How to Fight Anxiety and Depression Symptoms With These 5 Foods (Backed by Science)

Updated on August 16, 2019
MarleneB profile image

Marlene spends numerous hours researching solutions to common and sometimes obscure health and beauty issues. She shares her results here.

Foods that improve your overall health and are good for your body can also help elevate your mind!
Foods that improve your overall health and are good for your body can also help elevate your mind! | Source

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.

Coffee prompts dopamine release in the brain, increasing motivation and elevating mood.
Coffee prompts dopamine release in the brain, increasing motivation and elevating mood. | Source

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.

Oatmeal contains L-Tryptophan which triggers serotonin release in the brain.
Oatmeal contains L-Tryptophan which triggers serotonin release in the brain. | Source

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.

The nutrients in leafy greens can help offset depressive symptoms.
The nutrients in leafy greens can help offset depressive symptoms. | Source

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.

Chocolate is chock-full of antioxidants and caffeine.
Chocolate is chock-full of antioxidants and caffeine. | Source

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!

Nuts contain the vitamin B complex which help you fight fatigue.
Nuts contain the vitamin B complex which help you fight fatigue. | Source

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.

Sources

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.

Questions & Answers

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      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        2 months ago from USA

        Chitrangada Sharan, I agree with you and yes it normally takes a little longer for natural remedies to work, but the results are usually better and longer-lasting. I truly appreciate you for stopping by and reading. And, thank you for your positive comments.

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        2 months ago from New Delhi, India

        Excellent article with some useful information.

        I can see that most of these I have tried and they do help, as you have mentioned above. It’s always wise to get cured by the natural way, whether it’s food or the Mother Nature. It may take a little longer but we will have no harmful side effects.

        Thanks for sharing this wonderful information.

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        6 years ago from USA

        Hello alocsin. Mmmmmm! A hot fudge sundae sounds so nice. Now, after analyzing the hot fudge sundae, I can see why I always feel so relaxed and satisfied once I'm done. The hot fudge sundae has the foods found to relieve stress. No more guilt.

      • alocsin profile image

        Aurelio Locsin 

        6 years ago from Orange County, CA

        I can see how the vitamins in these foods can affect the body in positive ways. But when I want to fight anxiety and depression, I eat chocolates, cheesecake or a hot fudge sundae ;) Voting this Up and Interesting.

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        6 years ago from USA

        Hello rajan jolly! Me too! Except for the salmon (which I only eat once in a blue moon), I do consume the foods on the list. I think it makes a difference in my overall health, including lowering my stress level.

      • rajan jolly profile image

        Rajan Singh Jolly 

        6 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

        Certainly a fine list of healthy foods. Making these a regular part of our diet will make for a healthy mind and body. I eat most of these on a regular basis.Voted up and useful.

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        Hello healthylife2. As you know, natural is the way to go. I was also glad to see chocolate and my other favorite - coffee on the list.

      • healthylife2 profile image

        Healthy Life 

        7 years ago from Connecticut, USA

        Great article providing natural ways to deal with stress and anxiety! I'm glad chocolate was on the list!

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        Hi dwachira. Thank you for your comments. Yes, I know what you mean by the economic problems in today's world. I include myself when I say a lot of people are afflicted with stress and depression. If I can find natural ways to relieve stress, that is the way for me.

      • dwachira profile image

        Danson Wachira 

        7 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

        In today world, economic problems bring a lot of distress and depression, i didn't know nuts are very handy when it come to depression relief, but i like nuts a lot. Voted up, useful and shared.

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        Trish_M, yes I do enjoy it. But, I'm one of those curious types. You've piqued my interest, and I'm glad for that. It's a bit of trivia that would be nice to know.

      • Trish_M profile image

        Tricia Mason 

        7 years ago from The English Midlands

        As long as you enjoy it and it doesn't sprevent you relaxing, that's all that matters :)

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        Ah! Trish_M, so you see I'm not a coffee connoisseur. I learn something new every day. So... I went and grabbed the bag of coffee beans to see what kind of coffee beans mine were and nowhere on the bag does it state what kind of coffee it is - just "Rwandan Whole Bean Coffee". Now, you've got me wondering more about this coffee.

        Ignorance is bliss. I was blissfully enjoying my rich flavored coffee, then you came along and provided information I should probably know about the coffee I was drinking. So, now I'm on a crusade to find out exactly what kind of coffee this is... thanks a lot Trish_M! :)

      • Trish_M profile image

        Tricia Mason 

        7 years ago from The English Midlands

        It may be that your coffee is Arabica. The other type is robusta.

