Nourish your Body to Reduce Anxiety and Depression
The idea that anxiety and depression could be linked to the foods we eat might be considered strange. You might be wondering how can foods help with how we feel emotionally? Working through and beating anxiety and depression isn’t only done through seeing your therapist or taking medication. If you’ve found that you are still struggling despite your best efforts with engaging in therapy and taking medication, maybe it’s time to look at what you’re putting inside your body. There is growing scientific evidence to show what we eat can influence how we feel. So let’s look at foods that help with anxiety and depression specifically.
Please note however that eating the right foods alone may not necessarily improve your anxiety and depression. Improving one’s mental health usually takes multiple strategies and actions.
Nutritional deficiencies can alter the brain chemistry and the formation neurotransmitters which can affect moods such as anxiety and depression.
So it can help to look into foods that can support the brain so let’s take a look below.
What is Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety is where one feels a heightened nervousness, worry, and fears that can either be acute or ongoing. It can be debilitating for some while for others, it depends on the situation. Often one’s thoughts are focused with a future orientation. Some thoughts will often start with ‘what if’ and many think of things that haven’t happened yet, but these thoughts contribute to anxiety. It is a very common condition that can be treated through either medication, talk therapy or nutrition. A combination is usually most effective rather than medication alone.
Depression is a mental health issue where one feels ongoing sadness for over 6 months continuously. It can lead to loss of interest in usual activities, increased sleep. Find it hard to get out of bed. Can lead to individuals not wanting to engage in social interactions. Many find that ongoing ruminating negative thoughts contribute to how this condition can evolve and develop.
Our gut health is vital in being able to utilize the nutrients that we put into our body. The gut is now considered to be the second brain of our body. Since it’s where we get all foods digested and then used by our organs, including out brain, it’s essential to put into our body nourishing nutritious foods.
Gut health needs to be balanced with 80% good bacteria and 20% bad bacteria. Our gut health can get out of balance if we take antibiotics, or eat foods that are processed such as take away and sugary sweet foods.
Fibre also helps in the digestion process helping maintain the 80/20 ratio balance for our gut which has also been linked to improved gut health and better mood.
Hormones Involved in Mood
You may have heard of happy hormones, but what are they exactly? Our bodies function with the production and effective use of hormones. When our hormones are being produced optimally, our general well being increases too. The hormones that we need in order to feel good include oxytocin, GABA – or gamma-aminobutyric acid, dopamine and serotonin. Studies show that when these hormones are depleted or low, an individual reports higher anxiety and depression.
Impact of Inflammation
If we are eating a diet high in processed foods with trans fats and processed polyunsaturated fats, our body becomes inflamed. When our bodies are under stress in cases such as inflammation, some hormones don’t work well such as insulin. This leads to health conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes. This can be prevented by eating foods that are real, not processed, and nutrient dense. If our bodies are being inflamed, we experience a wide range of health conditions as well as mental health concerns. Our brains too can be affected by inflammation which is in turn affects our mental health. So in an effort to reduce inflammation, it’s important to ensure the body receives what it needs to allow it to heal including antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and nutrition.
A low carb high healthy fat diet is recommended in reducing inflammation in the body. When inflammation is reduced, our organs function better which lead to our hormones responding better and working more efficiently. This is how important reducing inflammation is to allow our brains to work well and lower the incidence of anxiety and depression. As mentioned earlier, anxiety and depression is higher in those who aren’t producing the neurotransmitters that are created from hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, GABA and oxytocin. Hence the importance of having a diet high in nutrient dense foods, and low in processed, unhealthy fats.
Nutrients that Decrease Anxiety and Depression
There are a number of important nutrients that help build and promote neurotransmitters that are required for reducing anxiety and depression.
These are listed below:
- B vitamins
- Vitamin D also aids in promoting calming neurotransmitters which help reduce anxiety
- Omega 3
- Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps produce serotonin in the brain.
