Foods to Help Ease Anxiety & Stress

Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults, which is about 18% of the US adult population. Research suggests that nearly 30% of American adults will qualify for an anxiety disorder diagnosis at some point in their lives. Clients I see who are struggling with anxiety are often taking medications to manage it. Sometimes they either don’t like how they feel on medications or they want to address the underlying cause and eventually get off the medications.

Functional medicine acknowledges that the body is interconnected, so we have to address the underlying dysfunctions that give rise to conditions like anxiety. Here’s a list of foods that are used to address the common underlying dysfunctions that contribute to anxiety disorders.

  1. Oysters. Research has discovered in anxiety there is an imbalance of zinc to copper. This trace mineral ratio is responsible for proper neurotransmitter function and adaptation to stress. Increased copper and decreased zinc may lead to symptoms of anxiety. Oysters are packed with zinc. This superfood of the sea is a great way to balance the proper trace mineral ratio and your stress levels. It’s also important to note that foods like grains and legumes contain phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that can bind to zinc and block its absorption.
  2. Chamomile Tea. Sip on this natural anti-anxiety medicine for its natural calming effect. This soothing, mild tea was shown to significantly decrease anxiety symptoms in just a few weeks.
  3. Rooibos Tea. Rooibos, or African red bush tea, is a delicious way to bring a natural calm to your day. Researchers are looking into its effect on cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, and Rooibos tea seems to work by having a balancing effecton  this hormone.
  4. Full-Fat Kefir. In functional medicine, the gut is considered the “second brain” because it’s home to 95% of your “feel good” hormone serotonin. With more than 100 million neurons, your gut’s health is essential to manage anxiety. Bacterial imbalances in your gut can alter brain chemistry, and kefir, an ancient fermented dairy drink, could be the most powerful probiotic ever. It also has fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K2, all important for brain health.
  5. Turkey, You know that tired feeling people feel after Thanksgiving dinner? It’s actually from the tryptophan in the turkey. Tryptophan is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps you to feel calm. Tryptophan in the form of meat has been shown to reduce anxiety disorders.

    6. Turmeric.
    Curcuminoids, the antioxidants in turmeric, have a neuroprotective quality and help enhance your mood. It was shown in a randomized controlled trial to be an effective option for major depressive disorder, which is closely linked to anxiety disorders.
  6. Organ Meats. If you eat meat, organ meats are some of the best sources of nutrients needed to beat anxiety, like zinc and vitamin D. They also contain copious amounts of choline, needed for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Liver is also abundant in B vitamins, which are needed for methylation, a metabolic process in the body that is responsible for the proper synthesis of neurotransmitters that regulate mood.
  7. Avocados. This super fruit is great for brain health and anxiety. Avocados contain potassium which helps naturally lower blood pressure. They also contain beneficial B vitamins and monounsaturated fats that are needed for neurotransmitter and brain health.
    Note: Avoid Avocados and other potassium-rich foods if taking certain blood pressure medications that raise potassium levels.
  8. Dark Chocolate. Science has vindicated chocolate lovers everywhere. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology revealed that people who drank a dark chocolate drink, equal to about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate per day, felt calmer than those who did not. Chocolate products can be is full of fat, however, and even dark chocolate has sugar, so best to eat chocolate in occasional small amounts.
  9. Asparagus. This sulfur-rich vegetable also contains the specifically beneficial B vitamin, folic acid. Low levels of folic acid are linked to neurotransmitter impairment, which can lead to anxiety. A 5.3-ounce serving provides 60% of the recommended daily allowance for folic acid! It also contains moderate amounts of potassium, which can lower blood pressure. MD’s recommend avoiding Asparagus when taking blood pressure medications that raise potassium levels

    11. Adaptogenic Herbs.
    One common hormonal signaling pathway dysfunction anxious patients struggling with is the brain-adrenal axis. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is part of your sympathetic “flight-or-fight ” response and can play a role in adrenal fatigue, as do stress hormones, like free cortisol. Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, rhodiola (Golden Seal or Golden Root) and holy basil are some of the tools available to optimize brain-adrenal function in patients.
  10. Leafy Greens

Plant foods like Swiss chard and spinach are rich in magnesium, the natural “chill pill,” which also helps regulate the brain-adrenal axis. So when you struggle with stress and anxiety increase the greens!

  1. Fatty Meat

Inflammation is one factor when it comes to brain health and anxiety. Omega-3 fats have been shown to decrease anxiety and Omega-rich foods like Alaskan salmon and grass-fed beef can help decrease inflammation and help cortisol and adrenaline from spiking.

* Adapted from
by William Cole, D.C. Dr. Will Cole, leading functional medicine expert, graduated from Southern California
University of Health Sciences as a doctor of chiropractic. His extensive postdoctorate education and training is in
functional medicine and clinical nutrition. Dr. Cole consults people around the world via webcam and locally in

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