12 Best Foods to Reduce Anxiety and Stress Naturally

12 Best Foods to Reduce Anxiety and Stress Naturally

Are you wondering:

What are some foods that can help reduce anxiety?

Are there specific nutrients or vitamins that can help relieve stress?

Can incorporating certain foods into my diet help control anxiety symptoms and manage stress levels?

Anxiety and stress are common issues that many people face on a daily basis. 

The good news is that diet changes can positively impact your mental well-being. Whether you are dealing with an anxiety disorder, PTSD, panic, or general anxious feelings, incorporating specific foods into your diet can have a profound impact on reducing anxiety and stress naturally. 

In this article, I'll give you the top 12 research-based foods for anxiety relief that I discovered while writing my book Feed Your Calm: Anti-Anxiety Anti-Stress Diet and Supplement Tips for Stress Resilience


What's in This Post

 What Vitamins, Minerals, Antioxidants and Other Nutrients Help Anxiety?
 What Foods Can Relieve Anxiety Symptoms?
 1. Drink Water to Help Anxiety
 2. Eating Wild-Caught Salmon, Sardines, and Herring for Anxiety Relief  
 3. Oysters are a Food that May Help with Anxiety
 4. Pasture-Raised Eggs are Among Foods that Can Help Calm Anxiety 
 5. Eating Poultry, Beef, Pork and Other Meats can Boost Stress-Resilience
 6. Sprouted Lentils and Beans to Reduce Anxiety
 7. Include Cruciferous Vegetables in Your Anti-Anxiety Diet
 8. Sweet Peppers are a Group of Foods that Can Help with Anxiety and Stress
 9. How Including Fermented Foods in Your Diet Can Help Relieve Anxiety
 10. Eating Seaweed May Reduce Your Anxiety and Boost Stress Resilience
 11. Berries and Cherries are Great Anti-Anxiety Foods
 12. Sprouted Rice and Quinoa: Anti-Anxiety Foods
 Anxiety Diet Book and Other Anxiety Resources


Disclaimer: This post is NOT intended as medical advice. It is always advised to seek input from personal medical professionals.  


What Vitamins, Minerals, Antioxidants, and Other Nutrients Help Anxiety?

Your body needs things from you so that it can function at its optimum. It needs nutrients for millions of reactions that keep you going and help you deal with stress. It needs proteins, minerals, vitamins, healthy fats, other supportive nutrients, and good-for-you gut bacteria.

Here are the eight elements we are looking for in foods that feed your calm and relieve anxiety symptoms by supporting your body’s response to stress:

  1. Magnesium
  2. Zinc
  3. B vitamins
  4. Vitamin C
  5. Vitamin D
  6. Omega-3 fatty acids: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  7. Protein amino acids (especially complete protein, and tryptophan and glycine)
  8. Probiotics

In this post, for each of my Best 12 Foods to Reduce Anxiety Naturally, I'll include which of the anti-anxiety nutrients are prevalent in the particular food so you can see why it made the list. 


You may have heard that antioxidants can help relieve symptoms of anxiety and boost ability to deal with stress. Anti-oxidants assist your body deal with oxidative stress created by free radicals from the environment and your body's chemical reaction leftovers.

Vitamins C and D are examples of antioxidants. Other antioxidants (i.e., anthocyanins and carotenoids) are present in some of the foods on my anti-anxiety foods list. I'll point out the relevant food sources as we go through the list. 


Feed Your Calm: Anti-Anxiety Anti-Stress Diet and Supplement Tips for Stress Resilience


If you are looking for a quick overview of supplements for anxiety, check out my post: Best Natural Supplements for Anxiety.


What Foods Can Relieve Anxiety Symptoms?

Here’s my list of a dozen foods to feed your calm and enhance your brain function and mental health.

(The foods are not listed in order of recommendation. They are listed in a way that let me group together types of foods: protein sources, vegetables, fruit, and so on.)

  1. Water
  2. Wild-caught salmon, sardines, and herring
  3. Oysters
  4. Pasture-raised eggs
  5. Pasture-raised poultry and meat
  6. Sprouted lentils and beans
  7. Cruciferous vegetables
  8. Sweet peppers
  9. Fermented foods
  10. Seaweed
  11. Berries and cherries
  12. Sprouted rice and quinoa


12 Best Foods to Reduce Anxiety and Stress Naturally Infographic


1. Drink Water to Help Anxiety

Your body is 50–60% water. All your organs and glands need water. Water is the vehicle that transports biochemicals throughout your body. It moves nutrients to the spots they are needed and moves toxins and reaction leftovers out of your body. 

