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Nutritional Strategies to Ease Anxiety

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Natural Approaches to Alleviating Anxiety: The Role of Nutrition

Anxiety is a common mental health condition that affects people of all ages and walks of life. It is characterized by persistent feelings of fear, worry, or dread that can interfere with daily life. While there are many conventional treatments available for anxiety, such as therapy and medications, many people are turning to natural approaches, such as nutrition, to help alleviate their symptoms.

Nutrition is important in managing anxiety because the foods we consume can have a direct impact on our mental health. In fact, research has shown that certain foods and nutrients can help reduce anxiety symptoms and promote a sense of calmness and relaxation. Conversely, a diet high in processed foods and sugar has been linked to an increased risk of anxiety and other mental health disorders.

This article will delve into the nutritional strategies that can help ease anxiety. We will discuss the foods to include in your diet, foods to avoid, supplements that can help, the importance of hydration, and tips for implementing these nutritional strategies into your everyday life. By the end of this article, you will have a comprehensive understanding of how nutrition can play a critical role in managing anxiety and promoting overall mental health and well-being.

Foods to Include In Your Diet

When it comes to managing anxiety with nutrition, incorporating certain foods into your diet can be incredibly beneficial. Here are two types of foods that you should consider incorporating into your meals on a regular basis:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of healthy fat that has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health, particularly anxiety. Omega-3s help to reduce inflammation in the brain, which is a common cause of anxiety and depression.

Sources of Omega-3s include:

  • Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and sardines
  • Nuts and seeds, such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts
  • Plant oils, such as flaxseed oil and canola oil

Benefits of Omega-3s include:

  • Reduced inflammation in the brain
  • Improved mood and sense of calmness
  • Reversal of damage caused by chronic stress

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates, also known as slow-burning or low-glycemic carbs, are a type of carbohydrate that takes longer to break down in the body. They release energy more slowly and steadily than simple carbs, which can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce anxiety.

Sources of complex carbohydrates include:

  • Whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa
  • Root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and carrots
  • Legumes, such as lentils and black beans

Benefits of Complex Carbohydrates include:

  • Regulation of blood sugar levels
  • Improved mood and sense of calmness
  • Increased production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can help reduce anxiety

Incorporating foods high in omega-3s and complex carbohydrates into your diet can be an effective way to manage anxiety symptoms. Consider adding nutrient-dense foods to your meals and snacks to promote overall mental health and well-being.

Foods to Avoid

While certain types of food can help alleviate anxiety symptoms, other foods can have the opposite effect. Here are two foods to consider limiting or avoiding in your diet:


Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase heart rate and blood pressure, leading to feelings of jitteriness and anxiety. It can also interfere with sleep, which is crucial for overall mental health and well-being.

Sources of Caffeine include:

Negative effects of Caffeine on Anxiety include:

  • Increase in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Jitteriness and restlessness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Exacerbation of anxiety symptoms


Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that is quickly broken down in the body, leading to a spike in blood sugar levels. This can cause an energy crash and exacerbate anxiety symptoms.

Sources of Sugar include:

  • Candy
  • Soda
  • Baked goods
  • Processed foods

Negative effects of Sugar on Anxiety include:

  • Energy crashes
  • Exacerbation of anxiety symptoms
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Cravings and addiction

By limiting or avoiding these two types of foods, you are taking a proactive step in managing your anxiety symptoms. While it can be challenging to eliminate these foods entirely, moderation and mindful consumption can go a long way in promoting overall mental health and well-being.


In addition to incorporating anxiety-reducing foods into your diet, supplements can also help alleviate symptoms. Here are two supplements that have shown promise in managing anxiety:

Vitamin B

The B vitamins are a group of water-soluble vitamins that play a crucial role in a variety of bodily functions, including energy production, brain health, and mood regulation. Deficiencies in certain B vitamins, like B6 and B12, have been linked to an increased risk of anxiety and depression.

