It's not uncommon to struggle with anxiety and depression. In fact, researchers estimate that around 280 million people worldwide are affected by depression, making it one of the most common mental disorders in the world.
Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults — that's 18% of our population!
Yet many people suffering from these mood disorders are unaware of the connection between food and mental health.
What you eat has a profound effect on your gut microbiome, which in turn affects your brain chemistry, mood, and overall feelings of well-being.
A healthy gut microbiome helps to maintain a strong blood-brain barrier (BBB) that protects your brain from toxins and pathogens. It also produces neurotransmitters that regulate brain function, such as dopamine (the feel-good chemical), serotonin (regulates emotions and well-being), and GABA (which regulates stress). There are a few ways you can improve your gut health, such as:
Start by taking medication or supplements that contain real vitamins offering beneficial results to the body by feeding your microorganisms, so they're less likely to cause problems and more likely to help you feel healthy and happy.
Eating more fiber is the easiest and best way to improve the health of your gut microbiome. Fiber helps keep you regular, which helps to feed the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Eating foods rich in probiotics can help improve the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, which may help your digestion. Sources of probiotics include kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir (a fermented milk drink), tempeh, and yogurt.
Reducing stress levels through relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation.
Let's also take a look at a few powerful foods that can help combat anxiety and depression:
This juicy fruit is packed full of vitamins A, B6, and C, as well as potassium, which is important for maintaining a healthy nervous system. It’s also a great source of lycopene and beta-carotene. Watermelons are best eaten raw or juiced or can be added to smoothies. The water in the melon will help you stay hydrated, which is essential for combating anxiety and depression.
2. Fatty Fish
An essential omega-3 fatty acid called DHA helps keep your brain cells healthy, and it also plays a role in controlling serotonin, the mood-boosting neurotransmitter. Experts recommend eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week to maximize these benefits. Good sources include salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, and sardines.
Did you know that eggs contain nutrients that help fight against depression? Eggs contain an amino acid called tryptophan which helps produce serotonin. Serotonin is also known as the happy neurotransmitter which helps regulate your sleep cycle, boosts mood, improves memory, and reduces depression.
4. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate has been shown to lower stress hormones in the body by decreasing levels of cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). When our stress hormone levels are lowered, we feel less stressed out. Dark chocolate also has the ability to increase serotonin, which elevates moods.
Spinach is rich in magnesium, which helps boost moods by improving nerve and muscle functions. Magnesium has been shown to help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety by increasing GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps inhibit nerve impulses in the brain that lead to feelings of fear and anxiety by calming down overactive nerves. This neurotransmitter also contributes to feelings of relaxation; therefore calming a racing mind or helping you fall asleep better at night.
6. Raw Nuts & Seeds
High in magnesium, which promotes relaxation and decreases anxiety, raw nuts and seeds make a great snack or topping on salads or soups. Pumpkin seeds, almonds, and cashews are great sources of magnesium. Avocados are another excellent source of magnesium (as well as potassium), but be careful with portion sizes (one half or less per day).
This bright yellow spice is common in Indian cooking and is often touted for its anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to boost levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) in the brain — a chemical that can actually reverse damage and age-related brain decline.
8. Green Tea
Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that is thought to promote relaxation by reducing cortisol levels and increasing dopamine and GABA activity in the brain. While green tea is available in supplement form, you may want to stick with the brewed beverage for now because the effects of L-theanine are not yet known at high doses.
Seaweed is a very powerful food. It’s high in calcium and magnesium, which are two of the most important nutrients for treating anxiety and depression. Calcium deficiency is linked to anxiety and panic attacks, as well as depression. Magnesium deficiency has also been linked to anxiety and depression. The reason why seaweed is such a great way to improve your levels of magnesium and calcium is that it doesn’t have any oxalates or phytates, which are two substances that block the absorption of these minerals.
Anxiety and depression can feel overwhelming, but there are some natural methods for dealing with them. Prevention is key, so if you're feeling anxious or depressed, try these 8 foods to help deal with your anxiety and depression.