10 Surprising Foods That Fight Anxiety & Beat Stress

Susan Patterson
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10 Surprising Foods That Fight Anxiety & Beat Stress

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety affects nearly 40 million people in the U.S. alone. And that anxiety can cause all sorts of other problems that negatively affect the quality of your life.

Anxiety is a normal part of everyone’s life occasionally – you may have felt it just before you got up to give a speech, or during a job interview, for example. Short-term anxiety increases the heart rate and concentrates the blood flow to the brain, where you need it, preparing you to face a challenging situation. But a persistent state of anxiety can have some devastating effects on both your mental and physical health.

Conditions like IBS and other gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease and chronic respiratory issues have all been linked to higher anxiety levels.

While it may be tempting to turn to a pill to ease anxiety, anti-anxiety medications tend to come with a lot of unwanted side effects. Just a few of those common side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of coordination or balanced
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Stomach upset
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision

And there are some that are a whole lot scarier, like mania, aggression, hostility and rage, irritability, hallucinations, and even increased anxiety.

That’s the bad news. Fortunately, there is some good news too. Research has found that certain foods actually have the ability to not only lessen stress but relieve anxiety too.

1. Avocados

B vitamins are important for healthy brain cells and nerves, which leads experts to believe that for some, those feelings of anxiety could be rooted in a deficiency in the vitamin. Chronic stress, poor diet and certain medical conditions can all deplete the body’s stores of essential nutrients. Symptoms of a vitamin B deficiency include irritability, fatigue, emotional instability and anxiety.

Avocados are loaded with those stress-relieving B vitamins as well as potassium, which helps to naturally lower blood pressure. The next time you make a salad, throw on a few slices of avocado – or, for a creamier, anxiety-battling smoothie, scoop out about a half of one avocado and throw it into your blender with your other ingredients.

2. Blueberries

Blueberries are so sweet and juicy, they’re almost like a dessert, yet they’re extremely good for you and can even help boost your mood, easing anxiety. They contain anthocyanins, the pigments responsible for giving them their deep blue color. Those antioxidants help the brain to produce dopamine, which is essential to one’s mood. Blueberries are also loaded with vitamin C, a powerful stress buster that helps to repair and protect our body’s cells. You can freeze them and enjoy them as a delicious cold snack, toss them into a smoothie or throw a handful on some plain organic yogurt.

3. Dark chocolate

Many of us reach for our favorite treat when feeling stressed, and beyond taste, there may be a reason behind that – consuming it has been found to reduce stress hormones like cortisol.

A study published in the Journal of Proteome Research in 2009, found that eating the equivalent of one 1.4 ounce dark chocolate bar per day for two weeks reduced the levels of cortisol, as well as catecholamines, which are those “fight or flight” hormones in people who are highly stressed.

Other research, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology showed that study participants who drank a daily dark chocolate drink that was equivalent to about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate, reported feeling calmer than those who didn’t.

While this is a great excuse to indulge, moderation is key. Chocolate has a lot of calories – if you eat too much, those pounds can quickly creep up.

4. Oysters

If you like oysters, you’re in luck. Another nutrient deficiency that’s been linked to anxiety is zinc, and oysters are loaded with this trace mineral. If you have an imbalance of zinc to copper, with higher levels of copper and lower zinc levels, that can cause anxiety symptoms as zinc is necessary for proper neurotransmitter function and adaptation to stress.

Research corroborates this: A study conducted out of the Research Institute, Pfeiffer Treatment Center of Warrenville, Illinois, revealed that chronic anxiety sufferers had generally lower serum zinc levels as compared to copper. When they were treated with zinc, along with antioxidant supplements, their symptoms significantly improved.

While copper piping for water in homes is common and can contribute to ingesting traces of copper, raising levels in the body, it’s much easier to balance out your zinc to copper ratio by getting more zinc in your diet. Oysters are one of the best ways to do this. Just six little oysters contain a whopping 220% of the daily recommended value.

5. Bananas

Bananas are not only a great source of B vitamins, which as noted, work to help calm and soothe the nervous system, they’re an exceptional food for regulating dopamine, the natural reward chemical that helps boost ones mood, ultimately relieving anxiety. That’s because bananas, especially when they’re ripe, have a high level of tyrosine which is used to synthesize dopamine.

The tryptophan contained in bananas also results in an increase in the body’s magnesium level, which further helps to lessen anxiety.  Scientific studies have discovered that low magnesium levels were associated with anxiety. It is estimated that as many as 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium – and, when anxiety occurs, it causes magnesium depletion, creating an endless cycle. 

6. Asparagus

This popular green veggie contains a number of important nutrients that may help battle anxiety symptoms. It’s an excellent source of folic acid – and a low level of folic acid has been associated with neurotransmitter impairment which is known to lead to anxiety. Just four spears contains 89 micrograms of the specifically beneficial B vitamin, or 22% of the recommended daily value, yet it has only 13 calories. Asparagus also contains a moderate amount of potassium to help lower blood pressure.

7. Wild-caught salmon

Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to actually alter brain chemicals associated with mood, like dopamine and serotonin. A diet that’s rich in omega-3s helps to prevent adrenaline and cortisol from spiking when those anxious feelings arise. And, wild-caught salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3. Just three ounces contains roughly 1,500 milligrams. Consuming that amount at least three times a week will go a long way in protecting your heart from those stress hormones as well as helping you feel more at ease.

8. Chamomile tea

Chamomile has long been used for its natural calming effects – it’s an herb that’s been used in traditional and herbal medicines for thousands of years. In fact, the ancient Romans, Greeks and Egyptians were said to use it for anxiety and insomnia, among other things. In recent years, science finally backed that up with a 2009 study out of the University of Pennsylvania published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, noting that chamomile capsules appeared to have a calming effect on anxiety symptoms. 

Chamomile tea is believed to offer similar benefits. Sip a cup of this mild tea every day, and you may notice a significant decrease in your anxiety symptoms within just a few weeks.

9. Turmeric

Turmeric, that bright yellow spice that serves as the main ingredient in curry, may work as well as anti-anxiety medications. That’s because the antioxidants in turmeric, known as curcuminoids, offer a neuroprotective quality that helps to enhance one’s mood. A 2014 study from the Department of Pharmacology, Government Medical College, Bhavnagar, Gujarat, India found it to be an effective option for major depressive disorder, which is closely linked to anxiety disorders.

Other research, published in 2015 from the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center found that the curcumin in turmeric enhances the synthesis of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) from its precursor, ALA (a-linolenic acid). A deficiency of DHA has been linked to a number of disorders, including anxiety.

The curcumin is best absorbed by the body when turmeric is heated – in addition to using it to make curry, you can use it to make a turmeric tea, add it soups or stews, when stir-frying vegetables or to flavor your eggs.

10. Turkey

Tryptophan is an amino acid found in many protein-containing foods, but turkey is one of the best sources. As mentioned, tryptophan helps to increase the body’s magnesium level, which can help reduce anxiety symptoms. Researchers also believe that it has a positive effect on stress, as the amino acid helps the brain to produce feel-good hormones like serotonin that helps you feel more calm and relaxed. Turkey is one of the most famous of the tryptophan-rich foods, making one feel sleepy after that big Thanksgiving meal. Just a three-ounce serving contains 270 milligrams.

A pilot study, conducted out of Ontario, Canada in 2007, found that protein-sourced tryptophan combined with a high glycemic carbohydrate could be an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder.

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