Research has shown that even mild dehydration can cause many health issues including negative changes in mood and energy, increased confusion and anxiety, and poorer sleep quality.

You get about 20% of your water requirement from food. That percentage goes up if you consume more fruits and vegetables. The rest comes more directly from liquids. Beverages that contain caffeine don’t count towards your water intake because caffeine is a diuretic (it pulls water out through your kidneys). Broths in soups and non-diuretic herbal teas do count.

How much water is enough?

The answer to the question "How much water is enough to relieve anxiety?" varies with your activity level, heat exposure, and body size. A common guideline is the number of ounces that equals half your body weight measured in pounds.

Body weight in pounds divided by 2 = number of ounces water
For example: 150 lbs divided by 2 = 75 oz

Increasing your water intake is a simple change that might improve your ability to deal with stress and reduce your anxiety.


2. Eating Wild-Caught Salmon, Sardines, and Herring for Anxiety Relief  



Wild-caught salmon, sardines, and herring are good to great sources of anti-anxiety nutrients:

  • EPA and DHA omega-3 fats
  • magnesium
  • Vitamin D3
  • B vitamins
  • a mix of amino acids (including tryptophan and glycine)

Addressing the Mercury Problem in Fish

A major problem with our current fish supply is that many species are highly contaminated with mercury. Among a multitude of other health problems, mercury has the potential of creating anxiety symptoms.

The longer the fish has lived and the higher up it is on the food chain (big fish eat little fish), the greater its potential for high levels of mercury. I recommend wild-caught salmon, sardines, and herring because they have relatively high levels of omega-3s while they also have relatively low levels of mercury. There are several online resources for checking the mercury contamination of different breeds of fish, i.e. the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) chart about the relative mercury levels of different fish species.

Even though the fish I’ve listed are low in mercury compared to other fish, everyone should be mindful not to overdo fish consumption. Some is good, but more is not necessarily better because of the mercury. I think that we would all do well to adhere to the advice for pregnant women. The 2017 guidelines of the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) suggest pregnant women consume 8 to 12 ounces of low-mercury seafood per week.

When buying salmon, you should check that it is wild-caught because there are many potential problems with farm-raised fish. Farm-raised fish are often:

  • fed GMO grains (so they are potentially ingesting herbicides like Roundup),
  • given antibiotics because their unnatural dense living conditions give rise to increased exposure and vulnerability to infection, and
  • contaminated by PCBs, dioxins, and other toxic chemicals.

The fact that farmed salmon commonly have red dye added to their diet, or to their meat after they are harvested, attests to the unnaturalness of their life.

Nearly all Atlantic salmon is farm-raised. Most Pacific salmon is wild-caught.


3. Oysters are a Food that May Help with Anxiety 

Oysters are one of top foods to relieve anxiety

 Oysters are a good to great source of:

  • zinc
  • magnesium
  • EPA and DHA omega-3 fats
  • B vitamins
  • a mix of amino acids (including tryptophan and glycine)

As far as seafood goes, oysters are relatively low in mercury contamination.

Oysters are so high in zinc that you should not overdo them. The Upper Limit (UL) for zinc is 40 mg. There is 30–50 mg in a serving of six oysters. That doesn’t mean that it’s awful to have more than six oysters at a sitting; just be mindful not to be doing that day after day. As with salmon, some is good, more is not necessarily better.

Most oysters sold in the US are “farmed,” but farming methods are much different than for shrimp and fish. Farmed oysters aren’t fed a concoction like farmed fish are. Farmed oysters eat plankton and nutrients from the seawater around them just as their wild counterparts do. They also aren’t living in high concentrations of waste material (poop) like captive crowded farmed fish, so there isn’t the need to deal with managing the negative effects of those wastes and thwarting the spread of infection throughout the colony with antibiotics. In general, farmed oysters are exposed to much the same eating, chemical, and living conditions as if they were wild.


4. Pasture-Raised Eggs are Among Foods that Can Help Calm Anxiety 


What's the difference between egg types pasture raised cage free


Eating eggs provides complete protein and other essential nutrients for combating stress. However, some egg benefits vary drastically with how they are produced. The welfare of poultry and the quality of eggs are influenced by farming methods.

Understanding different designations for eggs can be confusing. A class on nutrition and mood taught me that cage-free eggs aren't necessarily from chickens freely roaming outdoors like I pictured them. Even free-range doesn't mean the hens are roaming free.

I get into the difference between types of eggs and what egg labels mean in another post, Why Eat Pasture-Raised Eggs for Mental Health?

