Some foods and beverages can help promote feelings of calm.
If you ever feel anxious, jittery or uneasy, you’re in good company. Overall, more than 40 million U.S. adults — a little more than 19% — suffer from an anxiety disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
According to NAMI, anxiety disorders include:
— General anxiety disorder.
— Social anxiety disorder.
— Panic disorder.
The Department of Health and Human Services adds obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder to that list.
Related conditions, according to NAMI, include:
— Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
— Eating disorders.
— Trouble sleeping.
The COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 700,000 lives in the U.S. has added to the anxieties of Americans. In May 2021, the American Psychiatric Association released a poll showing that 64% of Americans were anxious about loved ones catching the novel coronavirus. What’s more, 41% of Americans reported feeling more anxious than they did the previous year.
While no food or beverage is a silver bullet for anxiety or depression, what you consume can affect your level of calm.
Here are 10 foods and beverages that may help safeguard you from anxiety:
1. 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. Controlling for an array of factors, “raw fruit and vegetable intake predicted reduced depressive symptoms and higher positive mood, life satisfaction and flourishing,” researchers wrote.
Top raw foods associated with better mental health are:
— Dark leafy greens, like spinach.
— Kiwi fruit.
“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.
2. 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 in Ohio. “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.
3. 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.
Fermented foods include:
— Raw/unpasteurized apple cider vinegar.
“Keep in mind that cooking kills these mighty microbes,” Smith says.
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.
A study published in the journal Nutrients in 2019 suggests walnuts can help fight depression. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers analyzed walnut consumption and depression scores among 26,656 individuals. “Depression scores were significantly lower among nut consumers and particularly walnut consumers as compared to non-nut consumers,” researchers wrote. After controlling for potential independent variables, walnut consumers had scores significantly lower than people who did not eat nuts. “The difference was strongest among women, who are more likely than men to report higher depression scores.”
The study, by researchers with UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, was supported by the California Walnut Commission. In concurrence with UCLA policy, the commission’s support had no role in or influence on the findings of the researchers or the publication of the research, according to the author’s conflict of interest statement.
5. Foods high in vitamin C
Research suggests that consuming foods rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants can reduce symptoms of anxiety, Rahnama says. A meta-analysis published in 2020 in the journal BMC Psychiatry concludes “there is evidence suggesting that vitamin C deficiency is related to adverse mood and cognitive effects.”
Fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C include:
— Brussels sprouts.
— Green and red peppers.
— Kiwi fruit.
— Winter squash.
6. Whole grains
Whole-grain foods provide a raft of nutritional benefits that may promote feelings of calm. They provide plenty of fiber, which are important for your bowels to function, and are good sources of B vitamins.
Ways to incorporate more whole grains in your diet include:
— Breads made from whole wheat flour.
— Brown rice.
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.
7. 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 book “Eat to Sleep: What to Eat and When to Eat It for a Good Night’s Sleep — Every Night,” which was released in 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.
An article published in 2019 in the journal Nature notes that researchers have found that drinking tea lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. “And evidence of long-term health benefits is emerging, too: drinking at least (about half a cup) of green tea a day,” seems to lower the risk of developing depression and dementia, according to the article.
8. Different types of milk
Some research suggests that vitamin D is may be helpful in boosting mood and improving sleep, according to a review of literature published in February 2021 in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews. Some research suggests that vitamin D can help mitigate symptoms of depression, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
Milk can be a good source of vitamin D. In addition to cow’s milk, there are a wide array of plant-based milks that are fortified with vitamin D.
The array of milks to choose from include:
— Almond milk.
— Cow’s milk
— Cashew milk.
— Coconut milk.
— Lactose-free milk
— Oat milk.
— Pea milk.
Cow’s milk includes whole-fat, reduced-fat and no-fat options.
9. Dark chocolate
If you like dark chocolate, research published in 2019 in the journal Depression & Anxiety provides good news: The tasty treat “may be associated with reduced odds of clinically depressive symptoms.” Researchers surveyed 13,626 U.S. adults age 20 and older about their consumption of chocolate, including dark chocolate, and depressive symptoms. People who reported consuming dark chocolate had “significantly lower odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms,” researchers found. Eating non-dark chocolate didn’t suggest the same association with lower odds of depressive symptoms, researchers wrote.
Consuming dark chocolate therefore can promote feelings of calm without having to eat too much sugar, Rahnama says. If you have to watch your sugar intake because you’re diabetic or are trying to lose weight, check with a registered dietitian.
To recap, here are nine foods and beverages that may promote calm:
— Raw fruits and vegetables.
— Pumpkin and squash seeds.
— Fermented foods.
— Foods high in vitamin C.
— Whole grains.
— Peppermint tea.
— Different types of milk.
— Dark chocolate.
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Update 10/21/21: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.