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Following a nutrient-dense diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and other healthy foods may help some people manage their anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety is a widespread condition, affecting millions of people globally. Symptoms vary, and some people experience them only now and then. However, someone who experiences symptoms for 6 months or longer may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

GAD has psychological and physical symptoms such as:

  • fear
  • tension
  • excessive worry about everyday events and problems
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • issues with personal, social, and work relationships
  • heart palpitations and elevated heart rate
  • muscle tension
  • chest tightness

Doctors often treat GAD with a combination of treatments, including talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and medications. Sometimes, these conventional treatments do not work long-term. However, some research suggests that proper nutrition may help improve symptoms.

Transitioning to a healthier dietary pattern rich in nutrients may help ease anxiety symptoms in some people. Overall dietary intake, along with therapy and medication, can be a helpful tool for anxiety management. Consuming the following foods may help reduce anxiety in some people.

1. Fatty fish

Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, and herring, are high in omega-3s. Omega-3s are a type of fatty acids that have a strong relationship to cognitive function and mental health.

Omega-3s

Omega-3-rich foods contain either alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) or two essential fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

EPA and DHA regulate neurotransmitters, reduce inflammation, and promote healthy brain function.

A small study on 24 people with substance misuse problems found that EPA and DHA supplementation resulted in reduced levels of anxiety. However, supplements generally contain a more concentrated form of nutrients than foods do.

A 2018 review found that reduced anxiety symptoms were associated with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid treatment. The effects were stronger in participants with clinical anxiety symptoms.

Current recommendations suggest eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week. A study conducted on men found that eating salmon three times per week reduced self-reported anxiety.

Vitamin D

Salmon and sardines are also among the few foods that contain vitamin D.

Researchers are increasingly linking vitamin D deficiency to mood disorders such as anxiety.

Research has linked low levels of vitamin D in the blood to depression and anxiety traits, though more studies are needed. People with vitamin D deficiency should consider taking high dose supplements rather than eating fatty fish alone.

Other studies on pregnant women and older adults have also highlighted how vitamin D might improve mood.

2. Eggs

Egg yolks, especially from pasture-raised hens, are another good source of vitamin D.

Eggs are also an excellent source of protein. They are a complete protein, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids the body needs for growth and development.

Eggs also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps create serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter found in the brain, bowels, and blood platelets that helps regulate mood, sleep, memory, and behavior.

Serotonin is thought to improve brain function and relieve anxiety. However, it cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning food and treatments containing serotonin do not supply serotonin directly but can trigger chemical reactions boosting serotonin in the brain.

Some studies suggest that diet and gut microbiota could play a role in preventing and treating symptoms related to anxiety. More research is needed to confirm whether this is possible.

3. Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of potassium, which helps regulate electrolyte balance and manage blood pressure. An older 2008 study found that lower potassium and magnesium levels were associated with high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that the adrenal glands release.

Eating potassium-rich foods, such as pumpkin seeds and bananas, may help reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of the mineral zinc. One study carried out on 100 female high school students found that serum zinc levels were inversely related to mood disorders, including depression and anxiety. These results suggest that increasing serum levels of zinc could improve mood disorders in some people.

Zinc is essential for brain and nerve development. The largest storage sites of zinc in the body are in the brain regions involved with emotions.

4. Dark chocolate

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Researchers have found that dark chocolate may help reduce stress.

Experts have long suspected that dark chocolate might help reduce stress and anxiety.

Some research has found that dark chocolate or cocoa may improve mood via the gut-brain axis. However, many of the existing studies on this subject are observational, so it is important to interpret the results with caution.

Although it is still unclear how dark chocolate may improve mood or stress, dark chocolate is a rich source of polyphenols, especially flavonoids. One study suggests that flavonoids might reduce neuroinflammation and cell death in the brain as well as improve blood flow.

Chocolate has a high content of tryptophan, which the body uses to turn into mood-enhancing neurotransmitters such as serotonin in the brain.

Dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium. Eating a diet with enough magnesium in it or taking supplements may reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

People with magnesium deficiency should consider taking high dose supplements rather than eating dietary sources alone.

When choosing dark chocolate, aim for 70% cacao or more. Dark chocolate still contains added sugars and fats, so a small serving of 1–3 grams (g) is appropriate.

5. Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice commonly used in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking. The active ingredient in turmeric, called curcumin, may help lower anxiety by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress that often increase in people experiencing mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

A 2015 study found that 1 g of curcumin per day reduced anxiety in adults with obesity. People should discuss supplementation with their doctor if they are interested in high dose curcumin products.

Another study found that an increase of curcumin in the diet also increased DHA and reduced anxiety. Turmeric is easy to add to meals. It has minimal flavor, so it goes well in smoothies, curries, and casserole dishes.

6. Chamomile

Many people around the world use chamomile tea as an herbal remedy because of its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, and relaxant properties.

Some people believe that the relaxant and anti-anxiety properties come from the flavonoids present in chamomile.

One study found that taking 1,500 milligrams (mg) of chamomile extract per day (a 500-mg capsule three times per day) did reduce anxiety symptoms. However, it did not prevent new episodes of anxiety.

Chamomile tea may be useful in managing anxiety. It is readily available and safe to use in high doses.

7. Yogurt

Yogurt contains the healthy bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Emerging evidence suggests that these bacteria and fermented products have positive effects on brain health.

According to a 2017 clinical review, yogurt and other dairy products may also produce an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Some research suggests that chronic inflammation may be partly responsible for anxiety, stress, and depression.

A 2015 study found fermented foods reduced social anxiety in some young people, while multiple studies have found that consuming healthy bacteria can increase happiness in some people.

Including yogurt and other fermented foods in the diet can benefit the natural gut bacteria and may reduce anxiety and stress.

Fermented foods include cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented soy products.

8. Green tea

Green tea contains an amino acid called theanine, which has been subject to increasing scrutiny because of its potential effects on mood disorders. Theanine has anti-anxiety and calming effects and may increase the production of serotonin and dopamine.

A 2017 review found that 200 mg of theanine improved self-reported relaxation and calmness while reducing tension in human trials.

Green tea is easy to add to the day-to-day diet. It is a suitable replacement for soft drinks, coffee, and alcoholic beverages.

9. Brazil nuts

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Brazil nuts contain selenium, which may help improve mood.

Brazil nuts are high in selenium. Selenium may improve mood by reducing inflammation, which is often at heightened levels when someone has a mood disorder such as anxiety.

Selenium is also an antioxidant, which helps prevent cell damage.

Other nuts, animal products, and vegetables, such as mushrooms and soybeans, are excellent sources of selenium as well.

It is important not to consume too much selenium, as it can cause side effects. The recommended upper limit for selenium for an adult is 400 micrograms per day. Be careful not to take high dose supplements or eat more than three or four Brazil nuts per day.

Brazil nuts and other nuts are also good sources of vitamin E, an antioxidant. Antioxidants can be beneficial for treating anxiety, and some research has shown that low levels of vitamin E may lead to anxiety in children.

A rodent study found that Brazil nuts can help address anxiety and obesity in mice. However, more human studies are necessary.

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Swiss chard contains magnesium, which may help ease anxiety.

It is best to eat a varied and balanced diet that includes high quality, nutrient-dense carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

Aim for whole foods, vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, lean meats, and especially fish. Other foods that may help include:

  • turkey and other tryptophan-containing foods, such as eggs, dark chocolate, cheese, pineapple, bananas, oats, and tofu
  • nuts, especially almonds — an excellent source of vitamin E that may help prevent vitamin E deficiency, which is linked to mood disorders
  • chia seeds, which are a good source of omega-3s
  • protein sources, such as lean meat, fish, nuts, and dairy, which provide amino acids that the body converts into mood-lifting neurotransmitters such as serotonin
  • spinach and Swiss chard, which are both high in magnesium
  • fruits such as berries, cherries, and citrus

Evidence increasingly shows that diets high in processed foods can increase anxiety.

When a person is experiencing anxiety and stress, it is always best for them to seek out a specialist, such as a psychologist.

Sometimes, a doctor or mental health professional may recommend talk therapy such as CBT to manage anxiety and stress. Doctors or psychiatrists may prescribe medications such as serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or benzodiazepines.

People should follow a doctor’s instructions when using these drugs, as they can have severe and possibly life threatening adverse effects.

Eating a healthy diet should provide all the nutrients needed for healthy brain function.

A nutritious diet that contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, vitamins, and minerals might help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.