Eggs are a good source of:

  • B vitamins and
  • Mix of amino acids (including glycine and some tryptophan)

Pasture-raised eggs—but not eggs from indoor factory farms—are one of the few food sources of:

  • Vitamin D3

Pasture-raised eggs are better than typical eggs from factory farms in many ways, including:

  • more vitamin A,
  • more DHA and EPA omega-3s, and
  • a better omega 6:3 ratio.


5. Eating Poultry, Beef, Pork and Other Meats can Boost Stress-Resilience


eat protein for stress resilience


This category of foods includes poultry (chicken and turkey) and beef, pork, lamb, and wild game animals like elk and deer. Protein in these foods help your body have the fuel to get through the day and that boosts your ability to deal with stress. They also offer other anti-anxiety benefits.

Poultry is a good to great source of:

  • a mix of amino acids (especially high in tryptophan and glycine),
  • B vitamins, and
  • zinc (dark meat).

Beef, pork, lamb, and game meats are good sources of:

  • a mix of amino acids (including tryptophan and glycine),
  • B vitamins, and
  • zinc.


6. Sprouted Lentils and Beans to Reduce Anxiety 


the benefits of sprouting lentils and beans for mental health


Legumes, such as lentils and beans, are a vegetable source of protein. For vegetarians and others, sprouted lentils and beans are good to great sources of:

  • magnesium,
  • zinc,
  • B vitamins, and
  • amino acids (including tryptophan and glycine).

Why Sprout the Lentils and Beans?

A potential downside of typical unsprouted lentils and beans is that they contain phytate: an antinutrient that can bind magnesium and zinc, getting in the way of your body’s ability to absorb and use these important minerals. Phytate may also irritate your gastrointestinal tract, possibly contributing to leaky gut and other intestinal problems.

Besides phytates, lentils and beans contain lectin, a biochemical that may irritate your intestinal wall, cause inflammation, and contribute to autoimmune disease. Lectins can be reduced by soaking, sprouting, fermentation, boiling for at least 10 minutes, and/or pressure cooking. 

Sprouting lentils and beans prior to cooking:

Sources of Sprouted Lentils and Beans

You can buy sprouted lentils and sprouted beans (sprouted lentils are cheaper than sprouted beans) from stores or online sources like Amazon.

You can also sprout lentils and beans yourself. Here's some info to get you started learning sprouting how-tos: How to Sprout Legumes (Step-By-Step Guide). You can sprout in jars or use official sprouting trays

There is some concern about bacteria growth during the sprouting process because of the warm moist conditions, so wash your seeds before sprouting, take care throughout the sprouting process, and wash sprouts before cooking.


Feed Your Calm: Anti-Anxiety Anti-Stress Diet and Supplement Tips for Stress Resilience



7. Include Cruciferous Vegetables in Your Anti-Anxiety Diet 

Cruciferous vegetables are also known as brassica and the cabbage family.

Cruciferous family members include:

  • broccoli,
  • cauliflower,
  • Brussels sprouts, and 
  • leafy greens such as cabbage, kale, collard, bok choy, and arugula.

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli cauliflower and leafy greens kale help anxiety


Cruciferous vegetables are good to great sources of:

  • magnesium,
  • B vitamins (except B12), and
  • vitamin C.

The cabbage family of vegetables also have an anti-anxiety bonus component: sulphuraphane. Sulphuraphane includes sulphur in its makeup and is believed to be anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative. Both of these qualities could help you deal with stress. One study in 2016 showed that the form of sulphur found in cruciferous foods reduced anxiety in mice.

What About Goitrogens?

Note if you have thyroid problems: There is a concern about cruciferous vegetables and thyroid problems. Raw members of this family can release goitrogens that might tax your thyroid. Specifically, goitrogens may interfere with your thyroid’s ability to absorb iodine. If you have a thyroid condition such as hypothyroidism, Graves’ disease, or Hashimoto’s disease, you should consider having your iodine levels checked before increasing your cruciferous intake and talk to your doctor about how these vegetables might impact your particular body. 

Note for everyone: The bottom line message about cruciferous vegetables is that they have many benefits, including anti-anxiety benefits, but don’t overdo them in raw form. Don’t make this family the only vegetables you eat, but enjoy adding them—especially in cooked versions—to your menu. And, if you have a thyroid condition, check in with your doctor for specific advice.  


8. Sweet Peppers are a Group of Foods that Can Help with Anxiety and Stress


Anti Anxiety Foods Peppers


Sweet peppers are good to great sources of:

  • vitamin C and
  • B vitamins (except B12).

