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Foods that calm your nerves are also anti-anxiety foods!
That’s because anxiety and the nervous system are closely linked.
When you are anxious, your nervous system is in fight-or-flight mode, while, when you calm down, your nervous system is in rest mode.
…food good for nerves is also good for calming anxiety!
Of course, no single food alone can relieve your anxiety, but eating calming foods alongside a healthy and balanced diet can help you manage anxiety through food more effectively!
In this article, I share my top 10 anti-anxiety foods; a list of foods that I compiled over the years while managing my anxiety with diet.
What’s really cool about my list is that even though it is based on my experience, I’m also able to support my top anti-anxiety foods with science.
So, keep on reading to make sure you add these foods to your diet.
And if you’re looking to adopt a healthy and balanced diet tailored for managing anxiety, I highly recommend that you check out the anti-anxiety diet that helped me!
Your anxiety affects your nervous system.
When you are anxious, your body activates the part of the nervous system (sympathetic autonomic nervous system) responsible for the “flight-or-fight” response which can lead to common anxiety symptoms such as:
- fast heartbeat
- shallow breathing
- tightness in chest
- muscle tension and twitches, and
- dry mouth.
Although the flight-or-fight response is necessary and helpful when you are in danger (i.e. running away from a bear), it’s a massive strain for the body and mind if it’s activated too often and in normal life situations as is the case for most anxiety sufferers.
The good news…
…is that the body also has a counter-response known as “rest and digest” which restores the body to a state of calm. This is the responsibility of a different part of the nervous system known as the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system.
The sympathetic and the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system are naturally designed to work together; when the first one gets activated, the second one should follow later.
…when you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, these nervous system responses can get out of balance with the “flight-or-fight” dominating the “rest-and-digest”.
This is where anxiety management techniques are important.
By implementing strategies to reduce and manage your anxiety, you can stimulate the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system to help you calm down from all the anxiousness!
I’ve found that the most effective anxiety management techniques include
How I Came Up with this List of Anti-Anxiety Foods?
One of the first anxiety management techniques I tried was to adopt an anti-anxiety diet.
This diet is essentially a healthy and balanced diet based on the consumption of natural whole foods.
Most of the calories need to come from complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and vegetables, but the consumption of legumes, fruits, fresh fish and lean meats, herbs, nuts, and seeds, is also important though in a lot fewer quantities.
After only a couple of months of following this diet, I noticed that:
- Eating healthily can significantly reduce anxiety
- Certain natural whole foods are more calming than others
- Combining 1 and 2 can reduce anxiety more effectively.
As time went on I started to make a note of the different foods that I felt were more calming than others and I named this list my Top Anti-Anxiety Foods (“food good for nerves“)!
From then on I also made sure I included these foods regularly in my diet.
And this is the list of foods that I share in the last section of this article!
Eating healthily helped me to significantly reduce my anxiety symptoms and because of this I was inspired to start learning more about nutrition.
After reading many books, articles, and academic journals I realized that my list of top anti-anxiety foods is also supported by science.
According to scientific studies the following nutrients are important for prevention and treatment of anxiety.
- B vitamins
- Antioxidants (vitamin A, C, and E)
- Omega 3 essential fatty acids
- Minerals – such as magnesium, manganese, selenium, iron, and zinc.
- Tryptophan amino acid, a precursor to neurotransmitters
As it happens my top 10 anti-anxiety foods are a great source of at least one or more of these very nutrients!
Why are these specific nutrients important for anxiety and your nervous system?
- 1Vitamin B complex, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Magnesium are essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system.
- 2Research shows that “The most common nutritional deficiencies seen in patients with mental disorders are of omega–3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that are precursors to neurotransmitters.”
- 3Studies have also shown that anxiety is linked to low levels of antioxidants, while enhancing your diet with foods rich in these beneficial nutrients may help ease the symptoms of anxiety disorders.
- 4And scientists have found that minerals such as magnesium, manganese, selenium, iron, and zinc can cause or worsen anxiety symptoms.
Top 10 Anti-Anxiety Foods that Calm Your Nerves
Finally, you have come to the main section of this article!
The following list of foods are my top anti-anxiety foods and they are so nutritious that they also some of my favorite anti-anxiety foods.
If you happen to dislike any of the foods on my list, then look to add foods to your diet that are a great source of antioxidants, B vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, tryptophan (amino acid), and/or essential minerals.
1. Brown Rice
Brown rice is very nutritious and is one of my favorite anti-anxiety foods.
It is a great source of complex carbohydrates that are
“metabolized more slowly and therefore help maintain a more even blood sugar level, which creates a calmer feeling”. Harvard Health
Brown rice is also rich in manganese, selenium, magnesium, and B vitamins – all of which are important for your nervous system and mental health.
Magnesium helps to calm nerves. It’s also essential for memory and learning.