- Antioxidants also help with boosting ones mood and helping lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Foods That Help with Anxiety and Depression
- Fish – specifically salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout are all high in omega 3 which is important for our brains to function properly.
- Meat including beef and chicken, turkey
Fruits and Vegetables
- Avocados – as they are high in magnesium and vitamin B6 which both help with anxiety.
- Blueberries are also high in antioxidants which can also increase serotonin
- Bell Peppers
Nuts and Seeds
- Almonds are high in Vitamin E
- Walnuts – high in Omega 3 which is good for the brain
- Brazil Nuts – high in Selenium
- Cashew – for zinc which also helps lower anxiety.
- Chia seeds – high in Omega 3 (benefits the brain)
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds – contain high magnesium and potassium
Herbs and Spices
- Chamomile – contains antioxidants which contribute to reducing inflammation that helps manage anxiety and depression levels.
- Turmeric – also known as Curcumin which helps brain health. It too is an antioxidant and anit-inflammatory
- Hemp seed oil – due to it’s fatty acid content, polyphenols and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Flaxseed oil – also due to it’s omega 3, and is anti-inflammatory.
- Low or sugar free
It improves brain health and allows the brain to adapt to stressful situations. It has been shown to increase levels of serotonin. You do not need to eat much of this to gain the nutritional benefits!
- Kefir and
- Some cheeses
These all contain probiotics which also help decrease anxiety and depression too.
They feed the good bacteria in your gut which helps your body digest all those nutrients you are feeding it.
- Green Tea – as it contains polyphenols, antioxidants and L-theanine which has been shown to reduce anxiety. L- theanine also helps increase dopamine, serotonin and GABA.
- Water – studies have shown that mild dehydration can contribute to increased mood problems. So keep hydrated.
- Chamomile tea and herbal teas in general. Excluding Ginseng as this increases anxiety.
- Kava Kava
If you are struggling to consume the variety of the above foods, it can also help to use herbal supplements. You won’t likely need to take supplements if you are eating a wide range of the foods listed here. However if you are time poor or not able to have the variety for some reason, consider taking supplements as a way to support your mood and body to ensure you can reduce your levels of anxiety and depression.
The Natural Approach
As a way to combine strategies that help you lower your experience of anxiety, you can also consider doing things listed in a previous post which tackle anxiety naturally. This includes meditation and yoga. Also consider that you are meeting the 4 pillars of wellbeing to allow you to manage the anxiety and depression. When at least one of these pillars aren’t being met sufficiently, it’s really hard for the rest of your body to function optimally.
The 4 Pillars of Wellbeing include
- a good sleep routine
- nutritious food choices
- movement of some kind
- social network
If you have been dealing with anxiety or depression alone without any support, it’s okay to ask for help and find someone who can help you through this. Talking through problems can really make a big difference. It’s cathartic and can help you get out of your head and hear it outside of yourself rather than the ongoing inner cycle that can happen.
I recommend Online-Therapy for US residents.
Or alternatively, you can consider doing a counselling program online that is the equivalent to 8 sessions of counselling in one program.
Another option is to do the work on your own with the Self-therapy Journey that I have written about on this post.
You’re not alone in your experience of anxiety and depression. Many people suffer these sometimes debilitating mental health issues. Know that there are ways to work through the challenges you are facing. There can be many options available for you. consider what your body is getting nutritionally as this can help your body produce the neurotransmitters required for improved mood.
To lower your anxiety and depression, work towards including the list of foods above. You may also need to engage in doing the strategies that help with managing these moods. No one can make it go away for you. It requires you to acknowledge the problem and work on shifting it so it has less of an impact on you.
Consider your food habits and lifestyle and choose sugar free, unprocessed, whole, real foods.
In particular consume the foods listed here to help your brain do its job with lowered inflammation. This in turn will help your brain produce the necessary neurotransmitters that increase serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and GABA.