“Eating foods such as processed meats, high sugar foods, caffeine and alcohol, which provide little nutritional value, have been associated with more psychiatric symptoms and can increase cortisol levels — our primary hormone responsible for stress,” she said. “A diet high in whole foods and low in processed foods can help maintain healthy cortisol levels.”
While there is no specific diet that can cure stress and anxiety, there are some foods that may help. Here are some foods worth trying to help improve your well-being:
Consuming omega-3 rich foods along with supplemental fish oil may reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. Such foods include:
• Fish: salmon, tuna and sardines
• Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds
• Foods high in vitamins A, C and E
• Foods high in antioxidants such as beta-carotene (vitamin A), vitamin C and vitamin E can help prevent cell damage to the brain. Such foods include:
• Vegetables: asparagus, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli and leafy greens like spinach and kale
• Fruits: strawberries, citrus fruits, papaya, cantaloupe and apricots
• Nuts and seeds: almonds and sunflower seeds
• Foods high in vitamin B
• Lean proteins: chicken, fish, eggs and turkey
• Fortified cereals
• Nutritional yeast
• Prebiotic and probiotic foods
“Serotonin, a key hormone that regulates our mood, feelings and well-being and happiness, is primarily made in our guts,” Hemmes said. “Therefore, having healthy gut microbiome can help reduce stress and anxiety. Eating prebiotic and probiotic foods can help with that.” Such foods include the following:
• High fiber foods: raspberries, whole grains and beans
• Fermented foods: kefir, aged cheese, sauerkraut and kombucha
• Magnesium-rich foods
Research has found that magnesium may help with brain functions that reduce stress and may even be helpful in the treatment of mild anxiety.
“When we’re stressed, it can cause us to excrete magnesium in our urine,” Hemmes said. “Having low magnesium levels may contribute to anxiety, panic disorders, insomnia, fatigue and hyperemotionality (being overly emotional).”
Foods rich in magnesium include the following:
• Fruits: bananas and avocados
• Vegetables: broccoli and spinach
• Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds
• Legumes: lentils, beans, chickpeas and peas
• Dark chocolate
• Foods (and drinks) that are stress- and anxiety-provoking
If you’re feeling stressed, try to avoid these foods:
• Sugary drinks and foods
• Processed foods, such as chips, cookies, frozen foods and ready-made meals
• Foods high in trans fats and excessive saturated fats, such as fried foods, red meat, full-fat dairy, butter and baked goods
But if you do dabble in a few of these items, remember, moderation is key.
Don’t rely on food alone to de-stress
We are what we eat, but when it comes to managing stress and anxiety — food alone isn’t the answer.
“Activities like regular physical exercise, getting enough sleep and treating any underlying mental health problems are important too,” Hemmes said.
Talk to your doctor or a behavioral health specialist if you’re struggling to manage stress and anxiety in your life. The right health care provider can help you better understand what might be triggering your anxiety and stress and make healthy diet and lifestyle changes to combat them. To find a Banner Heath specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.