Is it true that certain foods worsen anxiety and others have a calming effect?

Answers from Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D.

Coping with anxiety can be a challenge and often requires making lifestyle changes. There aren't any diet changes that can cure anxiety, but watching what you eat may help. Try these steps:

  • Eat a breakfast that includes some protein. Eating protein at breakfast can help you feel fuller longer and help keep your blood sugar steady so that you have more energy as you start your day.
  • Eat complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which has a calming effect. Eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains — for example, oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain breads and whole-grain cereals. Steer clear of foods that contain simple carbohydrates, such as sugary foods and drinks.
  • Drink plenty of water. Even mild dehydration can affect your mood.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol. The immediate effect of alcohol may be calming. But as alcohol is processed by your body, it can make you edgy. Alcohol can also interfere with sleep.
  • Limit or avoid caffeine. Avoid caffeinated beverages. They can make you feel jittery and nervous and can interfere with sleep.
  • Pay attention to food sensitivities. In some people, certain foods or food additives can cause unpleasant physical reactions. In certain people, these physical reactions may lead to shifts in mood, including irritability or anxiety.
  • Try to eat healthy, balanced meals. This is important for overall physical and mental health. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and don't overeat. It may also help to eat fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, on a regular basis.

Changes to your diet may make some difference to your general mood or sense of well-being, but they're not a substitute for treatment. If your anxiety is severe or interferes with your day-to-day activities or enjoyment of life, you may need counseling (psychotherapy), medication or other treatment.

Mar. 06, 2014