The Anxiety-Diet Connection: How Diet Influences Anxiety and Depression

The Anxiety-Diet Connection: How Diet Influences Anxiety and Depression

Do you feel like you’re struggling mentally? You’re not alone. Right now, over 301 million people are dealing with anxiety.1 It’s not just the jitters, though. Over 21 million Americans have a major depressive episode daily.2

Chances are that someone close to you knows this struggle all too well. It could be the person who makes your coffee, the neighbor who waves hello, or maybe even you. 

But here’s the good news: you can feel better. 

Stick with us as we dive into understanding these feelings. We’ll also share some hope-filled ways to improve your mental health through diet. Brighter days are within your reach.

What Are Anxiety and Depression, and How Do They Affect Our Lives?

Anxiety and depression are not the same. Here’s how they differ: 

Anxiety Depression 
DefinitionIt is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear.3Mood disorder4 characterized by persistent feelings of: sadness,hopelessness, anda lack of interest in daily activities. 
Common symptomsExcessive worry or fearPalpitationsFeeling on edgeDifficulty concentratingIrritabilitySleep disturbances Persistent sad moodLoss of interest in lifeNegative attitudeFatigueDifficulty rememberingSleep disturbancesChanges in weightSuicidal thoughts
Impact on daily lifeAvoiding certain places or situationsStruggling with social interactionsDifficulty completing tasks due to constant worry or fearDifficulty getting out of bedWithdrawing from family or friendsBad performance at school or workNeglecting self-careFeeling overwhelmed by simple tasks

How Do Biological Factors Influence Anxiety and Depression?

Inside your brain, a network controls how you feel. Neurotransmitters are like tiny messengers in this network. When they’re not balanced right, it can make you feel depressed or anxious. 

Let’s discuss these in more detail:

Can Diet and Nutritional Deficiencies Really Influence Our Mental Well-being?

Your brain needs good food to work well. Eating the right things can make you feel happier and less worried. 

10 Essential nutrients include: 

1.Tryptophan. Without enough of this, you might not have enough serotonin, a chemical that makes you feel good.10 

Food rich in Tryptophan

2. Fiber. Not eating enough fiber can make you feel more sad or anxious. Adding 5 grams of fiber to your diet, which is one more apple a day, can make you less likely to feel depressed.11

Food rich in Fiber

3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Not getting enough of these can make you feel down.12 Omega-3 fatty acids make up 20% of your brain.13

Supplement rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acid

4. B Vitamins. These enable your brain to talk to the rest of your body. Not having enough B vitamins can make you feel confused and sad.14

Food rich in Vitamin B

5. Magnesium. This keeps your brain calm.15 If you don’t have enough, your brain might get too excited, making you anxious.

Food rich in Magnesium

6. Zinc. This nutrient fights stress. Low zinc can make you feel more anxious.16 People who took extra zinc noticed a drop in anxiety by 0.61 points.17

Food rich in Zn

7. Iron. This prevents mood swings.18

Fe rich food

8. Vitamin D from the sun is good for your mood. In a study, people felt less anxious and sad after taking vitamin D and iron for 12 weeks.19

Vitamin D

9. Turmeric, a yellow spice, can help you feel less worried. In a study,20 people who took 1 gram of turmeric daily felt less anxious.

Turmeric on Spoon

10. Probiotics from yogurt can also make you feel less sad and worried. They produce chemicals that uplift your mood.21


In contrast, if you eat junk food, your brain might not work as well. Research22 shows it could be 70% worse at thinking and remembering. You may also feel unhappy and anxious. 

Examples of junk foods include: 

  1. Trans fats. A study23 with 3,095 women showed that eating trans fats can make you more likely to feel depressed.
  2. Sugar. Eating a lot of sugar can also make you sad and worried. This is because it causes inflammation throughout the body.24 

What Foods Should You Take or Avoid to Manage Anxiety?

Do’s Don’ts 
Whole grains (quinoa, oats)Refined sugars/sweets
Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel)Caffeinated drinks
Leafy greens (spinach, kale)Alcoholic beverages
Nuts and seeds (almonds, chia seeds)Processed foods
Probiotic-rich foods (yogurt)Artificial sweeteners (aspartame)
Berries Excess fried foods
Herbal teas (chamomile, green tea)Excess red/processed meats

How Can an Anxiety Diet and Exercise Plan Contribute to Mental Well-being?

Your body makes endorphins, which are like natural happiness helpers. Combining good food with walking or yoga can help your mind stay healthy. 

For example:

  • In one study,25 people ate yogurt and exercised for two weeks. They ended up with more serotonin, a brain chemical that makes you feel good.
  • Another research26 studied 1,569 women who had breast cancer. The patients felt less tired and worried after changing their diet and exercising. It also made them less sad and helped them sleep better.
  • In another study,27 foods with good fats and exercise improved patients’ mood. 

Why Are Sleep and Hydration Critical Components of Mental Health?

Good sleep and drinking plenty of water are vital for a happy brain. When you sleep, your brain gets rid of waste products. It also helps you remember things better. If you don’t get enough sleep, you might feel stressed or sad, and your brain might not work as well. A study28 including 8608 people proved this. 

Similarly, a study29 found that people who didn’t drink enough water got more angry and confused. But when they drank 1500 ml of water on an empty stomach, they felt less tired and sad.

When Should Professional Advice Be Sought for Managing Anxiety and Depression Through Diet?

Eating healthy and exercising can help relieve anxiety and depression. But sometimes, it may not be enough. 

For example, despite a healthy lifestyle, you may: 

Person checking weight
Women finding difficult to sleep

In such cases, experts like doctors and therapists can find out what’s causing your troubles. They can also provide you with the right kind of help. 


Feeling good starts with eating right and exercising. Eat foods good for your brain, like fish and veggies, and try to cut back on too much sugar and bad fats. 

Getting your heart pumping with exercise can also help you feel more at peace. Remember to sleep well and drink lots of water because your brain needs rest and to stay wet to work best. 

If you’re still feeling down or worried, talk to an expert. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it. 


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Written By
Azrung Fayaz
Doctor of Internal Medicine | MBBS, FCPS, MRCP

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