Are There Foods to Reduce Anxiety? A New Study Says Yes!

We are learning more and more about how what we eat effects how we feel, which is important because approximately one-third of American adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. So are there certain foods you can eat (or avoid eating) to actually reduce anxiety and stress? A new study published in the February 2020 edition of International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests that there are. The study revealed that individuals who ate fewer fruits or vegetables daily had a higher odds of anxiety. The study also found that people who consumed one or more pastries per day also had an increased risk for an anxiety disorder. This highlights the importance of diet and lifestyle as an important aspect of improving mental health.

In the study, researchers found that participants who ate less than 3 servings of fruits and vegetables per day had a 24% increased risk of being diagnosed with anxiety. There may be a few explanations to this connection.

First, people with a higher intake of fruits and vegetables most likely have an overall healthier diet. Fruits and vegetables are high in magnesium, potassium, antioxidants, and fiber which can help reduce inflammation, improve the gut microbiome, and help the body’s response to stress. For those who are skimping on their fresh produce and choosing pastries instead, the nutritional quality of their diet would be much lower and their body may be lacking the tools it needs to deal with stress and to help manage their moods.

Additionally, people who follow a healthier diet with an increased number of servings of fruits and vegetables most likely have a healthier body weight and are staying within their calorie needs better. Fruits and vegetables are high in both water content and fiber, which helps with levels of fullness and helps to keep our calorie intake in check. When you compare the average piece of fruit (80 calories, 0 g fat, 2.7 g fiber) and the average serving of vegetables (50 calories, 0 g fat, 2.6 g fiber) to a pastry (300 calories, 15 g fat, <0.5 g fiber), it is obvious that the fruits and vegetables help to keep calorie and fat intake down and fiber intake up which helps us maintain a healthy weight. The study found that the odds of having anxiety increased when body fat levels increased. The likelihood increased more than 70% when body fat levels increased by more than 36%.

Finally, when someone has a healthier diet it is more likely that they are following a healthier lifestyle in general. They may prioritize exercise, use healthier coping mechanisms when dealing with stress, be non-smokers, avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, and consume lower amounts of caffeine Research has proven that the more exercise someone gets, the lower their anxiety generally is. Excessive caffeine may also can increase anxiousness. All of these lifestyle habits have an impact on our anxiety levels.

The American Heart Association recommends consuming 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Following a healthy diet pattern with plenty of fruits and vegetables, engaging in regular physical activity, and dealing with stress in healthy ways are all important ways to help naturally relieve anxiety. What’s more, previous research has suggested that an increased intake of fruits and vegetables can lower your risk for diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity; now we have even more reasons to eat the rainbow! 

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