The gut is the second brain. We’ve all heard this claim before, but do we really know what it means? This idea dates as far back as when the Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, said, “All disease begins in the gut.” So, if disease begins in the gut, what powers it? The answer is food. Eating the wrong foods sends the wrong messages to your brain. Therefore, eating the right foods can help curb conditions like anxiety and depression. As Hippocrates also said, “Let thy food, be thy medicine!” Let’s check out a bunch of foods that target anxiety and depression.
The Role of Food
We often forget why we eat in the first place. Sure, food tastes good. Now, imagine if all food were to taste bad. If eating was the only thing keeping you alive, would you still eat? Of course. You need it for energy. That’s the true purpose of food.
When we eat something our stomach acids break down the food. From there, the nutrients that our body needs are sent out into the bloodstream. Foreign substances and toxins are flushed out of the system. Depending on the food, these toxins might get clogged in your gut and arteries.
Eating a diet that consists mainly of refined sugars, simple carbs, animal fats, artificial ingredients, and corn syrup can disrupt the system. Consuming these foods over whole foods and leaner protein sources leaves your body void of nutrients, and it manifests toxins and foreign bacteria in the body. This harbors an environment that becomes a breeding ground for inflammations, which research shows can then cause conditions such as anxiety and depression.
In fact, the following studies show that these ingredients may trigger mental health conditions:
- Artificial sweeteners and Anxiety
- High Fructose Corn Syrup and Synaptic Function
- Refined Sugar and Depression
- Red Meat and Depression
- Saturated Fats and Mood
This doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the medical research out there that implies the modern Western diet may be leading society toward a rise in mental health issues. While it seems like you can’t eat anything tasty, take a breath. We’re going to go over some of the best foods that target anxiety and depression.
Foods that Target Anxiety and Depression
As you can tell from the studies above, not all food is created equal. That is also true for the “good” foods. Off the top of your head, you probably know bananas have more potassium than corn or that oranges have more Vitamin C than lettuce. Sure, they’re all good foods. They just serve different purposes.
Therefore, you need to eat foods that are abundant in vitamins and nutrients and have been scientifically proven effective in fighting off anxiety and depression. What are these foods? Glad you asked! Here are the top foods to target anxiety and depression.
Want to get rid of refined sugar? Turn to natural sugar like fruits. Fruits are great for anyone with a sweet tooth looking to change their dietary habits. Not to mention many fruits are also full of fiber, which aids in getting some of the clogged up toxins out of your system.
To really target anxiety and depression, you need antioxidant-rich foods that will destroy free radicals that damage healthy cells. You want to eat fruits that are rich in beta-carotene (Vitamin A) and Vitamin C.
These fruits include:
A basic rule of thumb: You can’t go wrong with eating citrus fruits. Additionally, fruits with a yellow or orange hue tend to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich flesh. So, choose these as afternoon pick-me-ups instead of a bag of chips or a sugary protein bar. Fighting off inflammations in your body with antioxidant-rich fruits will help your system not produce stress signals. In turn, you won’t feel as irritable or anxious.
Smart Carb Foods
Carbohydrates get an overwhelmingly bad rap. However, your body needs carbs. That’s because carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy.
Carbs are broken into three categories:
From there, the body breaks these three types of carbs down and divvies their nutrients up for energy sources. That’s why you need to choose your carbs wisely.
Don’t opt for “simple carbs.” Simple carbs will not fill you up and cause you to keep eating.
Examples of simple carbs include:
- White rice
- White potatoes
- White pasta
- Refined sugar/soda
- Cold cereal
- Granola bars
You will notice a lot of the word “white” up there. Anytime you see something white on the label (with the exception of potatoes), they are usually refined. That means they’ve been stripped of any outer shells to give the food a more appealing, glossy texture. Many times, that means the food has lost its valuable fiber and is just empty calories.
Instead, you want complex carbs. These take a longer time to break down. In turn, you feel fuller longer. Swap out the foods above with these:
- Wild rice
- Sweet potatoes (Also full of beta-carotene)
- Lentil pasta
- Whole grain oats/spelt/farro
With complex carbs in your system, your body will create more serotonin. This is a neurotransmitter that sends signals of happiness to the brain. Scientists theorize that approximately 90% of the serotonin in our system comes from the gut.
Omega-3 Rich Protein
Diets high in red meat get a ton of omega-6 fatty acids. For the body to perform at its best, omega-6 fatty acids need to be in balance with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for optimal brain health. In fact, studies have found omega-3 fatty acids are an effective treatment for a number of mental disorders.
Omega-3 fatty acids are effective in curbing mental health issues because of its two main acids:
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) – is essential for brain growth and function development in infants as well as maintenance for normal brain function in adults
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) – is said to benefit physiological functions and reduce cellular inflammation
- Coconut oil
- Collard greens
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Grass-fed beef
- Organic poultry
To get the most out of omega-3 fatty acid foods that target anxiety and depression, choose lean proteins like turkey and chicken over beef. Poultry contains a lot of the amino acid, tryptophan. Tryptophan is a catalyst for your body to produce serotonin.
One of the best ways to ensure you are getting enough omega-3 fatty acids is to take supplements rich in these essential proteins. Consuming all-natural supplements like fish oil and olive leaf extract is an easy way to guarantee that you meet your daily omega-3 requirements.
Eat Probiotic-Rich Food
One great way to keep your brain happy is to keep your gut happy. Studies have shown there is a strong connection between the two via the gut-brain axis. You want to destroy the inflammations living inside your gut that may be causing anxiety and depression. In turn, you want to make room for good bacteria to create a home.
Eating foods rich in probiotics, which are living bacteria cultures, will help change your microbiome to a healthy pH balance. When this happens, bad bacteria won’t be able to survive in that environment.
Try incorporating these probiotic-rich foods into your diet:
As an extra tip for mental health, eat a lot of fruits with these foods. Fruits contain healthy fibers our body can’t break down. Therefore, the probiotics in your gut will feast on these fibers. These fibers are called prebiotics. Prebiotics will help keep the good bacteria in your gut alive and help keep the good vibes alive in your mind.
Fighting Anxiety and Depression Naturally
If you are feeling depressed or anxious, you are not alone. Thankfully, there have been numerous studies that discovered natural ways to combat these mental health conditions. For one, taking all-natural supplements targeted toward specific mental health issues can go a long way in combating depression and anxiety.
- For Anxiety Relief: Tranquilene
- For Brain Development/Cognitive Ability: CogniDHA Fish Oil
- For Optimal Brain Health: Olive Leaf Extract
Supplements can do a lot in aiding the nutrients from your foods. If you want to fight anxiety and depression even more effectively, look no further than the plate. Incorporate more antioxidant-rich fruit, smart carbs, omega-3 rich proteins, and probiotics into your diet. Making these big changes will make an even bigger difference in your day-to-day life.
If your feelings of depression and anxiety persist or worsen, or if you are having feelings of self-harm or suicide, contact your physician. If you need to talk with someone immediately, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
What are some of your favorite meals using the foods above? Maybe your recipe will inspire someone to make a positive change! Share with us in the comments!