9 Foods That Help or Hurt Anxiety

By Beth W. Orenstein

Looking for food that helps with anxiety? Studies have shown that some foods make us feel calmer while other foods can act as stimulants — at least temporarily. If you experience stress that results in anxiety or panic attacks, making some modifications to your diet may give anxiety help and relief.

Stress describes the many demands and pressures that all of us experience each day. Stress may be physical, mental, emotional, or chemical in nature. Just about anything you encounter can cause stress.

Anxiety is a sign or symptom of stress. Quite often it is the persistent interruptions, hassles, and struggles you face each day that cause anxiety, not life’s catastrophes or disasters. For instance, listening to a phone ringing constantly, hearing a new baby’s cries, or worrying about paying bills can cause stress that leads to anxiety.

When you are anxious for days or weeks, it is called chronic anxiety. The problem with chronic anxiety is that it can lead to health problems over the long term. While there are no quick fixes, you can combat the destructive effects by eating to boost or reduce certain chemicals in your body.

According to the Mayo Clinic, your diet cannot cure anxiety. But there are foods that help with anxiety and have a calming effect in the body, while other foods cause anxiety after eating.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Choose foods such as complex carbs that boost the calming brain chemical serotonin. Select whole-grain breads and whole grain cereals instead of sugary snacks or beverages.
  • Eat protein at breakfast, so you have energy and your blood glucose levels stay steady.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine, which cause anxiety after eating. Both affect your sleep and can cause edginess.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause mood changes.

To boost your mood, consider adding the following to your diet:

  • Chocolate
  • Folate and other B vitamins
  • Low-glycemic foods
  • Magnesium
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Tryptophan

In addition, consider adding foods high in zinc to your diet. Findings show that oysters, cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolks have been linked to lowered anxiety.

Also, a study published in August 2015 the journal Psychiatry Research found a link between probiotic foods and a lowering of social anxiety. Probiotic foods include pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir. A new study published in 2017 in the journal Annals of General Psychiatry linked probiotics with improving symptoms of major depressive disorder, possibly by either decreasing inflammation in the body or by increasing the availability of serotonin, the calming brain chemical. Anxiety may be linked to depression.

9 Foods That Help Or Hurt Anxiety

Food to Eat: Turkey and Tryptophan-Rich Foods

Some researchers believe that tryptophan can have a positive effect on stress because this amino acid helps your brain produce feel-good chemicals. “Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter, helps you feel calm,” says San Francisco nutritionist Manuel Villacorta, RD, a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association (now known as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).

You will find tryptophan in a variety of foods: turkey, chicken, bananas, milk, oats, cheese, soy, nuts, peanut butter, and sesame seeds. Note that there is some question about whether tryptophan found in food crosses the blood-brain barrier, so the effect may not be a dramatic one.

Beef and Foods Rich in Vitamin B Ease Anxiety

Studies have shown a relationship between the B vitamins, including thiamine or vitamin B1, and mood. A deficiency in B vitamins, such as folic acid and B12, can trigger depression in some people. You can take a vitamin B supplement or eat foods that are rich in B vitamins to ward off anxiety. These foods that help with anxiety include beef, pork, chicken, leafy greens, legumes, oranges and other citrus fruits, rice, nuts, and eggs.

Complex Carbs Are Foods That Lift Mood

Carbohydrates also increase production of serotonin in the brain. When choosing mood-lifting carbs, go for whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread or brown rice, rather than processed choices, such as sugar, candy, or even white bread and white rice, Villacorta says. Whole grains take longer for the body to break down, and release sugar into the bloodstream slowly. Processed carbs may give you an initial surge of energy, but that can be followed by an insulin rush, which rapidly drops blood sugar levels, ultimately leaving you feeling lethargic.

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