Here’s How Your Diet Can Help Manage Anxiety

According to science chowing down on these foods has key benefits for your mental health, and helps to control social anxiety.

yogurt and berries

If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, medication and cognitive behavioural therapy aren’t the only ways to manage it. Nope, researchers at the University of Maryland and The College Of William & Mary in Virginia, have found that what you put into your stomach plays a major role in controlling anxiety. And it’s probiotics, found in fermented food likes yoghurt, soy milk and dark chocolates that have the most impact for controlling your levels of stress and worry.

The science bit? Probiotics promote the production of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which has a similar effect to anti-anxiety medication.

“You might not think it but your digestive system is interconnected with a number of systems in the body,” explains nutritionist Lyda Borgsteijn from the Irish Institute Of Nutrition And Health.

“The greatest concentration of serotonin which is involved in mood control, depression and aggression, is found in your intestines,” she explains. This means it’s essential you look after your gut health to care for your mental health.

So how can you change your diet to help lessen social anxiety and improve your mental health? Lyda offers these six tips for keeping both your gut in balance, and your anxiety levels in check.

Avoid processed foods

“If you eat a lot of sugar, refined grains and processed food, your gut bacteria are going to be compromised because processed foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and feed bad bacteria and yeast,” explains Lyda. The alternative? A healthy mix of fresh, unprocessed foods are the way to go to keep gut bacteria balanced.

Eat traditionally fermented, unpasteurised foods

“Fermented foods are the best route to optimal digestive health, as long as you eat the traditionally made, unpasteurised versions,” says Lyda. That means you can eat your fill of the following: Fermented vegetables (saurkraut, kimchi), Lassi (an Indian yoghurt drink), fermented milk, such as kefir, Natto (fermented soy).

Aim for food variety

“To get a variety of probiotics, you want to try to expose yourself to colorful fruits and veggies, fermentable fibers, and healthy fats,” Lyda recommends.

Avoid antibiotics if possible

“Antibiotics tend to wipe out everything, good and bad,” Lyda explains. Her advice? “If you’re following a strong course of antibiotics, consider taking a probiotic to help re-inoculate the gut.”

Eat a fibre–rich, whole food diet

The rule? “Your diet should be rich in beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, all of which feed good bugs.”