Foods That Help with Anxiety: 10 Recipes Containing Anxiety-Busting Ingredients
Published on November 1, 2021
Last updated November 5, 2021
By Jess Novak
Can you actually eat your way out of an anxiety loop? We’ve certainly tried in the past — but we approached it all wrong before. When we’re feeling anxious, it’s really easy to reach for crunchy, fried snacks and sweet treats that provide a momentary sense of relief. But the truth is, these processed foods always end up making us feel worse in the long run. As it turns out, there really are foods out there that can help lower your anxiety levels.
“Certain spices and herbs can help modulate neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which can lower anxiety,” says Deepa Verma, M.D., founder of Synergistiq Wellness. “And some foods contain essential amino acids and minerals that promote a sense of calmness due to balancing the neurotransmitters and enhancing the gut-brain connection.”
A few of Dr. Verma’s favorite ingredients for anxiety-busting effects? Salmon, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate — all of which are featured among these 10 tasty, anxiety-taming recipes.
Fatty fish like wild-caught salmon contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce anxiety. This baked salmon looks super fancy, but if you can turn on an oven and fold a piece of paper, we swear that you are capable of making it. Cooking in parchment paper packets also means a super-easy cleanup in addition to beautifully concentrated flavors.
Diets low in magnesium have been found to increase anxiety-related behaviors. If you’re feeling anxious, consider adding leafy greens like Swiss chard and spinach to your diet, since they’re great sources of magnesium — and delicious when paired with garlic, to boot. This Swiss chard recipe is a hearty side dish, but could easily become a full meal when served with steamed wild rice. (And it would be absolutely perfect with a poached egg on top, too.)
We love all the spices in this easy grilled chicken dish, but if you don’t have every single one of them, don’t sweat it; this recipe is very forgiving (and would also be great with a bunch of oregano). In addition to being an exceptionally tasty dinner, the yogurt sauce serves another purpose: the probiotics found in Greek yogurt have been shown to help folks cope with stress. (Make some extra dip for later — it’s great with vegetables, too.)
Eggs are a great source of choline, a nutrient that when found in lower levels in the body has been linked to increased anxiety. Paired with fermented foods like kimchi (that have been shown to reduce stress levels), these Kimchi Deviled Eggs give you a tasty snack or appetizer that’s also seriously anxiety-busting. For a protein boost (plus added probiotics!) substitute half the mayo for Greek yogurt.
An excellent source of potassium and zinc, pumpkin seeds are also packed full of tryptophan, which has been shown to decrease feelings of anxiety. While tilapia is used in this recipe, it would also be great with any other mild fish or chicken breast. And no matter what protein you opt for, it would be excellent paired with some simple, roasted vegetables.
Studies show there’s a link between probiotic foods and lowering social anxiety. Eating probiotic-rich foods like pickles, kimchi, and kefir have been linked with fewer anxiety symptoms.
“The way I incorporate probiotic-rich foods into my diet is by consuming miso, tempeh, kombucha, and sauerkraut,” Dr. Verma says.
Here’s the thing: Live probiotic cultures are destroyed at around 115°F, meaning that fermented foods shouldn’t be heated past that if you want to preserve their nutritional value. That’s where this “stir raw” comes in — unlike a classic stir fry, the raw vegetables here are tossed in dressing and then set out at room temperature for an hour to marinate.
7. Cashew Pesto
Foods rich in zinc, like oysters, beef, and cashews have been linked to lowered anxiety. This rich, flavorful cashew pesto would be delicious mixed into zucchini noodles, painted on top of chicken thighs before baking, or drizzled over grilled flank steak — and that last idea would also give you a double hit of zinc.
Chocolate can be anxiety-busting for a variety of reasons — but most of the chocolate you’ll find at the grocery store is packed with sugar and low-quality dairy which sort of defeats the purpose. These plant-based chocolate truffles are a much better choice: creamy, rich, delicious, and protein-packed.
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“Chocolate, specifically dark chocolate — look for 70% cacao or more — is a great source of flavonoids, magnesium, and tryptophan, all of which have been shown to reduce anxiety and stress,” Dr. Verma says. “Flavonoids lower brain inflammation, and magnesium and tryptophan promote a sense of calmness.”
These gluten-free, plant-based lavender lemon cookies are an adorable, healthy treat. Lavender has been shown in multiple studies to help promote a sense of calm and well-being. Baking these will release the scent of lavender into your kitchen, which may make you feel calmer (and will definitely make your kitchen smell absolutely lovely).
10. Turmeric Tea
“Turmeric is an ancient Ayurvedic spice, and a staple in Indian cooking,” Dr. Verma says. “Curcumin is the bioactive form of the turmeric root, and it confers numerous benefits for your brain — including anxiety reduction. I use turmeric in several ways throughout my day, starting off with a combination of warm lemon water, turmeric, and black cumin.” For an easy variation on Dr. Verma’s theme, check out this Turmeric Tea recipe (and consider throwing a little sliced ginger root in there for extra flavor).
Jess Novak is the Head of Content and Audience Development for Clean Plates. She’s obsessed with making meals that taste like they’re not healthy but secretly really are. You can follow her on Instagram @jtothenovak.
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