Which Foods Combat Depression, Stress, and Anxiety?
Good foods for depression, stress and anxiety can be elusive at times. If you’ve found yourself craving certain foods when you want to combat depression, stress, and anxiety, you’re in good company. It’s part of human nature to turn to food when our mental health isn’t in top shape. When we’re feeling stressed, anxious, and/or depressed, we gravitate toward food, and we do it for good reason. Food affects the brain and mental health. The brain and the body, in general, need specific foods to function well. When our mental health is suffering, we want to eat; unfortunately, however, many of the comfort foods we crave aren’t the best foods for depression, anxiety, and stress.
Foods for Depression and Stress: What’s Wrong with Comfort Foods?
Depression, anxiety, and stress have many symptoms. This partial list highlights some of the most bothersome:
- Deep fatigue and an almost complete lack of energy to do anything
- Emotional discomfort (crushing sadness, worry, irritability, mood swings, self-doubt, etc.)
- Tension (physical and mental)
- Negative thoughts
To deal with these miserable things, people often gravitate toward junk foods like ice cream, other processed desserts, and sweets, simple carbohydrates like refined pasta, saturated fats, salty chips, and more. Gooey mac and cheese, anyone? These foods do make us feel better because of the simple pleasure of eating these things as well as the surge of energy that comes with them.
Unfortunately, these aren’t foods that combat depression. The energy spike that comes with refined foods and sugars is temporary. We experience a brief increase in energy accompanied by improved emotional symptoms thanks to an increase in the production of serotonin. However, these burn through our system quickly, and we crash. We feel worse, so we seek out comfort foods. Spike. Crash. Repeat. And depression, anxiety, and stress don’t get better. Refined foods are not part of a good diet plan for depression.
Putting food into the body to power the brain is a great idea. We just must break the cycle of eat-spike-crash-repeat by replacing the junk foods that work against the brain with foods that supply the brain with what it needs to do its job. Replacing sugars, for example, is smart because one of the harmful things refined sugar does is decrease our brain’s supply of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This decrease has been implicated in the development of depression and anxiety. The good news is that there are foods that combat depression, anxiety, and stress by supporting the brain and body.
How Foods Work to Combat Depression, Anxiety, and Stress
Knowing why the foods for depression and stress work can help you choose these foods over the sugary, salty, processed stuff. Healthy foods for depression:
- Increase serotonin levels
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter used in the brain, and too little leads to depression and other mental health problems. It’s made in the gut and in the brain, and certain proteins and amino acids (particularly tryptophan) are what manufacture serotonin.
- Increase positive emotions and decreases negative ones, largely through serotonin production
- Increase; blood flow to the brain
- Decrease cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones
- Decrease blood pressure, necessary to help stress and anxiety
- Boost the immune system to keep you feeling well and the body functioning properly
The Real Comfort Foods for Depression and Stress
The foods that combat depression, anxiety, and stress are the real comfort foods. These are the ones that take a while to digest so they can stay in the system to allow the brain to produce a steady supply of serotonin. They’re the ones that provide what the brain needs to function at its optimal level.
Look for complex carbohydrates, proteins, foods with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins (seek out B vitamins and antioxidants), and minerals (especially calcium, magnesium, and selenium). These are just some of the foods to eat for depression and anxiety:
- Whole-grain breads, pastas, cereals like oatmeal, etc.
- Turkey and other lean meats
- Vegetables (spinach and other dark green veggies are excellent but not the only vegetables that boost the brain)
- Nuts (walnuts, almonds, and pistachios are notable depression-fighters)
- Yogurt with probiotics
With the awareness of foods that combat depression, stress, and anxiety, you’re on your way to increased mental health and wellbeing. You can re-create your own comfort foods to help you feel better long-term.
This happy story has an even happier ending. There’s another food that research has shown to be excellent for depression and anxiety: dark chocolate, thanks to its flavonols (a type of antioxidant). Eating about 40g a day (approximately 1.5 ounces) of 74% cacao or higher:
- Increases blood flow to the brain, which improves our ability to handle stress and anxiety
- Decreases the stress hormones cortisol and catecholamines
- Increases serotonin
And, of course, the pleasure of eating dark chocolate decreases depression, anxiety, and stress. So have some dark chocolate with your turkey and spinach salad, and enjoy mental health.
Peterson, T. (2021, December 30). Which Foods Combat Depression, Stress, and Anxiety?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, October 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/food-and-depression/which-foods-combat-depression-stress-and-anxiety