The word diet is off-putting for many Canadians. Diets often involve severe restrictions with fewer benefits than promised. And once your starving body forces you to stop or ‘cheat’, the rewards disappear.   

  • An Anti-Anxiety Diet is a sensible start to reducing anxiety levels 
  • Inflammatory foods are linked to increased anxiety levels.  
  • Follow a Mediterranean style food intake for lower cortisol levels.  
  • 95% of your serotonin receptors are in your gut.  

Sometimes though, the pain is worth the gain. In the case of people who are seeking relief from anxiety, a change to the diet can have dramatically positive results. For example, in 2018 dietician Ali Miller created an official Anti-Anxiety Diet Plan, resulting in noticeably positive changes in anxiety levels experienced by many even with some of the dietary modifications suggested.   

“Anxiety and other mental illnesses are metabolic diseases as much as they are psychological.”

Nicholas G Norwitz Ph.D. and Uma Naidoo M.D., Harvard Medical School

Because Miller’s plan induces ketosis, a state where the body begins burning its stored fat for energy rather than sugars which are less accessible, the flu-like symptoms that often follow can make it a rough start. For many, a more realistic approach is to simply start adjusting your current intake and sticking to it, rather than tackling the full-on diet.   

The anti-anxiety diet can be a helpful tool in accompanying other treatments or it can be the first step in managing anxiety symptoms.  

Quinoa salad with vegetables and leafy greens
Photo courtesy of Marco Verch

Nutritional Psychiatry  

According to Harvard Medical School, 95% of your serotonin receptors actually aren’t in your brain; they’re in your gut.   

Nutritional psychiatry is in its early stages, but research is promising. Studies support the idea that certain foods can increase or decrease your experience of anxiety.   

The goal of this diet is to reset your gut microbiome. This works towards repairing your gastrointestinal tract and balancing your micronutrients and neurotransmitters.   

Ultimately, the diet is meant to create a stronger feeling of calmness and of being grounded.   

The anti-anxiety diet means cutting down on processed foods and sugars, inflammatory foods, and fried foods. This includes gluten, corn, soy, sugar, dairy, and French fries.   

“Fried food consumption, especially fried potatoes, is linked to an increased risk of anxiety and depression.”

Annie Lennon, Medical News Today

The Effects of Inflammatory Foods  

Cutting out inflammatory foods is an important step in the process because “chronic inflammation is a feature of … anxiety,” according to a research paper published by Nicholas Norwitz and Uma Naidoo of Harvard Medical School. The pair concluded that inflammatory foods can also further neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain – something the diet attempts to fix.  

Pro-inflammatory diets can be harmful to long-term well-being. Registered dietitian Katherine McManus published a study reporting that people who followed a pro-inflammatory diet had a 38% higher risk of cardiovascular disease and poor cholesterol levels.   

McManus lists pro-inflammatory foods as “red meat, processed meat, and organ meat; refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, and many desserts; and sweetened beverages including colas and sports drinks.”  

Inflammation also increases cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and contributes to anxiety symptoms.  

A recommendation by the Cleveland Clinic is to think of a Mediterranean style food intake, which inherently reduces cortisol.  

The Anti-Anxiety Diet  

To follow this diet, it is recommended that one introduce the following foods to their meals:  

A bowl of oatmeal with strawberries, blueberries, and almonds.
Photo courtesy of Marco Verch

Grains  

  • Oatmeal  
  • Quinoa  
  • Whole grain bread and cereal   

Magnesium rich  

  • Leafy greens  
  • Legumes and nuts  
  • Seeds  
  • Whole grains  
Oysters filled with spring onion salsa
Photo courtesy of Marco Verch

Zinc rich  

  • Oysters  
  • Cashews  
  • Liver  
  • Beef  
  • Egg yolks  

Probiotic  

  • Pickles  
  • Sauerkraut  
  • Kefir  
Four slices of avocado toast with different toppings: chickpeas, tomatoes, strawberries, and egg.
Photo courtesy of Marco Verch

Vitamin B  

  • Avocado  
  • Almonds 

Antioxidants  

  • Beans
  • Fruits  
  • Berries  
  • Nuts  
  • Vegetables  

Omega-3 Fatty Acid  

  • Fish  
  • Chia seeds  
  • Olive oil  
  • Walnuts  
  • Flax seeds  

Managing Anxiety Dieting Long-Term  

Finding seasonal foods can often be a challenge. An option for out of season ingredients or cheaper grocery bills is to use flash-frozen foods. While normal freezing can reduce the nutrients found in these items, flash freezing does not, according to Mayo Clinic.   

And for those who absolutely need a French Fry fix every now and then, consider investing in an air fryer for a healthier but still delicious option.  

The anti-anxiety diet is an important health cornerstone for anyone seeking to manage symptoms of anxiety. As a stand-alone strategy it can work for some people, and for those who elect to leverage other, or multiple therapies, an anti-anxiety diet can create an environment that will result in a more promising long-term outcome.   

Miller wrote the book ‘The Anti-Anxiety Diet’ and hosts a podcast on the topic as well. Her website and podcast can be a helpful resources in learning how to successfully follow the diet long term.   

Learn more about anxiety treatment options in Canada by reading The Health Insider’s article: Anxiety Therapy 101: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Your Options.

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