- Research shows that diets low in magnesium increase anxious behavior.
- Inadequate magnesium reduces serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates anxiety, happiness, and mood.
- Low levels of magnesium have also been linked to many neurological diseases.
Manganese – studies show that low levels of manganese are associated with mental disorders.
B Vitamins are essential for synthesizing and circulating neurotransmitters – brain chemicals that regulate digestion, respiration, and heartbeat.
- According to Harvard Medical School foods rich in B vitamins help ward off anxious feelings. “B vitamins have positive effects on the nervous system, and deficiencies have been linked to anxious disorders,” says Brunetti.
2. Green Bananas
Bananas are an excellent source of potassium, an essential mineral that helps with nerve transmission, muscle function, and maintaining fluid status in cells.
Eating potassium-rich foods such as bananas, help to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Green bananas are more stable on blood sugar than ripe bananas, which is important for health, and when managing anxiety. Sudden changes in blood sugar levels can raise anxiety symptoms.
Bananas are also a good source of magnesium and manganese.
According to research eating salmon has cognitive benefits.
Salmon and other fatty fish – such as mackerel, trout, and herring – are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, a nutrient that has an important role in cognitive functioning.
- Omega 3 fatty acids serve to protect nerves – nerves have sleeves of fatty tissue containing high levels of fatty acid. Studies show that a deficiency in this nutrient can lead to nerve damage, smaller brain volume, and poor mental performance.
- Omega 3 fatty acids also help to regulate neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, as well as promote healthy brain function!
In addition to healthy fats, salmon also contains vitamin D which is another important nutrient for mental health. A lack of vitamin D affects mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
According to a report in the Journal of Affective Disorders, vitamin D deficiency can contribute to the development of, or worsen existing, mood disorders.
Salmon is rich in B vitamins and minerals including selenium, potassium, and magnesium.
Consuming fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring 2-3 times a week can help you get sufficient amounts of omega 3 fatty acids in your diet.
One study found that men who ate salmon three times a week reported reduced anxiety.
4. Chamomile Tea
Chamomile is an ancient herbal remedy with many healing properties.
It’s high in antioxidants proven to reduce inflammation, reducing the risk of anxiety.
Chamomile is also antibacterial and has relaxant properties.
Multiple studies show that there is a positive connection between chamomile and anxiety relief. Patients diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experienced a significantly greater reduction in symptoms after consuming chamomile extract, compared to those who did not.
One study showed that patients who consumed chamomile extract for eight weeks experienced reduced symptoms of both depression and anxiety.
5. Turkey Breast
Turkey breast without the skin is a great source of low-fat protein.
It is also high in tryptophan, an amino acid that the body needs to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate sleep and moods.
Studies also show that tryptophan may help reduce anxious feelings.
Turkey is a good source of selenium as well.
Almonds provide a significant amount of brain-protecting vitamin E and are a good source of magnesium; both are which are important for mental health.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant and it protects cell membranes from free radical damage thus helps to slow mental decline. Studies show that vitamin E helps to reduce anxiety in humans.
As mentioned above inadequate magnesium reduces the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain which affects mood disorders.
Almonds are also rich in healthy fats that promote brain health.
7. Butternut Squash
Butternut squash is packed full of mood-boosting ingredients.
It’s a good source of magnesium, potassium, and manganese; all critical minerals for managing anxiety and mental health.
Butternut squash is also high in antioxidants – vitamin A and vitamin C.
One cup of butternut squash provides 49 percent of the daily recommended intake for vitamin C and a whopping 298% of vitamin A.
Vitamin C helps to boost the immune system and central nervous system, as well as take part in the creation of neurotransmitters.
Both antioxidants help fight disease-causing free radicals, minimize oxidative stress and damage to your cells.
Flaxseeds are awesome for mental health and your anxiety.
They are packed with lots of brain and mood-boosting nutrients.
Flaxseeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. But they are also a great source of plant protein, as well as B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, manganese, selenium, iron, and zinc.
We’ve already mentioned the importance of omega 3, B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, and selenium.
Zinc – is super important for nerve signaling. Studies show that low levels of zinc are associated with mental disorders, and many neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and depression.
Iron – Low iron can result in low serotonin, and dopamine, contributing to many common anxiety symptoms such as panic, irritability, insomnia, poor concentration, and restlessness.
Carrots are exceptionally rich in antioxidants, proven to improve mental health. 1 cup of raw carrots (128g) contains 428% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A. They also contain a high amount of the calming mineral, magnesium.
Rolled oats or old-fashioned oats (not fortified) are a great source of nutrients.
They provide blood-sugar-stabilizing complex carbs and are a good source of plant-protein.
Oats are also high in essential minerals such as manganese, selenium, magnesium, and iron, all required for mental health.
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