Foods That Can Help Anxiety & Depression

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People rarely equate negative moods with diet. However, what a person eats and when certain foods are eaten play significant roles in mood regulation in terms of anxiety and depression. For this reason it is not unusual for people to turn to comfort or junk foods when feeling down or out of sorts.

Special Protein-Rich Foods

While protein-rich foods are necessary for body functions that include cellular growth, reproduction and repair, some proteins are more likely to affect mood. These foods have an abundance of the amino acid tryptophan. The chemical compound is necessary for conversion into serotonin, which is responsible for regulating mood, awake and sleep cycles. Consume a serving of the following tryptophan sources two to three times everyday:

• Beans, legumes and soy foods
• Poultry
• Fish
• Low-fat cheeses, milk or yogurt

Smart Carbs

Although proteins supply tryptophan, other amino acids and chemical compounds take precedence when it comes to making the journey to the brain. Tryptophan may be plentiful but is of no use if not able to complete the trip. However, carbohydrate consumption stimulates insulin release. The pancreatic hormone has the responsibility of ensuring that sugars and other compounds enter cells located throughout the body. Fortunately, insulin does not affect tryptophan, which leaves the amino acid with a clearer path through the blood brain barrier and into the brain. Hence, this is why comfort foods make us feel better. Certain meals and snacks should only feature complex smart carbs. These options include fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Vitamin D

A study performed in 2010 found that people suffering from a deficiency in vitamin D were more likely to experience depression symptoms. Scientists from the University of Toronto also found that volunteers diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder had fewer symptoms when increasing their vitamin D levels. Exposing the skin to 15 minutes of sun around the noon day hour enables the body to manufacture sufficient levels of the vitamin. Alternative sources include dairy products, fortified cereals and vitamin supplements.


Research studies also indicate that low selenium levels lead to anxiety or depression. Considering the foods that contain adequate levels of the mineral, getting and keeping a sufficient source of selenium is not difficult. The many food choices include:

• Beans and legumes
• Lean beef and pork
• Skinless poultry
• Nuts and seeds
• Shellfish and fish
• Whole grains alone or in breads, cereals or pastas

Foods to Avoid

Caffeine boosts adrenaline levels, which can lead to anxiety or panic attacks. Sugar causes dramatic spikes and subsequent drops in blood sugar levels, which also lead to an increased risk of anxiety. Alcohol is another culprit that causes mood alterations when inebriation occurs. Alcohol also converts to sugar.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "Foods That Can Help Anxiety & Depression," in, March 6, 2016, (accessed March 22, 2023).