Top 16 foods that reduce anxiety and depression

A few years ago, I learned about foods that reduce anxiety and depression in the most random way, and it utterly changed my relationship with food. Since then, I have talked so much about Good Mood Food and the importance of your diet to relieve anxiety and depression than some of my followers thought I was a nutritionist (spoiler alert, I am not)!

How changing my diet has impacted my mental health

Until not so long ago, I only ever thought of food as a source of pleasure and comfort

I was born French after all! I loved my food. There were times in my life when I ate more than others. My weight fluctuated over the years for various reasons, needing to fill an emotional void or lack of interest.    

I didn’t know it at the time but the state of my diet was very much a reflection of the state my general wellbeing.

Everything changed when I accidentally got pregnant

Back when I was in Denmark I found myself pregnant at a very difficult time. I was very severely depressed. The state of my diet was a good reflection of that! It was mainly coffee, ready meals, cheese and chocolate biscuits. And red wine. Loads of red wine!

I was barely eating during the week, and binging mindlessly while watching Netflix at the weekend.   

When I got pregnant, the first thing I did was stop smoking immediately. My second action was to research what food I was supposed to avoid. And of my god! None of the food I was eating on a daily  was allowed! I had to completely change my diet from one day t. o the next.

Sadly, I lost my twins within the next 3 months, one after the other. But I was determined to look at the positive.

The lesson learned

What I had learned through this pregnancy was that, when it really mattered, I was able to look after myself. The pregnancy had forced to me to look at my entire lifestyle, not just my diet. But during those months the depression had lifted.  

And the link between lifestyle and mental health suddenly dawned on me. And having a better diet was a part of it. So when I came across The Happy Kitchen by Rachel Kelly and Alice Mackintosh, it all clicked together.  

So let’s dive in which foods reduce anxiety and depression and which food make it worse!  

Top 16 foods that reduce anxiety and depression

I got the following list from The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food – Joyful recipes to keep you calm, boost your energy and help you sleep by Rachel Kelly and Alice Mackintosh, who have researched the topic at length:

  1. Avocados
  2. Berries: blueberries, Goji berries, raspberries, strawberries
  3. Eggs
  4. Oily fish: mackerel, salmon, tuna
  5. Green vegs: broccoli, cavolo nero, kale, spinach, rocket, watercress, Edamame beans, broad beans, courgette, mange tout, peas,     
  6. Other vegs: Sauerkraut, Mushrooms, Sweet potato, aubergines, beetroot, butternut squash, peppers, red cabbage, tomatoes     
  7. Nuts and seeds (almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chia seeds, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, hempseed, flaxseed)
  8. Prawns and crab fish
  9. Raw cacao powder, dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
  10. Certain grains: quinoa, brown rice, wholegrain pasta, spelt pasta  
  11. Oats and oatcakes
  12. Certain spices: turmeric, saffron, cinnamon, chillies, cayenne pepper, ginger    
  13. Fresh herbs, such as coriander, parsley, mint…  
  14. Fruits: bananas, coconut, lemons  
  15. Certain meat: chicken (skin on!), beef (lean cuts), chicken liver
  16. Pulses: chickpeas, Puy lentils,

I would summarise this list like this:

  • Up your fruits and green vegs intake  
  • Spice things up
  • Go white or lean on the meat
  • Not all grains are equal

Top 23 foods that increases anxiety and depression

  1. Alcohol
  2. Coffee
  3. Black tea
  4. Diet drinks
  5. Energy drinks
  6. Fizzy drinks
  7. Low-fat diet snacks
  8. Cereal bars
  9. Pasties and sausage rolls
  10. Pastries
  11. Refined white sugar   
  12. Biscuits
  13. Canned soups
  14. Ready meals
  15. Crips
  16. Processed food
  17. Fruit juices (prepacked)
  18. Mayonnaise and other dressings
  19. Milk and white chocolate
  20. Fatty meats: pork, saussages, bacon  
  21. White refined grains (pasta, rice, couscous)
  22. White bread and bread products
  23. Sauces in jars
  24. Processed meats
  25. Sweetened and processed breakfast cereals  
If you are enjoying this article, you might enjoy this one too:  About The Link Between Addiction Recovery And Mental Health

I would summarise this list like this:

  • Drink water and keep anything else to special occasions
  • Avoid processed food – if you need to read the label to know what you are eating, leave it alone  
  • Opt for brown and wholemeal rather than white
  • If it comes in a package, properly not ideal

How to adjust your diet in a sustainable way  

Checking-in

Read the lists above and think about where you stand today. Maybe print this article and circle or highlight the food that you are currently eating.

  • Is it balanced?  
  • What good mood food are you already eating?
  • What low mood food you are having too much of?

Small changes are more sustainable

Unless you have an urgent reason to radically change your diet today (like I did!), it is best to make minor changes rather than big changes. This is because you are more likely to keep up a small tweak than a full overhaul!

Food is an amazing tool for better health, physical and mental, but it is also a source of pleasure and so balance is key.

So the question is: what small tweak to your diet could you make today towards a diet that will reduce anxiety and depression?

Long term game

It takes around 3 weeks to set in a new habit (when it is a daily one) so patience is key. Make one small change and when you feel comfortable that this is now a habit, you can tackle the next small change.

Before you know you will have made a major shift.  

Top 16 foods that reduce anxiety and depression and how to incorporate them into your diet – key take aways

  1. Awareness of the effect of certain food over your mental health is the first step
    • Up your fruits and green vegs intake  
    • Spice things up
    • Go white or lean on the meat
    • Drink water and keep anything else to special occasions
    • Avoid processed food – if you need to read the label to know what you are eating, leave it alone  
    • Opt for brown and wholemeal rather than white
    • If it comes in a package, properly not ideal
  2. Where are you today?
  3. Start small to make any change last

Try these simple hacks and let me know how you get on

Have you noticed the impact of food on your anxiety or depression? What has worked well for you? I’d love to hear your stories. Let me know in the comments.

Further resources

How food impacts your mood using Good Mood Food

Interview with Cath Brown expert on emotional eating

This article is part of the “Food as Fuel for Happiness” Blog carnival organised by Warm Wellness. I personally love Angela’s blog. My favourite article on her blog is “Top 10 Tips To Boost Your Immunity”.

And remember, happiness is a choice, and you are in charge!

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6 thoughts on “Top 16 foods that reduce anxiety and depression”

  1. Really interesting topic, that not everyone is considering. And yet, food can make such a big difference on how we feel ! On my side, increasing drinking water and eating more green vegs and nuts has been very helpful to fight the anxiety.
    Thank you very much in opening the mind with these precious advices ! 🙂

    Reply
    • Aww! Thank you for your comment Sylvain. You are absolutely correct. Increasing our intake our water, greens and nuts can do wonders for our mental health. It’s great to hear it has worked for you 🙂

      Reply
  2. I love your article that puts things into perspective and opens our eyes in order to be aware of our food choices. I like to say that for any change it is best to look first for the smallest change that will bring the greatest result … and of course hold it for 21 days for it to be engraved into a new habit … then move to the next smallest change that will bring the greatest result … and so on and so on 😉

    Reply
  3. Thank you for the article. The information is a really big help fir me to assist my husband to reduce and manage his anxiety

    Reply
    • Thank you for your comment Landi! I am so pleased to hear that this is helpful. Wishing you and your husband all the best.

      Reply

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