One-third of Americans will experience prolonged anxiety at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. While treatment was once largely focused on drugs and therapy, research suggests that foods and nutrients should play a role as well.
This is because inflammation is often a root cause or an underlying contributor to anxiety. Chronic inflammation causes changes in brain communication and the functioning of neurotransmitters that affect mood, emotional responses, and memory.
Eating foods that reduce inflammation and provide specific nutrients to the brain can improve symptoms of anxiety. Try adding these seven anti-inflammatory foods to your diet.
Low levels of magnesium are associated with an increased likelihood of anxiety and depression. Research suggests that increasing magnesium intake can relieve anxiety. Almonds are a premier source, providing 20% of the Daily Value in a 1 ounce serving. Other good sources of magnesium are cashews, peanuts, and leafy greens like spinach.
Eggs are a source of choline, an anti-inflammatory nutrient. Choline is a component of acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter involved in memory and mood. Low levels of choline are associated with higher levels of anxiety. Two eggs contain 50% DV for choline.
A higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA is associated with a lower risk of anxiety (and may alleviate existing anxiety as well). These fatty acids relieve neuroinflammation in the brain and improve neural communication. DHA and EPA are only found in higher fat fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and sea bass, so try to get two to three servings per week.
4. Foods rich in probiotics
Gut health influences the ability of inflammation to grow, which means it also influences the risk of mental health problems like anxiety. Strengthening the microbial barrier in the gut by eating certain “good” strains of bacteria can help prevent inflammatory compounds from entering the body and may reduce anxiety. Although research is limited, two types of foods that appear to relieve anxiety are fermented foods (like sauerkraut and kimchi) and dairy products (like yogurt) that contain Lactobacillus rhamnosus.
Eating foods rich in antioxidants is vital, and blueberries are packed with polyphenolic compounds that act as antioxidants to protect brain cells from free radicals. These compounds also relieve neuroinflammation and promote healthy brain function, especially during times of stress.
According to a recent study, leafy greens like spinach are rich in nutrients specifically associated with mental health. This makes it a top choice to help prevent or relieve conditions like anxiety and depression. Spinach and other leafy greens provide minerals like folate and magnesium, as well as vitamin C and beta-carotene, which relieve current inflammation.
7. Lean animal protein
Not getting enough vitamins B6 and B12 can contribute to mental health problems like anxiety, as they are needed to make neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine (which control mood and cognition). Getting enough B6 and B12 can be difficult, but lean animal proteins like beef, pork, and chicken are a good source of both.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website dedicated to healthy eating as a lifestyle. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)