to your plate include fermented spicy red pepper paste (used in Asian cooking), kimchi, pickles, and sauerkraut.
- Dark chocolate: Let's rejoice! It may be a good idea to reach for that square of dark chocolate in the afternoon, after all. An article published in the journal Nutrients explains that, when a test group sampled 74 percent cocoa dark chocolate, the positive effects included reduced anxiety levels.
- Fresh produce: The cells in our bodies change minute by minute. One process, known as oxidative stress, can trigger disturbances in our brains and nervous systems, making us not feel great. By adding antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to our diets, we can mitigate this cellular backlash, according to a study in the International Journal of Pure & Applied Bioscience. The study found that supplements of vitamins A, C, and E reduced anxiety scores significantly in patients with GAD. Leafy green veggies, squash, mangoes, and strawberries are known for containing these key vitamins, notes Harvard Medical School.
- Herbs and spices:Love garlic, ginger, and turmeric? Me too! It turns out, certain spices and herbs can have a positive effect on our health. A study published in the journal PLOS ONE explains that, beyond their culinary uses, the phytochemicals in different herbs and spices may promote wellness. For example, a study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine shows that a combination of spices, including peppermint, ginger, and licorice root—known as xiao yao san in Chinese culture—may help manage stress and depression-related disorders.
On the flip side, processed foods and snacks that are high in sugar may have negative effects on your physical and emotional health, as fluctuations in blood sugar levels can trigger feelings of anxiety, according to Harvard Medical School. It's also recommended to avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
3 Easy Recipes Using Foods That Calm Nerves
Now, let's put it all together and add a few foods to our meal planning that can help us feel our best. Here are a few of my favorite go-to recipes!
- Homemade sauerkraut: This tangy fermented food adds a vibrant flavor to bean burgers and veggie bowls. Here's an easy sauerkraut recipe to make your own at home.
- Vegan chocolate raspberry pudding: This combo of antioxidant-rich berries and dark chocolate is sweetened naturally with Medjool dates and coconut milk. Kids and adults alike will ask for seconds of this delicious pudding dessert.
- Chickpea curry: A rainbow of spices, including garlic, turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, Fenugreek, and mustard seeds, make this classic Indian dish from Avant Garde Vegan delicious. A warm bowl of curry is sure to bring you comfort!
Looking for more ideas for meals that make you feel amazing? Follow the Smart Snacking board by @tomsofmaine on Pinterest. Be well, friend!
Image Source: Angela Tague
The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.
Why It's Good
How we nourish our bodies directly impacts our feelings and anxiety levels due to the mind-gut connection. Thankfully, some foods have the ability to influence our mood in a positive way and generate a natural sense of calm. From dark chocolate to strawberries, many of your favorite snacks are working internally to make you feel your best.