5 Reasons Why Eating Well Can Help You Deal with Anxiety

Deal with Anxiety

A healthy/ balanced diet featuring macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and polyunsaturated fats) is essential for physiological health. Additionally, one mental health review established a correlation between a good quality diet and a lower risk of mental health, particularly anxiety.

Anxiety is the most prevalent mental health disorder, with one World Health Organization (WHO) report showing that 3.6% of the world’s population (264 million people) suffers from anxiety. While acute (normal-level) anxiety is acceptable, chronic anxiety is the pathogenesis for various diseases.

Fortunately, multiple anxiety coping mechanisms are available, including dietary adjustments. Below are reasons why eating better helps you cope with anxiety.

Diet Microbiota Composition Influences Stress Levels

One critical link between diet and mental health is the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system links the central nervous system and the gut or digestive tract via the vagus nerve.  

Deal with Anxiety

source: pinterest.com

According to one literature review, the autonomic nervous system is among the major stress-activated neuronal pathways. Therefore, the gastrointestinal nerves linking the digestive tract to the brain endure stress during a fight-or-flight response. However, one study established that microbiota (gut bacteria) composition and volume modulate the stress response via the gut-brain communication system.

The randomized control study entailed administering a psychobiotic diet to 45 adults over four weeks. A psychobiotic diet features prebiotic and fermented foods, including soy-based options like Miso, Natto, and Gochujang. You can check out U.S. soy news for more contemporary fermented soy food options, like soy cheeses and yogurt.

Back to the study, the researchers performed a fecal microbiota composition test and administered a stress perception test. The results showed that a psychobiotic diet lowered stress perception among the participants who consumed the diet by up to 32%, whereas there were no changes in the control group.

Moreover, a literature review on stress, depression, and gut microbiota highlights that gut microbiota composition influences human behavior, including reactivity and mood. The review also highlighted a study whereby neuroimaging tracked a brain activation pattern from the gut during exposure to stress stimuli. The brain sensation lowered after a month of participants taking fermented milk products. 

Therefore, the review concluded that microbiota is part of the stress response and that psychobiotic foods help restore autonomic system function. So, dietary intervention via a psychobiotic diet can help manage anxiety symptoms.

Carbohydrates Elevate Serotonin Levels

Deal with Anxiety

source: pinterest.com

Anxiety’s primary cause is chemical imbalances in the brain and body triggered by a stress response. The stress response (fight-or-flight) dates back to early man and his reaction to apparent stressful stimuli in his environment, e.g., predators. However, the stress triggers today include pressure from big life decisions, responsibilities, and other situations beyond one’s control.

The stress response signals the brain to release cortisol, the primary stress hormone, to generate the energy necessary to handle a stressful situation. However, cortisol overproduction elevates stress to anxiety or a persistent state of agitation and worry in the absence of apparent stimuli.

Second, elevated cortisol levels cause a decrease in the expression of hormones and the release of neurotransmitters that induce calmness, including serotonin. However, dietary interventions can help regulate cortisol levels among anxiety patients and sustain the hormonal balance necessary for a calm mind. 

According to one study, an increase in carbohydrate intake increases serotonin uptake (release into the circulatory and central nervous systems. The study above entailed measuring participants’ saliva for cortisol during eight weeks of consuming a carb-high diet, and researchers noted a decrease in cortisol levels and responsiveness. Moreover, they noticed an increase in serotonin.

Serotonin, or the “happy” hormone, is a neurotransmitter that induces feelings of calm, happiness, and stability. Therefore, an increase in carbohydrate intake quells anxiety.

However, carbohydrate sources vary in quality. While complex starches like root vegetables are healthy options, sugar-rich and highly-processed carbs are more likely to trigger emotional eating.


Deal with Anxiety

source: pinterest.com

Besides eating a healthy, balanced diet, keeping your body hydrated is crucial to keeping stress at bay. The recommended dietary intake (RDI) for water in a healthy individual is approximately 12 cups, although factors like body weight and the environment can dictate drinking more water.

According to one study, mild dehydration causes an increase in salivary cortisol levels. The researchers established the cortisol spike while testing team members before and after dehydration by a soccer match. They concluded that hydration plays a modulatory role in the cortisol hormone.

You can supplement your water intake by taking fruits, juices, smoothies, and leafy vegetables with a high-water content. However, avoid alcohol, coffee, and other dehydrating beverages.

Skipping Meals Causes Stress

Besides eating healthy meals, eating appropriate portions at the right time is essential for a healthy diet. One cross-sectional analysis of economic hardship and anxiety, and depression showed that skipping meals increased the odds of individuals developing stress and anxiety, regardless of their demographics. 

Skipping meals causes blood sugar to plummet, triggering agitation and other anxiety symptoms. Moreover, skipping meals habitually elevates cortisol levels and can cause metabolic malfunction, leading to diseases like obesity, which also triggers stress. 

Therefore, eating regular meals can help counter anxiety. Individuals with poor appetite can split regular meals daily to avoid skipping meals.

Minerals Lower Cortisol Levels

Deal with Anxiety

source: pinterest.com

Besides the macronutrients you consume in a healthy diet, some micronutrients have useful properties that help counter stress by modulating cortisol levels. For example, one study shows that daily magnesium supplementation lowers cortisol serum levels.

Additionally, a second study established that zinc temporarily inhibits cortisol secretion, creating homeostasis. Therefore, consider mineral supplementation or increased dietary intake to curb stress and anxiety.


Besides keeping you physically healthy, eating a balanced diet has the added advantage of protecting you from mental illnesses like anxiety. Therefore, consider making the recommended dietary adjustments to live a calmer anxiety-free life.

Recommended Articles