My Anti-Anxiety Formula: 10 Things to Include in Your Diet Today
As a nutritionist specializing in mental health, I’ll be the first to admit overcoming anxiety is anything but linear. Like any other mental health condition, anxiety has several root causes and manifestations. I’ve personally experienced anxiety as a symptom of anemia during my teens (yes, anxiety can present as a symptom!) and felt it resurface during my first year of business for evident, but no less challenging, reasons. While I recommend finding a qualified therapist for support and guidance, incorporating some or all of the following foods can certainly help to relieve symptoms or advance recovery.
This amino acid is required in abundance by the body. While protein in general is helpful for combatting all forms of mental illness, I know how difficult meal preparation can be when you feel emotionally debilitated. L-glutamine is a relatively inexpensive and easily taken supplement available in capsule and powdered form. Try adding a teaspoon to smoothies or dissolving the powder in a glass of water. I’ve found most people suffering from mental health conditions struggle with nutrient absorption and intestinal impermeability; glutamine assists with repairing the gut lining, and subsequently, boosting mineral and vitamin stores.
2. Fermented foods.
This includes kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and tempeh. If you’re not keen to supplement, some foods, specifically barrel-aged sauerkraut and kimchi, contain naturally occurring glutamine (high-five, cabbage). These foods also assist at rebuilding the gut and replenishing immune-boosting beneficial bacteria. I recommend starting slow: 2 tbsp of sauerkraut, a glass of kombucha, and so on, building to 2+ servings of fermented foods per day. Kefir, kefir water, raw dairy products (such as raw cheeses), natto, traditionally cured meats, authentic ginger beer (with the ginger bug), and kvass are good sources as well. Most fermented foods can be made inexpensively at home or purchased at your local health food store. Add to soups, stews, salads, or drink up (kombucha is a great, nutritious substitute for liquor. It also contains mental health-supporting B vitamins.)
3. Chia seeds.
While these tiny warriors are amazing for athletes (they help to keep more water in our bodies, promoting healthy hydration levels), they’re equally amazing for everyone else. High in soluble fibre, they encourage excellent digestion and regular bowel movements; rich in omega-3 fatty acids, they also support optimal cognitive function and happy cells. Toss into smoothies, salads, stews, or cereals, or make chia seed pudding! I also like to crust tempeh, avocado, and fish with them. As a less expensive alternative, ground flaxseed possesses similar benefits. Aim for 3 tbsp per day.
4. Whole eggs.
The egg yolk in particular is high in protein, B vitamins, choline, and healthy fats — the perfect brain food. Choose free-range or organic eggs as often as possible, since conventional eggs don’t possess the same benefits. I find hard-boiled eggs are the most versatile and convenient form, but eat them however you prefer.
This may seem a little strange, but hear me out. Clams are high in a host of minerals, including…iron. As someone who’s battled with low iron for many years, consuming clams has made a massive difference for me. Many people, especially women, struggle with both low iron and anxiety. If this is you, I suggest incorporating clams in your diet. They’re mild-tasting, easy to prepare, affordable, and a great source of animal-based protein. You can purchase clams at your local fishmonger or in canned form; please choose responsibly sourced clams if possible. Toss clams with pasta or serve over a plate of greens with a pat of butter, plenty of garlic, parsley, and a sprinkle of chili flakes.
6. Nutritional yeast.
This de-activated yeast is high in B-vitamins and contains a bit of protein, too! Often used as a vegan cheese substitute, it’s great as a popcorn topping, with eggs, or sprinkled on soups, salads, and stews. I also love combining it with pureed butternut squash and soaked cashews for a riff on cheese sauce (nothing wrong with macaroni and cheese, but with so much gorgeous butternut squash available, why not take advantage?)
7. Wild salmon and oily fish.
Oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, and wild salmon are enormously beneficial. They’re high in minerals (sardines, with their tiny bones, are a good source of bioavailable calcium), protein, and healthy fats. The DHA and EPA (omega-3 fatty acids) are vital for brain function and mental health. Look for sockeye salmon when possible; it’s bight orange pigment — hello, beta carotene! — is due to its high intake of crustaceans. The extra antioxidants can further reduce inflammation and promote healing.
8. Leafy greens.
Nutritionists love kale, and I’m not unique. Leafy greens are also rich in B vitamins, folate, and magnesium, a sweet combination tailor-made for a healthy brain. Magnesium-rich foods promote relaxation on a cellular level, so while the mineral isn’t the be-all, end-all, it can certainly provide relief. Greens are also rich in a host of antioxidants, which scavenge free radicals and rejuvenate our systems.
Yep, back into the water. A copper/zinc imbalance may also lead to anxiety. While copper isn’t generally a problem, many of us have sub-optimal zinc levels. I don’t recommend supplementing without consulting a qualified healthcare practitioner. Oysters are naturally high in zinc in and of themselves (as well as other minerals!) Because of their zinc levels, oysters may also improve immune health. Aim for at least two per serving. If you can’t do oysters, beef, chicken, and pumpkin seeds are decent sources as well.
10. Raw cacao.
Raw chocolate is high in magnesium and iron, both required by people with anxiety. You can purchase raw chocolate bars, or add raw cacao to smoothies, plain yogurt, and porridge. You want the raw version, as processed cacao is heat-treated and depleted of nutrients. Do avoid if you are sensitive to caffeine.
Questions or concerns? Drop me a note: email@example.com.
Sarah Berneche, R.H.N., is a Toronto-based emotional eating + body positive coach, writer, and weight-neutral nutritionist who helps purpose-driven women quit the restrict-deprive-binge cycle.