This article was originally published in the Healthy Aging Initiative's April newsletter. The Initiative, an offering of Extension, provides physical activity and nutrition education and health promotion to elders throughout Nevada.
There is no magic pill or remedy for anxiety. There is also no guarantee that you can always stay out of stressful situations. However, there is some good research that certain foods and nutrients may help support your body in reducing anxiety and improving how your body handles stress. Here is a list of some food and nutrients that may help support your mental and emotional health.
- Fatty fish: Salmon and tuna are examples of fish rich in the omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty acids, especially those found in salmon and tuna, have been shown to improve symptoms of depression and may support your body in reducing anxiety. These fatty acids can also boost mental health and aid in cognitive function. So go ahead and order that tuna sandwich (light on the mayo and with whole wheat bread) or make a healthy salmon cake to see improvements in your anxiety symptoms.
- Probiotic-rich foods: What even are probiotics? Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria) that when eaten or taken, live in the gut. Good gut health aids in reducing anxiety and we may find, with further research, that it is a preventative measure for depression. Foods rich in probiotics are pickles, buttermilk and yogurt.
- Leafy greens: Having low levels of magnesium in your diet has been associated with an increased risk of depression. The recommended dietary allowance for adults over the age of 51 is 320 milligrams a day for women and 420 milligrams a day for men.
How do those milligrams equate to food and portion size? A handful (about one ounce) of almonds has 80 milligrams, a half-cup of boiled spinach has 78 milligrams, a half-cup of cooked black beans has 60 milligrams and two tablespoons of peanut butter has 49 milligrams. The proper amount of magnesium can also assist with reducing inflammation, managing the hormone cortisol, and relaxing the body and mind.
- Protein: Proteins, especially when consumed in the morning, can help make serotonin, a hormone that calms your mood and increases feelings of happiness and well-being. This brain hormone is responsible for helping to lower anxiety and boost mood. The American Society for Nutrition recommends eating 15 grams at breakfast (the equivalent of about two large eggs with one ounce of cheese).
- Certain spices: The spices saffron and turmeric may reduce both depression and anxiety. Additionally, some research suggests that ginger may be effective in reducing anxiety as well. An interesting fact is that saffron is grown at the Dayton Elementary School garden right here in Nevada.
Here is an easy exercise to reduce stress by going no further than your fruit bowl. Grab an orange or other citrus fruit, and then take time to really examine it as if you'd never seen it before. Now smell it, peel it and eat it. Use all five of your senses — sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. As you are focusing intently on this process, you will tune down your nervous system, which is responsible for producing that panicky fight-or-flight response, and reduce anxiety.
Natalie Mazzullo is Extension's Healthy Aging coordinator and associate director for the Nevada Geriatric Education Center at the Sanford Center for Aging, a unit of the University’s School of Medicine.
Extension is a unit of the University's College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources engaged in Nevada communities, presenting research-based knowledge to address critical community needs. It is a county-state-federal partnership providing practical education to people, businesses and communities.