Sweet peppers (aka bell peppers) are green, red, orange, and yellow bell peppers.

They make the list because of their very high vitamin C content and their anti-anxiety bonus component: carotenoids.

Bonus Antioxidants: Carotenoids

Carotenoids (i.e., beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin) are associated with brightly and darkly pigmented foods. Research has demonstrated that they are very helpful for reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which could help you deal with stress. Though there isn’t a lot of research into a direct link to an anti-anxiety effect, a 2017 American study of sixty young adults showed a correlation between increased carotenoid consumption and reduced stress and cortisol.

Extra Considerations

Note re. cooking: Vitamin C in foods can be destroyed by heat or light, and it deteriorates over time with exposure to air. Don’t overprocess or overcook peppers and other vitamin C foods. Eating them raw and fresh will maximize their benefit. You can cook them lightly, but don’t overdo the exposure to heat.

Note re. nightshade family of foods: One downside of peppers is that they are part of the nightshades family of foods. Some people are sensitive to this group, which includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers. Joint pain is the most common complaint that is associated with nightshades. If you start eating more peppers and find you suddenly get more joint pain, intestinal problems, or allergy symptoms, then this may not be a good vegetable for you.


9. How Including Fermented Foods in Your Diet Can Help Relieve Anxiety


Psychobiotics for depression and anxiety help


Fermented foods are a great source of:

  • probiotic bacteria.

Recent research demonstrates that what's in your gut impacts your mood. The connection is known as the gut-brain axis

Researchers have identified gut microbiome bacteria that have such a profound effect on anxiety and mood that they are calling the group psychobiotics. (I go into the research details and probiotic specifics in Feed Your Calm: Anti-Anxiety Anti-Stress Diet and Supplement Tips for Stress Resilience.)

In addition to the probiotics, each fermented food has the benefits of the actual food that is fermented.

Fermented probiotic foods include:

  • yogurt,
  • kefir,
  • sauerkraut,
  • kimchi (aka kimchee),
  • fermented pickles, and
  • other fermented pickled vegetables and foods.

    Not all “pickled” foods are fermented.

    There are different pickling processes; some involve bacterial fermentation and some do not. I was frustrated to see a plethora of headlines like “Eat Pickles to Ease Social Anxiety” for articles that go on to report the results of research demonstrating that probiotics can help social anxiety. These articles commonly suggest anti-anxiety interventions like eating a pickle before a date to reduce your stress response. Eating a typical pickle from a jar that came off a grocery store shelf is not going to help you feel less anxious on a date or at any other social event!

    To get the full benefit out of a fermented food, the bacteria have to be alive when you eat the food. Some fermented products have had their bacteria killed off or removed via heating or filtration in order to extend their shelf life. These products will be sitting on grocery store shelves, not in the refrigerator section. That doesn’t mean that all refrigerated fermented foods have live cultures; you still need to check the label for the magic words: “live cultures.”

    Some Notes About Yogurt

    Yogurt is a great example of a health food turned junk food. The probiotics in most yogurt brands are dead and the yogurt is full of artificial color and sweetener or sugary ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup. Read the label and go for yogurts with live cultures and no sweetener of any kind. (You can add your own sugar-free fruits and a bit of honey or other natural sweetener.) Even if the yogurt is free of negative additives, compared to other foods on the list above it is likely to have fewer species and fewer CFUs (Colony Forming Units) of helpful bacteria.


    10. Eating Seaweed May Reduce Your Anxiety and Boost Stress Resilience


    Seaweed benefits for mental and physical health

     Seaweed (aka sea vegetables) is a good to great source of:

    • magnesium,
    • zinc, and
    • B vitamins (except B12, though some types of seaweed might have B12, it is disputed whether it is an active form.)

      Bonus Nutrient: Iodine

      Seaweed is a great low-calorie food because of the nutrients listed and because of its bonus nutrient: iodine. The best natural sources of iodine live in the sea.

      According to Dr. David Brownstein, author of Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It:

       “All the glands of the body depend on adequate iodine levels to function optimally. Animal studies have shown problems with the adrenal gland . . . as well as the entire endocrine system, when there is an iodine deficient state.”

      Common in many coastal cultures, seaweed’s use as a food has been introduced to other cultures as sushi has become more popular. There are many different varieties of edible seaweed including nori, arame, kombu, wakame, dulce, and kelp. Hijiki is another seaweed eaten in many parts of the world, but it should be avoided because of notoriously high arsenic levels.