Benefits of Vitamin B:

  • Regulates mood
  • Promotes healthy brain function
  • Boosts energy levels
  • Reduces inflammation

Sources of Vitamin B:

  • Dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale
  • Legumes like lentils and chickpeas
  • Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa
  • Nuts and seeds like almonds and sunflower seeds


Magnesium is a mineral that plays a key role in various bodily functions, including nerve function, muscle control, and heart health. It has also been shown to have a calming effect on the nervous system, making it a popular supplement for managing anxiety.

Benefits of Magnesium:
  • Relaxes the nervous system
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Promotes better sleep
  • Improves mood
Sources of Magnesium:
  • Dark, leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard
  • Nuts and seeds like almonds and pumpkin seeds
  • Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa
  • Legumes like black beans and lentils

While these supplements can be beneficial in managing anxiety symptoms, it's important to talk to a healthcare professional before incorporating them into your routine. Dosage and potential interactions with other medications should be carefully considered before adding them to your regimen.


Water is essential for our bodies to function optimally. It makes up around 60% of our body weight and is essential for everything from regulating body temperature to removing waste. Staying hydrated is especially important for those struggling with anxiety, as dehydration can cause irritability and fatigue, which can further exacerbate symptoms of anxiety.

Importance of Hydration

When our body is even mildly dehydrated, it can trigger feelings of anxiety. Proper hydration is essential for:

  • Regulating body temperature
  • Transporting nutrients throughout the body
  • Removing waste and toxins
  • Lubricating joints and tissues

Additionally, staying hydrated can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, including headaches, fatigue, and irritability.

Water Intake Recommendations

The amount of water each individual needs can vary based on factors such as age, gender, weight, and activity level. However, a general guideline is to drink at least 8 ounces (235 milliliters) of water 8 times a day, or around 64 ounces (1.9 liters) in total.

It's important to note that this guideline isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, and some people may need more or less water depending on their individual needs. Thirst is also not always a reliable indicator of hydration status, so it's important to drink water regularly throughout the day even if you don't feel thirsty.

In addition to water, other beverages like herbal tea and coconut water can also help keep you hydrated. However, it's important to limit the consumption of sugary drinks like soda and juice, as they can dehydrate the body and trigger anxiety symptoms.

Incorporating sufficient amounts of water into your daily routine is a simple and effective step towards managing anxiety. Aim to drink water regularly throughout the day, and be sure to hydrate with other healthy beverages as well.


Anxiety can be a challenging condition to manage, but by taking a natural approach to managing symptoms, we can alleviate the discomfort and improve overall quality of life. Nutrition is one of the most critical factors in managing anxiety, and there are several nutritional strategies that can help ease symptoms.

Recap of Nutritional Strategies

To reduce feelings of anxiety, we recommend the following nutritional strategies:

  • Including foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, chia seeds, and walnuts
  • Incorporating complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
  • Limiting caffeine intake from sources such as coffee, tea, and chocolate
  • Avoiding excess sugar found in many desserts, candy, and processed foods
  • Supplementing with Vitamin B and magnesium, which have been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety
  • Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated throughout the day

Importance of Balance and Moderation

It's important to remember that balance and moderation are essential when it comes to nutrition. While implementing these nutritional strategies into our diet can help manage anxiety, it's crucial to remain balanced and not go to extremes. For example, too much caffeine or complex carbohydrates can have adverse effects.

Tips for Implementing Nutritional Strategies to Ease Anxiety

To implement the above nutritional strategies effectively, try the following tips:

  • Start small by incorporating one or two strategies at a time
  • Gradually add in new foods and supplements, and monitor how your body responds
  • Invest in high-quality sources of nutrients, such as wild-caught fish and organic produce
  • Consult with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian for personalized and specific recommendations

Remember, nutrition is just one aspect of managing anxiety. It's essential to seek help from a licensed healthcare professional if you experience severe or chronic anxiety. They can help diagnose any underlying conditions and create a treatment plan that is tailored to your individual needs.

Note: Please seek professional medical advice before making any changes to your diet.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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