Nutrition and Anxiety


Anxiety is incredibly common in the United States; over 40 million adults suffer from this condition1, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. During these trying times anxiety often increases, causing new or worsening symptoms during an event in which we are all trying to help keep our families safe and calm. Although only about one third of American s who struggle with anxiety seek treatment1, that doesn’t mean the other two thirds aren’t trying working to combat their daily battle.

Aside from eating a healthful, well-balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding/limiting alcohol and caffeine, there are some nutritional strategies to help ease anxiety. Most obvious is to eat whole foods from vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains while limiting processed foods. This isn’t just because these foods are “better for us,” it’s because they help keep blood glucose levels stable. Research has shown that processed foods cause spikes and dips in blood glucose, which causes increased anxiety. This also means eating at set times each day is important. Just as vital is drinking enough water, as even mild dehydration can cause restlessness and irritability.

Specific nutrients have also been shown to reduce anxiety.

  • Tryptophan: Those with anxiety may benefit from higher tryptophan sources in their first meal. Foods high in tryptophan include eggs, tofu, nuts, turkey, seeds, milk, and cheese (not American cheese).
  • Other nutrients that have been found to reduce anxiety include:
  • Magnesium: found in leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains
  • Zinc: found in cashews, egg yolks, beef, oysters, and liver
  • B vitamins: found in a wide array of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, avocado
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: found in fatty fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, herring
  • Antioxidant vitamins E, C, carotenoids, flavonoids, polyphenolics: found in Berries, walnuts, pecans, turmeric, artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli, pinto beans, black beans, red kidney beans, apples, prunes, sweet cherries, plums
  • Prebiotics: found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains
  • Probiotics: found in fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi
  • Asparagus: this vegetable is separate because it is recognized as having anti-anxiety properties by the Chinese government2

Please speak with your provider if your anxiety worsens. If you would like to learn more about a healthy, balanced eating plan you can contact our Outpatient Clinical Dietitian, Melissa Williford, RD by calling the Community Wellness Center at 559-791-3847.