Foods That Help With Anxiety and Depression
|Food Category||Benefits for Anxiety and Depression||Recommended Intake|
|Fatty Fish||High in omega-3 fatty acids, reduces inflammation, boosts neurotransmitters||At least twice per week or fish oil supplements|
|Probiotic Foods||Restores gut health, lowers inflammation, improves neurotransmitter balance||Include kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt|
|Turmeric||Contains curcumin, reduces depressive symptoms, improves serotonin levels||Add fresh or powdered turmeric to various dishes|
|Dark Chocolate||Rich in polyphenols, boosts feel-good neurotransmitters, reduces symptoms||Choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa|
|Green Tea||Contains L-theanine, promotes relaxation, increases serotonin and dopamine||Sip 2-3 cups of unsweetened green tea daily|
|Magnesium in Nuts, Seeds||Relieves anxiety symptoms, found in nuts, seeds, and legumes||Aim for at least 400 mg of magnesium per day|
|Avocado||Enhances nutrient absorption, rich in monounsaturated fats||Incorporate avocados into meals and smoothies|
|Berries||Reduce neuroinflammation, enhance neuroplasticity||Consume 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cups of fresh or frozen berries|
|Tryptophan in Bananas||Boost serotonin production, contains magnesium||Include bananas in your diet, especially before bed|
|Sweet and Regular Potatoes||Packed with nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and B vitamins||Bake, roast, or mash potatoes for consumption|
|Eggs||High in tryptophan and choline, support neurotransmitter synthesis||Aim for 1-2 eggs daily, choose organic eggs|
|Leafy Greens||Rich in magnesium, folate, and antioxidants, reduce inflammation||Add greens to various dishes for regular intake|
|Pumpkin Seeds||Provide magnesium and tryptophan, promote calm and serotonin production||Add pumpkin seeds to your meals for a mineral boost|
|Garlic||Contains allicin, reduces neuroinflammation, enhances GABA production||Use fresh garlic in cooking or take supplements|
|Coffee||Promotes mood-boosting neurotransmitters, protects neurons||Limit intake to 1-2 cups per day, avoid additives|
|Broccoli||Rich in vitamins C and K, folate, B vitamins, and minerals||Incorporate broccoli into meals weekly|
Anxiety and depression affect millions of people worldwide. While there are several medical treatment options available, making dietary changes to eat more mood-boosting foods can also help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Including foods that help with anxiety and depression in your diet can be an effective part of an overall treatment plan.
Certain nutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds in foods can help regulate neurotransmitters, reduce inflammation, lower oxidative stress, and protect mental health. Let’s discuss some of the best anxiety and depression fighting foods to add to your diet.
Fatty Fish Reduce Anxiety and Depression
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and herring contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Getting more omega-3s from fish or supplements can help lower inflammation in the brain that contributes to anxiety and depression.
Several studies have found eating more fatty fish is associated with decreased symptoms of anxiety, depression and perceived stress. Omega-3s help reduce anxiety and depression because they enhance levels of mood-regulating neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
Aim to eat fatty fish like salmon or mackerel at least twice per week to get more omega-3s. Taking fish oil supplements is also effective.
Probiotic Foods Improve Gut-Brain Axis
Your gut health and inflammation levels can have significant impacts on mental health. Stress and inflammation disrupt gut microbiome balance, while probiotics help restore healthy gut flora and brain function.
Eating more probiotic-rich foods helps reduce anxiety and depression by lowering inflammation and oxidative stress, improving neurotransmitter balance, and enhancing the gut-brain axis.
Try adding probiotic foods like kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir and yogurt to your diet. You can also take a daily probiotic supplement with a mix of strains like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Antioxidants in Turmeric Reduce Depressive Symptoms
Turmeric contains the powerful compound curcumin, which has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects. The curcumin in turmeric can effectively improve serotonin and dopamine levels similar to antidepressants.
Research shows taking turmeric supplements or eating more turmeric-rich foods can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Try adding fresh or powdered turmeric to curries, soups, smoothies, rice dishes, roasted vegetables, and more. Combining turmeric with black pepper enhances curcumin absorption.
Dark Chocolate Boosts Mood
The polyphenols in cacao found in dark chocolate have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that support brain health. Dark chocolate also contains anandamide, the “bliss molecule”, and other compounds that increase feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin.
A higher regular intake of dark chocolate is linked to lower symptoms of anxiety and depression in multiple studies. For maximum benefits, choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content. Aim for 1-2 ounces (25-50g) per day.
L-theanine in Green Tea Reduces Anxiety
Green tea is rich in L-theanine, an amino acid that produces feelings of relaxation and calm by increasing neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. The polyphenols in green tea also have antioxidant benefits that lower oxidative stress.
Drinking green tea regularly can help reduce anxiety, depression, and stress. Try sipping 2-3 cups of unsweetened green tea per day. You can also take green tea extract supplements containing L-theanine.
Magnesium in Nuts, Seeds, Legumes Provides Anxiety Relief
Nuts, seeds, and legumes are excellent sources of magnesium, an essential mineral many are deficient in. Magnesium deficiency exacerbates symptoms of anxiety, irritability, insomnia and depression.
Pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, edamame, kidney beans, chickpeas, and black beans are high in magnesium. Aim for at least 400 mg of magnesium per day from foods or use supplements if needed.
Add Avocados for Nutrient Absorption
Rich in monounsaturated fats and nutrients like folate, B vitamins, and potassium, avocados help increase the absorption of antidepressant medications and antioxidants from foods. Avocados also contain magnesium and lutein for brain health.
Research indicates eating one avocado a day can lower anxiety and depression symptoms quickly. Add avocado slices to sandwiches and salads, make guacamole, and blend into smoothies.
Berries like Blueberries Enhance Neuroplasticity
The antioxidants in berries like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries reduce neuroinflammation and help rebuild damaged neuron connections in the brain. This improves communication between brain cells to enhance mood and cognition.
The anthocyanins in blueberries in particular improve neuroplasticity. Eating blueberries daily is associated with less depressive symptoms and better antioxidant status. Enjoy 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cups of fresh or frozen berries in smoothies, oatmeal, or yogurt.
Tryptophan in Bananas Boosts Serotonin
Bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin production. They also provide vitamin B6 which helps convert tryptophan into serotonin, often low in depression.
Additionally, bananas have magnesium to relax muscles and calm anxiety. Eating a banana before bed may support serotonin synthesis overnight.
Sweet and Regular Potatoes Aid Mental Health
Sweet and regular potatoes are packed with potassium, magnesium, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and tryptophan – all nutrients that support mental health and mood.
The antioxidants like beta-carotene in orange sweet potatoes also reduce inflammation. Bake, roast, or mash sweet or regular potatoes and eat the nutrient-rich skins too.
Eggs Are High in Tryptophan and Choline
Eggs are a quality source of amino acids like tryptophan to increase serotonin levels. They also provide mood-supporting nutrients like choline, zinc, vitamin D, selenium, and B vitamins.
Choline in eggs is essential for the synthesis of neurotransmitters impacted in anxiety and depression. Aim for 1-2 eggs daily by making veggie omelets or hard-boiling eggs for snacks. Choose organic, pasture-raised eggs when possible.
Leafy Greens Lower Oxidative Stress
Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, turnip greens, and arugula are packed with magnesium, folate, beta-carotene, and powerful antioxidants.
Consuming more greens lowers the risk of anxiety and depression by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. Try adding greens to an omelet or sauté with olive oil and garlic for a side dish.
Pumpkin Seeds for Magnesium and Tryptophan
Pumpkin seeds provide a winning combination of magnesium, amino acids, and minerals for anxiety and depression relief.
The magnesium in pumpkin seeds enhances GABA and promotes calm. Pumpkin seeds are also high in tryptophan to support serotonin production. Add pumpkin seeds to trail mixes, salads, oatmeal, or yogurt for an easy mineral boost.
Garlic Contains Antioxidant Allicin
The organosulfur compounds like allicin in garlic have been shown to reduce neuroinflammation and prevent overactivation of neurons. Garlic also enhances the production of GABA to calm anxiety.
Use fresh chopped garlic generously when cooking. You can also take aged garlic extract supplements for potent anti-inflammatory benefits.
Coffee Releases Mood-Boosting Neurotransmitters
Coffee promotes the release of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline to boost mood, alertness, and cognition. The polyphenols in coffee also protect neurons from inflammation and oxidative damage.
Limit coffee intake to 1-2 cups per day to prevent excess caffeine. Minimize adding sugar, unhealthy fats, and artificial flavors that counter the mental health benefits.
Broccoli Provides Vitamins and Minerals
With its combination of antioxidant vitamins C and K, folate, B vitamins, and minerals, broccoli is a superfood for supporting mental health. It contains vitamin K to prevent neuron damage and aid in neurotransmitter synthesis.
Lightly steam or roast broccoli florets and eat a few servings per week either on their own or mixed into stir-fries, soups, and salads for maximum nutritional benefits.
Overall, eating more fresh, whole foods containing antioxidants, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory compounds can help regulate neurotransmitters, lower oxidative stress on the brain, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Limit processed foods high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and artificial additives that may negatively impact mental health.
While dietary changes can significantly support mental well-being, be sure to consult your doctor if experiencing moderate to severe anxiety or depression to discuss additional lifestyle changes and medical treatments that may help. An integrated approach is ideal for managing these conditions.
Q1: Can dietary changes really help with anxiety and depression?
A1: Yes, dietary changes can significantly support mental well-being. Certain foods rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds can help regulate neurotransmitters, reduce inflammation, and lower oxidative stress in the brain, which can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Q2: How often should I consume fatty fish to benefit from omega-3 fatty acids?
A2: It is recommended to eat fatty fish like salmon or mackerel at least twice per week to get more omega-3 fatty acids. Alternatively, you can take fish oil supplements as an effective option.
Q3: Are there specific foods to avoid for better mental health?
A3: Yes, it’s advisable to limit the consumption of processed foods high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and artificial additives. These foods may negatively impact mental health and should be consumed in moderation.
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