Research shows there may indeed be foods that help with anxiety relief. If you suffer those feelings, get familiar with these foods.

By Brierley Horton, MS, RD
May 15, 2020
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More common than you might think, anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health conditions, says the World Health Organization. More than 11% of people worldwide have reported having anxiety, and it is a disorder that women experience more often than men. Whether short-lived or chronic, there are quite a few tools and tricks you can employ to manage it. Of course, there’s medication (talk to your doctor about that!) and therapy. Then there are simple things you can do on your own at home: get adequate sleep, be physically active regularly, try out meditation or deep breathing exercises. There’s also your diet. What you eat, research suggests, may help. These are some foods that may reduce anxiety to help you manage those uncomfortable feelings.

Foods That Reduce Anxiety

Add these anti-anxiety foods, drinks, and extracts to your diet to grow your arsenal of mood-boosting practices.

Ashwagandha

Don't let the crazy name scare you off! Research has found this adaptogen (aka extracts of the root of the shrub ashwagandha) to have ample physical health benefits. It's been found to be anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer, and immune modifying. And, of course, the reason it's in our list, is for the mental health benefits, helping to reduce anxiety, stress, and possibly even depression.

A recent two-month long study (that was double-blind and placebo-controlled, aka the “gold standard” of research) showed that people who took ashwagandha extract ($17.58, HerbsPro) daily lowered their anxiety and stress significantly. Based on this study, and others, researchers believe ashwagandha is so beneficial because it has a positive effect on a major stress pathway in our bodies, and has been found to lower stress hormones (like cortisol and c-reactive protein, which is also a marker of inflammation).

There’s another so-called adaptogen that may help quell anxiety too: rhodiola. A small study found that people who took rhodiola for 10 weeks improved their generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Other research has shown rhodiola helps with burnout and stress.

Fermented Foods

We’re talking yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha, etc. All of these foods have one major common “ingredient” and that's probiotics. You know, the good bugs in foods that are also good for your gut (and overall health).

Get Our DIY Yogurt Recipe

Can eating them help quell anxiety, too? Maybe. The research surely is promising: a study published in mid-2019 looked at 34 clinical trials and concluded that probiotics had a “small but significant” beneficial effect on anxiety. This study and others call for more research to say with greater certainty that probiotic-rich foods may be helpful.

Still, because adding probiotic-rich foods to your diet isn’t harmful and, in fact, can help to improve other aspects of your health, they are worth trying out.

Fruits and Vegetables

There’s plenty of research that shows eating a fruit- and veggie-rich diet is good for your brain, from fending off cognitive decline to bolstering memory and even sharpening some cognitive skills. But there’s also research that suggests eating your produce is good for your mental health, too. In a study of young adults, those who added 2 servings of fruits and vegetables to their daily diet for two weeks improved their psychological well-being. Researchers didn’t think the benefits came from extra vitamin C or carotenoids in produce (both of which they measured), but other research suggests the good-for-you compounds in fruits and vegetables could play a role in bolstering mental health.

Good-for-You Fats

Choosing healthy fats isn’t just good for your heart, it’s good for your mental health, too. Research suggests that choosing healthy fats (versus saturated or trans fats) can lower your risk of anxiety.

In one new study, published in February 2020, researchers found that people who had anxiety ate more saturated fats and less unsaturated fats compared to those who didn’t have anxiety. Additionally, the more saturated fat people ate, the higher their risk of anxiety was. Similar findings were reported in a study published in January 2020, but here researchers looked at trans fat and found that the more people ate, the higher their likelihood of anxiety.

Both studies found unsaturated fats, and especially polyunsaturated fats like omega-3s, are protective against anxiety, and also potentially stress. So, what counts as a healthy unsaturated fat? Think plant-based fats like avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, and their oils, as well as seafood.

Green Tea

Regularly drinking green tea may help lower anxiety, according to a study of studies published in 2017 in the journal Phytomedicine. Those researchers attributed the benefits to the combination of L-theanine (a compound found naturally in tea leaves) and caffeine. Another newer study supports this line of thinking: when men were given either L-theanine or a placebo, those who took the L-theanine saw only a slight improvement in their anxiety, not a significant one.

So, based on the current research, brew yourself a cup of regular green tea, not decaf, if you’re seeking the anxiety-quelling benefits.

Comments (1)

Anonymous
June 8, 2020
Very useful information! I will start adding them to my daily diet. I believe in the healing power of food. Love all the bhg recipes and articles! You do an excellent job!