How to Fight Anxiety and Depression Symptoms With These 5 Foods (Backed by Science)
Food is fuel for the body. What we put into our body affects our performance day in and day out. Without a healthy body, it's difficult to fight off anxiety, depression, and stress. Fortunately, there are small changes you can make in your diet that could help curb depression symptoms. Below I've listed five foods that have helped me with my depression and anxiety that are backed by science.
A Note on Vitamins and Supplements
While it's best to get the nutrients your body needs through in a well-balanced diet, you may not be able to tolerate certain foods, or you may have limited access to dark chocolate. If you are not able to consume certain foods, consider taking vitamins and supplements to get the same, or similar benefits to those these healthy foods offer.
1. Coffee for Increased Dopamine
Many people start their day with a cup of coffee. Coffee contains caffeine, which is a stimulant. According to Psychology Today, caffeine releases dopamine in the brain when consumed in low quantities. Dopamine release elevates your mood and helps you feel motivated and less stressed.
Coffee also contains antioxidants which help keep your immune system healthy. Antioxidants strengthen your immune system, helping your body better fight off infections. This keeps your body healthy and prepared for the days ahead.
2. Oatmeal Elevates Serotonin Levels
Oatmeal contains L-Tryptophan, which can increase serotonin output levels in your brain. Serotonin levels help regulate mood, appetite, sleep, muscle growth, and many other important everyday bodily functions.
In addition to producing L-Tryptophan, oatmeal provides the body with carbohydrates. The body and in particular the brain needs carbohydrates for cellular energy. Carbohydrates allow your mind and body the energy to do everyday tasks, such as washing clothes or riding a bike. If you don’t like oatmeal, other carbohydrates such as wheat bread, potatoes, and rice also help increase serotonin and provide carbohydrates.
3. Leafy Green Vegetables for a Brighter Mood
Leafy greens contain a lot of magnesium and folate. Lettuce, kale, cabbage, and spinach all contain high levels of nutrients. A study done in Japan illuminates the benefits of a healthy, leafy-green, vegetable-rich diet for mental health: Individuals who consumed more vegetables, soy, fruit, and mushrooms exhibited fewer depression symptoms. Additionally, a U.S. study about raw food consumption also supports the claim that increasing vegetables in your diet (raw vegetables in particular) can lessen depressive symptoms.
4. Chocolate for Lower Blood Pressure
According to a study published in the Journal of Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, the health benefits of consuming dark chocolate far outweigh any negative consequences. Chocolate contains caffeine. Caffeine helps release dopamine, your "happy" brain chemical. Chocolate also contains epicatechins, which are shown to benefit the cardiovascular system; dark chocolate can help reduce the risk of diabetes and hypertension. Chocolate lowers blood pressure, the risk for heart disease, and overall stress.
Thus, eating a small piece of dark chocolate each day can help alleviate stress. Plus, chocolate is packed with antioxidants, which, as previously mentioned, help build your immune system!
5. Nuts for Stabilizing Blood Sugar Levels
Nuts contain the vitamin B complex, which helps maintain your blood sugar level, helping you fight fatigue. Studies show low levels of folate and B12 have been found in depressed patients; nuts contain high levels of both B12 and folate, and are thus the perfect preventative measure!
A handful of nuts each day can be extremely beneficial to your daily energy level. I’ll pack a bag of mixed nuts and carry the bag of nuts with me in my purse and eat small amounts throughout the day.
My Experience With Stress and Anxiety
I can attest to how important a healthy body is in fighting off stress and anxiety. When I was a young married woman with two children, I had a tendency to stretch myself thin—burning the candle at both ends, so to speak. While managing the typical household duties associated with being a wife and mother (cooking, cleaning, and handling the bills), I attended university full time to obtain my bachelor's degree. I also worked part-time to help with household expenses. Life was stressful for me during that time. There were days when I felt as if I would not be able to get to the end of the day alive, and if I did make it I wouldn't be able to get everything done. I was extremely anxious.
My health began to fade. I feared that I was slipping into depression as I struggled to manage all the day-to-day demands I placed upon myself.
My Diet and Stress
I was fortunate to have a neighbor who noticed that I was dwindling. She was a kind neighbor who would help out when she could, but she had two children of her own, so there wasn’t a whole lot she could do on a regular basis. She was a fitness instructor and she shared the above valuable information with me. I honestly believe eating these foods helped to bring my emotional well-being back to normal.
“Use food for fuel.” That’s what my neighbor would say as she explained about various foods and their importance. When I ate the foods she suggested, I felt my body become energized. The most important change was my mentality towards everyday life. My anxiety began to lessen. All-in-all, it took about a week before I noticed that I was feeling less stressed. I felt as if I was handed more hours in the day and that feeling of being overwhelmed and depressed was completely gone.
Your body may be different than mine! I offer no guarantees. Some of the following stress-relieving foods might work, while others may have no effect at all. I suggest that if you are not allergic to the foods listed here, then at least give these dietary changes a chance. If the dietary changes help, then incorporate them into your daily diet.
Bongiorno, Peter. (2015). Can Coffee Help Anxiety? Psychology Today. Accessed August 15th, 2019.
Brookie, K. L., Best, G. I., & Conner, T. S. (2018). Intake of Raw Fruits and Vegetables Is Associated With Better Mental Health Than Intake of Processed Fruits and Vegetables. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 487. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00487
Coppen, A., & Bolander-Gouaille, C. (2005). Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 19(1), 59-65.
Messerli, F. H., Sarmadi, B., Aminuddin, F., Hamid, M., Saari, N., Abdul-Hamid, A., & Ismail, A. (2012). Chocolate and Your Health. N Engl J Med, 367(16), 1562-4.
Nanri, A., Kimura, Y., Matsushita, Y., Ohta, M., Sato, M., Mishima, N., ... & Mizoue, T. (2010). Dietary patterns and depressive symptoms among Japanese men and women. European journal of clinical nutrition, 64(8), 832.
Richard, D. M., Dawes, M. A., Mathias, C. W., Acheson, A., Hill-Kapturczak, N., & Dougherty, D. M. (2009). L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research and Therapeutic Indications. International journal of tryptophan research: IJTR, 2, 45–60.
Segura, R., Javierre, C., Lizarraga, M. A., & Ros, E. (2006). Other relevant components of nuts: phytosterols, folate and minerals. British Journal of Nutrition, 96(S2), S36-S44.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.