      Types of Seaweed

      Nori may be the seaweed that is most familiar to you. Nori seaweed is used to make sushi and is dried and roasted to make a snack food. When eating sushi, avoid large fish such as swordfish, shark, and tuna (ahi) because of the mercury. As I mentioned when talking about fish-sourced mercury earlier, mercury has lots of downsides for your body including the potential of creating anxiety symptoms. 

      Next to nori, arame is my personal favorite. It is low on the fishy-smell scale and has a nice mild flavor. One way I make it is in a salad: soak dried arame according to the package, add cucumber, carrot, and onion, and toss with a balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and olive oil dressing. Let it marinate in the fridge for a couple of hours or a couple of days. It’s an easy make-ahead side dish.

      A Note of Caution

      Because seaweed is such a great source of iodine, consuming very large amounts of it could over-elevate your iodine level. Some iodine is good, too much could cause problems. While iodine is needed for your glands, and very helpful in particular if your thyroid is underactive, it may cause problems if your thyroid is overactive, or improve the potency of thyroid medications (if you are on them) to the point where your medications need to be adjusted. For an in-depth discussion about thyroid and iodine, check out Dr. Brownstein’s book Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It.


      11. Berries and Cherries are Great Anti-Anxiety Foods


      Berry nutrients for mental health and anxiety


      There are many types of berries:

      • acai berries
      • raspberries
      • blueberries
      • blackberries
      • elderberries
      • cranberries
      • strawberries
      • and more

      Berries and cherries are good sources of:

      • magnesium,
      • zinc, and
      • vitamin C.

        Bonus Antioxidant: Anthocyanins

        Red, blue, purple, and black berries, along with cherries, have the anti-anxiety bonus of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are flavonoids associated with red, blue, and purple/black fruits and vegetables. They fight oxidative stress, are anti-inflammatory, and protect nerve cells. A study with stressed mice showed that anthocyanins helped mitigate stress by improving dopamine levels and reducing oxidative stress in brain tissue.


        12. Sprouted Rice and Quinoa: Anti-Anxiety Foods


        Sprouted quinoa and rice foods for anxiety relief


        Quinoa is used similarly to rice in meal planning but whereas rice is a grain, quinoa is a seed. Sprouted brown rice has some amino acids; it is not a complete protein on its own, but this carbohydrate can be combined with sprouted lentils and beans to create a complete protein meal. Quinoa, on the other hand, is a good vegetarian source of complete protein as it houses all of the essential amino acids.

        Rice and quinoa are good to great sources of:

        • magnesium,
        • zinc, and
        • B vitamins.

        Sprouting (aka germinating) rice and quinoa:


        What is GABA Rice?

        Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) is a relaxing neurotransmitter that helps you deal with stress and reduces anxiety and panic.

        Sprouted rice is sometimes called GABA rice because soaking and germinating rice can increase its GABA content. 

        The GABA in 3.5 ounces of rice can be increased from 4 mg in ordinary brown rice to 18 mg after twenty-four hours of soaking. While this is the only direct food source for GABA, the amount per serving after sprouting is still very small.

        Even though it is questionable whether you would get a benefit from the GABA in sprouted rice, the boosts in nutrients and the reduction in phytate are clear pluses for sprouting. You can sprout rice and quinoa yourself or purchase them already sprouted (i.e. on Amazon: Sprouted rice and sprouted quinoa.)


        Anxiety Diet Book and Other Anxiety Resources

        It took me four years to research and write my book Feed Your Calm: Anti-Anxiety Anti-Stress Diet and Supplement Tips for Stress Resilience because I wanted everything in it to be research-based.

        Before studying to become a counselor, I was a medical lab technologist. That medical background, combined with my psychology training, was put to great use in assessing the quality of various research papers on physical approaches to anxiety relief. It helped me sort out good, solid research from weaker, potentially misleading studies. 

        Check it out the resulting book and see how you can benefit from my research. 

        Feed Your Calm: Anti-Anxiety Anti-Stress Diet and Supplement Tips for Stress Resilience
        Feed Your Calm: Anti-Anxiety Anti-Stress Diet and Supplement Tips for Stress Resilience
        Feed Your Calm: Anti-Anxiety Anti-Stress Diet and Supplement Tips for Stress Resilience
        Feed Your Calm: Anti-Anxiety Anti-Stress Diet and Supplement Tips for Stress Resilience





        Previous Post Next Post

        • Ann Silvers
        Comments 0
        Leave a comment
        Your Name:*
        Email Address:*
        Message: *

        Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.

        * Required Fields