Changing what you eat can heal. What you eat matters – and can even improve your mental health! Here are some of the best foods for anxiety and depression.
This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult a nutritionist or primary care physician before changing your diet.
How Healthy Eating Improves Mental Health
When we eat nutritious foods, we are giving our bodies (and our brains!) the fuel it needs to navigate life.
When you’re providing your body a wide array of nutrients and vitamins, you are making your body’s job easier. Connections have been made between high sugar intake and greater risk for anxiety and depression. Our gut bacteria has also been found to impact our mental health.
Also, eating healthy helps us feel better physically, which can help boost our mental health.
Top 10+ Foods for Mental Health
Here are our top 10 foods for your mental health – especially for anxiety and depression.
1. Fatty fish
Nations that eat a lot of fish generally have lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel… all these fishes are high in omega-3s, which have been shown to improve mental health and reduce inflammation.
Go for wild-caught fish whenever possible.
Many nuts such as brazil nuts and walnuts are high in omega-3 fats. Nuts and seeds are filled with a wide variety of nutrients. Try eating nut butter or make a homemade trail mix to help integrate them into your diet.
Eggs have roughly the same amount of fat and protein. Eating eggs can help create serotonin in the brain, helping to regulate everyday functions like sleep and mood. Eggs also contain tryptophan, which can help reduce anxiety.
4. Chamomile and green tea
Chamomile helps relax the brain. Try drinking a cup before going to bed!
Green tea is jam-packed with antioxidants – just watch the caffeine.
5. Avocados and coconuts
These foods are filled with healthy fats! Avocados also contain omega-3s. They are high in many other minerals such as vitamin A, magnesium, potassium, and iron.
Coconut water is filled with electrolytes and is great to drink before or after a workout. Coconuts also contain a lot of potassium and medium-chain fatty acids, which the body uses for energy.
6. Fermented foods
Kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt… you name it!
These foods are great at promoting healthy gut bacteria.
7. Leafy greens
Veggies, especially kale, spinach, and other leafy greens are great for you. Leafy greens are filled with nutrients like folate and vitamin K.
8. Tumeric and cinnamon
These spices have anti-inflammatory properties – and are delicious! Try adding them to a smoothie or even your yogurt or coffee.
9. Olive oil
Olive oil has been eaten for centuries. Olive oil is anti-inflammatory and may help fight depression.
10. Chia seeds and flaxseeds
Chia and flaxseeds are high in fiber and antioxidants. You can add them to smoothies or eat them with yogurt.
The key is to eat whole foods. There is no such thing as perfection in eating – just do your best and eat foods that help your body feel good.
The Worst Foods for Anxiety and Depression
Caffeine can cause jitters and anxiety. If you already suffer from anxiety, caffeine can make it unnecessarily hard on your body. Try switching to decaf coffees or teas. And definitely don’t drink caffeine after lunchtime – it can negatively impact your sleep.
2. Processed foods
Any food that is fortified or has preservatives added to it is considered processed food. Common processed foods include:
- Ready-made meals
- Deli meat, spam, bacon, etc.
- Canned foods
- Packaged crackers, cereal, cookies, etc.
- Soft drinks
- Vegetable oils (canola oil, corn oil, etc.)
Processed foods contain preservatives and other ingredients that aren’t great for our bodies or our brains. They are often high in sugar and unhealthy fats.
Sugar can lower our ability to deal with stress and manage emotions, leading to an increased risk for anxiety and depression.
Avoid foods that contain white sugar such as ice cream, candy, and milk chocolate. If you have a sweet tooth, fruit is a great option! You can also create smoothies with frozen berries and a banana, or go with dark chocolate.
Alcohol is a depressant, which can lead to a low mood. Alcohol tends to make whatever we are feeling in the moment more intense. Those that already suffer from anxiety or depression may go to alcohol to cope – a bad habit that will worsen one’s anxiety or depression.
Stick to whole grains whenever possible.
Grains – especially wheat – are often heavily processed, removing many of the nutrients from the grain.
Many people are sensitive to gluten and preservatives that are present in many grains. Grains can also cause inflammation, leading to body aches and irritability.
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