Kale, quinoa and cashews may not sound like comfort foods, but in actual fact they all contain nutrients that can help fight off anxiety.
Anxiety condition can cause nervousness, fear and apprehension, and according to the University of Queensland affects 1 in 13 globally. It is traditionally treated by communication, medication and group therapy. However a case can be made for food-focused solutions as a complement to existing care as there is a noted connection between food and mental health, with 95% of the body's receptors for serotonin (a chemical that stabilizes mood, appetite and sleep) found in the gut.
Therefore if you are looking to stave off anxiety with food, these essentials are crucial to making that positive change:
- Magnesium: Nuts and seeds, dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, freshwater fish, bananas, beans and legumes, figs, avocado, strawberries, yogurt (sugar-free yogurt from grass-fed cows is best), grapefruit, dark chocolate and blackberries. Raw nuts are better than honey-roasted ones, which can come with added sugars. To roast your own nuts, soak them overnight, rinse them and roast them in the oven at 200 degrees until they're dry. You can add your own savoury or sweet seasonings, and use coconut oil when roasting
- Zinc: Oysters, crab, lobster, whole grains like quinoa, vegetables like mushrooms, kale, broccoli, garlic and spinach, nuts and seeds, pecans, pumpkin seeds and pine nuts, beans and legumes, chicken, red meat, milk and yogurt
- Vitamin B: Asparagus, kale, spinach, almonds, avocado, red meat and chicken
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Wild caught salmon, flaxseed, walnuts and canola oil. There are some benefits to taking Omega-3 fatty acids as a supplement, but it's not as helpful as food. It's always healthier to consume nutrients from natural sources
- Probiotics and Fermented Foods: Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles
When addressing your food intake, it is also important to maintain a balanced diet. Choose complex carbohydrates over simple ones because they take longer to digest, avoid hidden sugars, swap unhealthy food for a healthier option, limit your alcohol and caffeine consumption, hydrate well with water and don't skip meals.
Also keep a food journal which can record your diet and anxiety symptoms. This means that over time you can determine what foods are proving beneficial and note down how you are feeling. This is because results do not come instantly and it can take up to one month after commencing with dietary changes to notice a difference.
Finally, always consult your doctor before changing anxiety treatment. At Massachusetts General Hospital our Psychiatry Department treats 23,000 patients annually from all over the world and with our 60 specialty clinical and research programs we treat every aspect of psychiatric disorders.
Umadevi Naidoo, MD
Harvard-trained psychiatrist, Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Psychiatry