11 Foods and Beverages That May Promote Calm

Some foods and beverages can help promote feelings of calm and combat anxiety.

Do you ever feel anxious, jittery or uneasy? Many people do at any given time, and 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Anxiety includes conditions like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. Can what you eat and drink affect your level of calm? “Anxiety is caused by a variety (of factors) and there is not one cure-all,” says Maya Feller, a registered dietitian based in Brooklyn, New York. However, research suggests certain foods and medicinal flowers can help promote feelings of calm, she says. Here are 11 foods and beverages that may help boost your sense of calm:

1. Salmon

Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, can decrease anxiety, research suggests. Such foods can even decrease premenstrual symptoms, according to a study published in 2017 in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology. “The treatment of premenstrual symptoms using an omega-3 supplement reduced symptoms and (improved) women’s quality of life,” the study said. Atlantic mackerel, sardines, black cod, anchovies, oysters and rainbow trout are also good sources of omega-3s.

2. Raw fruits and vegetables

Consuming raw fruits and vegetables reduced depressive symptoms and led to positive moods and life satisfaction among young adults, a study published in April 2018 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology suggests. In the study, 422 young adults between ages 18 and 25 living in the U.S. and New Zealand completed an online survey that assessed their typical consumption of raw versus cooked, canned or processed fruits and vegetables as well as the participants’ negative and positive mental health. The study examined depressive symptoms, anxiety, negative mood, positive mood and life satisfaction and flourishing (participants measured flourishing by rating their agreement with eight statements related to well-being, such as “I am engaged and interested in my daily activities” and “I lead a purposeful and meaningful life”). The study also took into account factors such as the socioeconomic status of the study participants, their body mass index and whether they smoked or used alcohol. “Controlling for (such factors), raw fruit and vegetable intake predicted reduced depressive symptoms and higher positive mood, life satisfaction and flourishing; processed (fruit and vegetable intake) only predicted higher mood,” researchers wrote. The top 10 raw foods related to better mental health were carrots, bananas, apples, dark leafy greens like spinach, grapefruit, lettuce, citrus fruits, fresh berries, cucumbers and kiwi fruit, according to the study. “This and other recent studies suggest that the ingestion of raw fruits and vegetables result in improved mood as compared to processed, canned, or cooked vegetables,” says Dr. Nancy Rahnama, a board-certified internist and bariatric physician in Beverly Hills, California.

3. Pumpkin and squash seeds

About half the U.S. population is deficient in the mineral magnesium, says Maxine Smith, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic. “This is an essential mineral that our bodies can’t make,” Smith says. “As processed foods have increased, magnesium intake has decreased.” Among other things, maintaining healthy magnesium levels helps decrease excitability in the brain, Smith says. Research suggests low magnesium levels are associated with anxiety and other mood disorders. Pumpkin and squash seeds are both good sources of magnesium. Plus, roasting the seeds doesn’t diminish the effects of the super nutrient. A quarter-cup of seeds provides about half of your recommended daily allowance of magnesium.

4. Fermented foods

Research suggests that healthy fermented foods may populate your gut microbiome — the diverse mix of microorganisms living in our guts — with healthy microbes or probiotics that help reduce the effects of stress, Smith says. Yogurt, kefir, kimchi, raw/unpasteurized apple cider vinegar and kombucha are sources of fermented foods. “Keep in mind that cooking kills these mighty microbes,” Smith says.

5. Walnuts

Walnuts are an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid, which research suggests can serve as a mood booster, says Abbie Gellman, a registered dietitian based in New York City. She’s also a board member with the Jenny Craig Science Advisory Board and the founder of Culinary Nutrition Cuisine. Research published in a 2016 study in the journal Nutrients followed 47 students from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan; researchers tracked the students’ consumption of walnuts for eight weeks and had them complete a questionnaire about their respective moods. “In conclusion . . . supplementation with walnuts was able to improve mood in healthy, non-depressed males,” researchers wrote. (Walnut consumption didn’t affect the mood of females in the study). Other research suggests that walnut consumption can mitigate symptoms of depression, Gellman says.

6. Foods high in vitamin C

Studies suggest that foods that are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants can reduce symptoms of anxiety, Rahnama says. For example, a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Biological Sciences suggests that high school students who took vitamin C supplements had reduced anxiety levels compared to a control group of students who took a placebo. A wide array of fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin C. They include: oranges, lemons, clementines, cantaloupe, grapefruit, strawberries, kiwi fruit, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green and red peppers, tomatoes, winter squash, cauliflower and spinach.

7. Whole grains

Whole grain foods — like oatmeal, millet, brown rice, breads made from whole wheat flour and quinoa — provide a raft of nutritional benefits and may promote feelings of calm, experts say. Whole grains provide plenty of fiber, which is important for your bowels to function well, and are also a good sources of B vitamins. Eating whole grains can also have a calming effect, according to the Mayo Clinic. That’s because it’s believed that carbs increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which can boost feelings of serenity.

8. Peppermint tea

If you’re feeling anxious or stressed before bedtime, peppermint tea “can help calm the mind and ease the body,” says Karman Meyer, a registered dietitian based in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s also the author of the upcoming book “Eat to Sleep: What to Eat and When to Eat It for a Good Night’s Sleep — Every Night,” which is scheduled to be released in May 2019. Peppermint tea has menthol, which is a natural muscle relaxant, Meyer says. Furthermore, peppermint tea is an herbal tea, meaning it’s naturally caffeine-free, “so no need to worry about caffeine keeping you up at night,” Meyer says.

9. Different types of milk

A 2017 literature review in the journal Neuropsychiatry suggested an association between vitamin D deficiency and depression, says Judy Matusky, a registered dietitian based in Ardmore, Pennsylviania. She’s also the founder of Athens Nutrition. Vitamin D may decrease inflammatory responses in the brain which may influence mood, she says. “There aren’t many foods that are naturally a good source of vitamin D, so that’s why we rely on foods fortified with vitamin D like milk. Just 8 ounces of milk provides 30 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin D,” Matusky says. If you’re a vegetarian or lactose intolerant, try vitamin D fortified plant milks like soy milk or orange juice with added vitamin D.

10. Dark chocolate

Research suggests that palatable foods — like dark chocolate can help increase stimulation of the reward center of the brain by boosting the release of dopamine. Consuming dark chocolate therefore can promote feelings of calm without having to eat too much sugar, Rahnama says. Try easing your mind with a small piece of dark chocolate at the end of the day. If you have to watch your sugar intake because you’re diabetic or are trying to lose weight, check with your doctor or dietitian.

11. Tart cherries

Tart cherries are a good source of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness, says Ryanne Lachman, a registered dietitian at the Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. Drinking tart cherry juice helped extend sleep time for people ages 50 and older who suffer from insomnia, according to a small study of eight people published in 2017 in the March/April volume of the American Journal of Therapeutics. While the study doesn’t show tart cherry juice is a treatment for insomnia, the results suggest it could be helpful in older adults. “Consider having a few splashes of tart cherry juice in seltzer water with dinner or a handful or two (of tart cherries) as an evening snack,” Lachman says.

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