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        Thank you Trish_M. I'm not familiar with the different kinds of coffee. I just started drinking Rwandan coffee and so far, so good. I don't get jittery and I can actually have a cup of coffee at night - after dinner - and still sleep all night with no trouble. I guess it really does make a difference what kind of coffee we drink. I'll try the Arabica, too. I buy my coffee from Costco, so it will be a while. :)

      • Trish_M profile image

        Tricia Mason 

        7 years ago from The English Midlands

        Hi :)

        I so agree with you about the benefits of eating a healthy diet. It's not always easy to stick to, but the addition of chocolate can help!!! :)

        Regarding coffee, it gives me panic attacks, but I am not affected so badly, if I stick to Arabica coffee, so it may be the same for others.

        Re milk; I understand that this is much healthier if one goes for organic milk.

        This is a very useful article!

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        Hello oceansider, thank you so much for the compliment. I use to eat a lot of fruit, but I have transitioned into eating more vegetables than fruit. Although it wasn't mentioned in the hub, one of the reasons for eating more veggies is because they tend to be more alkaline based than fruit. I'm working toward keeping my body in a more alkaline state and most fruit is acid based so I eat less of it, even though I enjoy fruit more than vegetables.

        Also, thank you for the recommendation of almond butter. I had heard of it before, but didn't know anyone who could say much about it. Since you have tried it and like it, I'll give it a try.

        Stay healthy, my friend.

        Many blessings to you.

      • profile image

        oceansider 

        7 years ago

        Hi Marlene,

        How are you doing? You have written another extremely well done article!....You know, I eat most of the foods you mentioned here. I too love my spinach, green veggies, milk and chocolate, and every morning, I eat oatmeal. ......I don't care much for fish, so maybe I should take an omega 3 capsule daily....I'll look into that. .....One other thing I eat every day is plenty of fruit....it's delicious and so healthy, and I eat nuts almost every day as well, or instead sometimes eat almond butter on bread, which is extremely healthy too.....Great article! Thank you & keep up the excellent work.

        God bless you,

        Helen

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        Ha! sammimills, I'm more of a coffee, chocolate, and wine person myself! But, it is good to know that the others work, as well. When I'm selecting foods, I try to eat more of the foods that will get my serotonin levels up. I think that's the key.

      • sammimills profile image

        sammimills 

        7 years ago from California, USA

        Thank you for the advice! Now I know what to eat or drink when I am stressed. Most probably I would choose chocolates, milk and coffee. :D Voted up!

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        anxietygoaway, I am so glad you read my hub. And, thank you very much for your positive comment.

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        Hi catmalone, thank you for your positive feedback. I am glad you enjoyed the information.

      • anxietygoaway profile image

        anxietygoaway 

        7 years ago

        Fantastic hub and super true

      • catmalone profile image

        catmalone 

        7 years ago

        Very Awesome hub! Very informative and well put together. I love reading about health and nutrition especially when it catches your attention like your hub did.

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        Yes Nora411. Coffee... and chocolate... in moderation, of course. Nevertheless, they made the list; so that's all that matters, right? :)

      • Nora411 profile image

        Nora411 

        7 years ago from Chicago, IL

        Im so happy coffee is on this list! :)Voted up!

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        Hi VibrantViews , I didn't know coffee was one of those cure-all foods. I guess it could be about the antioxidant factor. Same thing with chocolate - the antioxidants are the beneficial factor. Thank you for commenting.

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        Hi creative1975, to this day - 32 years later, I still eat the foods on the list. Knowing what each does for the body makes a big difference.

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        Hi NetBlots. Yes, pretty much, eat right. But, specifically the things on the list. I, for one, never saw coffee, red wine, or chocolate on the healthy food pyramid.

      • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

        Marlene Bertrand 

        7 years ago from USA

        Hi michememe, thank you for your comment. No doctor ever told me, either. They would rather prescribe pills or say that I'm doing too much. They would be right in saying I was doing too much, because I really did need to slow down a little in my younger years. But the truth is that I didn't slow down and by eating and drinking the foods on the list, I was able to accomplish more at the end of the day.

      • creative1975 profile image

        creative1975 

        7 years ago from Christchurch, NZ

        Great Hub and I'm so glad that I do eat and drink just about everything on your list! It's just certain other foods I need to cut out. I vote up and useful for this hub Marlene. Keep up the good work.

      • NetBlots profile image

        NetBlots 

        7 years ago from Melbourne

        So the thread pretty much almost translates to "eat right" and you'll feel it.

        Eating fresh healthy food is the best thing to do, just make sure it's not processed like most milks are.

        Also - after 3 months of eating well, try introducing Spirulina into the diet instead of coffee, that'll stimulate you.

      • michememe profile image

        Miche Wro 

        7 years ago

        Wow! Marlene great advice, I suffer with anxiety and not one doctor suggested these foods or beverages. Things like this are good to know, I appreciate the hub. Voted Up, and this is a MUST share.

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