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Anxiety and Diet: The Link Between What You Eat and How You Feel

Surprising Fact, The Role of Nutrition in Anxiety

By Kabinga Charline MazabaPublished about a year ago 5 min read
Anxiety and Diet: The Link Between What You Eat and How You Feel
Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash

You are not alone if you often feel anxious. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults aged 18 and older.

Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways. For some, it may be a feeling of unease or worry. Others may experience physical symptoms such as a racing heart, sweating, or difficulty breathing. And for many people, anxiety can be triggered by certain foods.

The Link Between Diet and Anxiety

There is a strong link between diet and anxiety. Numerous studies have shown that what you eat can affect your mood and how you feel. One study even found that a Western diet—high in processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats—may be linked to higher rates of anxiety and depression.

Conversely, a healthy diet rich in whole foods, healthy fats, and antioxidants has been shown to lower the risk of anxiety and improve mood.

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Certain foods may trigger anxiety symptoms or make them worse. Common culprits include caffeine, alcohol, artificial additives and sweeteners, processed meats, and foods high in refined carbohydrates. If you suspect that certain foods may be triggering your anxiety symptoms, it may be helpful to keep a food diary to track your symptoms after eating certain foods.

You may also want to talk to a registered dietitian or nutritionist for guidance on changing your diet to help reduce your anxiety symptoms.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing anxiety through diet, paying attention to the food you eat and how it makes you feel can be helpful in managing your symptoms.

If you suspect that certain foods may be triggering your anxiety, keeping a food diary or talking to a registered dietitian or nutritionist may be beneficial. Making dietary changes along with other lifestyle changes such as exercise and relaxation techniques may help you manage your anxiety effectively.

For many of us, diet is a Four-Letter Word. We all know we should be eating more vegetables and fewer processed foods, but old habits die hard. Besides, who has the time to cook a healthy meal from scratch every night? (Not to mention the money—organic produce can be pretty expensive!)

But what if I told you that making some small changes to your diet could have a big impact on your anxiety levels? Would you be interested then? Keep reading to learn more about the link between anxiety and diet, and how you can use food to help improve your mood.

The Role of Nutrition in Anxiety

It's no secret that what we eat has a direct impact on our physical health. But did you know that what we eat can also impact our mental health? According to a growing body of research, there is a strong link between diet and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

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One study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience found that people who ate a diet high in processed foods and refined sugars were more likely to experience anxiety than those who ate a more balanced diet. The study participants who ate diets high in processed foods were also more likely than their counterparts to report feelings of depression, anger, and hostility.

Other studies have found similar results. A large meta-analysis published in The BMJ looked at the diets of over 90,000 people and found that those who ate a "Western" diet—high in red and processed meats, refined grains, sweets, and high-fat dairy products—were more likely to develop depression than those who didn't eat as many of these foods.

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Conversely, people who ate a "Mediterranean" diet—rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, Olive oil; moderate in fish; low in red meat; and with moderate alcohol consumption—were less likely to develop depression.

So why is there such a strong link between diet and mental health? Researchers believe it has to do with inflammation. Processed foods are high in sugar and unhealthy fats, both of which can cause inflammation throughout the body. Studies have shown that inflammation can contribute to anxiety and other mental health conditions.

Making Some Simple Changes

If you're struggling with anxiety, making some changes to your diet may help improve your symptoms. Here are a few simple dietary changes you can make:

1. Limit or eliminate processed foods: This includes anything that comes in a box or bag (pre-packaged meals, crackers, cookies, etc.). When shopping for groceries, stick to the perimeter of the store where the fresh produce is located.

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2. Add some omega-3 fatty acids to your diet: Foods like salmon, walnuts, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds are all good sources of omega-3s. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and have been shown to protect against anxiety and other mental health conditions.

3. Incorporate more probiotics into your meals: Probiotics are live bacteria that are found in fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso soup, and kombucha tea. They have been shown to reduce inflammation throughout the body and may help alleviate anxiety symptoms.

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4. Get enough magnesium: Magnesium is an important mineral that helps regulate stress hormones like cortisol in the body. Good sources of magnesium include dark leafy greens (spinach), pumpkin seeds , black beans , avocados , bananas , dark chocolate , quinoa , amaranth , buckwheat groats , cashews , brown rice , almond butter , lentils , yogurt , kefir , & tofu . (Most Americans don't get enough magnesium from their diets so this is an important one!)

Making even small changes to your diet can have a big impact on your anxiety levels—and luckily, many of these changes are easier than you might think! So if you're looking for ways to reduce your anxiety naturally, start with your plate first.

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About the Creator

Kabinga Charline Mazaba

- Blogger & Content Writer

- Founder of the clothing brand "Lifemotiva": a mission to inspire people to live their best lives.

- I help people who have experienced trauma in their lives to heal and move forward.

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