How foods we eat affects anxiety

Anxiety is not all about what goes on with our thought processes. Our diet can play a big role in how we feel mentally, physically and in our mood.

I’m going to take you through what foods are helpful in keeping your anxiety at bay or under control, along with food and drinks that we should look at limiting or avoiding when suffering with anxiety. We will also look at how Vitamins help keep us healthy.


Foods containing selenium

Brazil nuts, mushrooms, soya beans, other nuts and animal products.

Selenium improves mood, reduces inflammation, is an antioxidant, prevents cell damage, is an anti – carcinogenic, which helps prevent cancer developing.

The recommended upper limit for adults is 400 µg per day which would equal 3 to 4 Brazil nuts.

Fatty fish

Such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and herring contain high amounts of omega 3, which helps with cognitive function as well as anxiety.

It is recommended you eat a minimum of 2 to 3 servings of fatty fish per week.


Contains tryptophan which is an amino acid that helps create serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood, sleep, memory and behaviour and is known to improve brain function and anxiety.

Pumpkin seeds

Contain zinc which is essential for brain and nerve development. The largest storage sites of zinc in the body are in the brain regions involved with emotions. Easily added to cereals porridge oats and salads.

Dark chocolate

Also contains high Tryptophan content as well as magnesium which can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. If you buy dark chocolate aim for chocolate containing 70% cocoa or more.

The recommended amount is 1 to 3 g per day.


Contains an active ingredient called curcumin which helps lower anxiety by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, that often increases in people experiencing anxiety and depression. Turmeric can be added to foods such as smoothies, curries and casserole dishes.


Used as a herbal remedy due to its anti-inflammatory, anti bacterial, antioxidant and relaxant properties that helps reduce anxiety symptoms.

Chamomile tea can be useful in managing anxiety and is ready available and safe to use in high doses.


Contains healthy bacteria. These bacteria and other fermented products such as cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi and fermented soy products have a positive effect on our brain health.

Green tea

Contains an amino acid called thiamine, which has anti-anxiety and calming effect on mood. It is also thought to increase the production of serotonin and dopamine.

Green tea is again readily available and a suitable replacement for soft drinks, coffee and alcohol.



This affects your body in much the same way as a scary event would by producing a boost of adrenaline. It can also release the stress hormone cortisol, which spikes your heart rate and blood pressure.

Avoid or limit your caffeine intake and be aware of food and drinks that contain caffeine as you may be consuming more than you realise.

Artificial sweeteners

These additives can cause the same symptoms you might experience with sugar or caffeine, along with feeling tired, changes in your mood, trouble concentrating and heart palpitations. Artificial sweeteners actually block production of serotonin (the feel good chemical in the brain).


While this may help you feel relaxed for a while, it can backfire, causing you to lose sleep which can heighten anxiety. Alcohol is known to cause the highs and lows of blood sugar that lead to anxiety and depression. It can also result in dehydration, which is another reason you may feel edgy.

Refined sugars

Foods containing refined sugars can affect your mood. The sugar spikes your blood sugar followed by a quick drop, which is then associated with anxiety. Some examples of foods that contain refined sugars are: white bread, white rice, white pasta, cakes, biscuits, pastries, processed meals, regular fizzy drinks and some fruit juices.

Be mindful of how much refined sugars you are consuming in your diet and try to limit them with alternative whole foods.

Foods high in sodium

Too much sodium in our diet can have a negative effect on the body”s neurological system, causing fatigue and damaging the immune system. Not only can this affect our anxiety but the overconsumption of sodium can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure and water retention.

Examples of foods high in sodium include: canned meat, fish, ravioli and beans with added salt, poultry including bacon, cold cuts, sausages, frozen breaded meats and ready meals and salted nuts.


Vitamin A (also known as retinol)


  • Helping your body‘s natural defence against illness and infection (the immune system)

  • Helping vision in dim light

  • Keeping the skin and the lining of some parts of the body, such as the nose, healthy

Top foods containing vitamin A:

Carrots, Tuna, Butternut squash, Sweet potato, Spinach, Cantaloupe, Lettuce, Red bell peppers, Pink grapefruit, Broccoli

Vitamin B


  • Helps the body breakdown and release energy from food

  • Keeps the nervous system, skin and eyes healthy

Top foods containing vitamin B:

Carrots, Meat, Eggs and cheese, Squash, Broccoli, Fish, Peppers, Avocado, Melon, peaches, apricots, mango, papaya

Vitamin C (also known as Ascorbic Acid)


  • Helps growth, development and repair of all body tissues

  • Absorbs iron

  • Helps function of the immune system, wound healing, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones and teeth

Top foods containing Vitamin C:

Citrus fruit, such as oranges, Peppers, Strawberries, Blackcurrants, Broccoli, Brussel sprouts,


Vitamin D


  • Helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy

The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors.

Top foods containing vitamin D:

Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, Red meat, Liver, Egg yolk, Fortified foods such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals

Vitamin E


  • Helps maintain healthy skin and eyes, and strengthen the body‘s natural defence against illness and infection (the immune system)

Top foods containing vitamin E:

Plant oils such as rapeseed (vegetable oil), sunflower, soya, corn and olive oil, Nuts and seeds, Wheat germ – found in cereals and cereal products

Vitamin K


  • Helps blood clotting

  • Helps wounds to heal

Top foods containing vitamin K:

Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, Vegetable oils, Cereal grains, Small amounts can also be found in meat and dairy foods.


A healthy immune system

Healthy skin, bones, muscles and teeth

Better sleep

Improved mood


More energy and motivation

Good weight control

Better mental health

Improved self-esteem/confidence


Increased illness

Poor physical health

Poor sleep

Low mood


Lethargy (lack of energy/motivation)

Weight gain

Low self-esteem/confidence

Can cause anxiety and/or depression

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