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How to Support Anxiety and Depression with Nutrition

Anxiety and depression are common mental health challenges that make it hard to enjoy your favourite activities and feel yourself. The good news is nutrition can help!

A person enjoying some movement, sleep and shopping for groceries.

  • Anxiety and depression can disrupt digestive health, change our nutritional needs, and affect our motivation to prepare meals. 
  • Foods we eat can help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as reduce the risk of developing depression.

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health conditions worldwide. They affect people of all ages, genders and backgrounds.

People with anxiety may have difficulty controlling their thoughts and worrying about things that don't happen often. They may also have trouble sleeping, concentrating or enjoying themselves. Depression is a serious condition that can lead to suicidal thoughts. It can also cause people to lose interest in things they used to enjoy and have problems with appetite, sleep or energy.

The best way to treat these conditions is by talking to a doctor about medications or therapy, but there are also some steps that you can also take like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating foods that can help support anxiety and depression symptoms. 

In this article, we'll explore the impact of mental health on nutrition, with tips to support your mental health and wellbeing with the foods you eat.

Ways the Anxiety and Depression can Impact Nutrition

Anxiety and depression can cause significant changes in our dietary habits, which may lead to nutritional deficiencies. Nutritional needs might also change with anxiety or depression symptoms. Here are a few examples.

1. Changes to Nutrition Intake 

Anxiety or depression can hugely impact when and what we eat for many reasons, and it's different for everybody. 

For example, depression and anxiety can create issues such as no longer feeling like eating or cooking food or not feeling hunger pangs. This directly impacts your nutrition and can easily lead to weight loss. On the other hand, emotions and restlessness can lead to overeating or consuming a disproportionate amount of snack foods in place of whole foods, which studies have shown can also contribute to depression.

2. Changes in Nutritional Needs

Restlessness or hyperactivity can happen when you're experiencing anxiety or depression. As a result, it could lead to your body needing more energy, protein and other nutrients than usual. 

Carbohydrates are the brain's most important energy source, so we must ensure we meet those demands.

3. Changes in Digestive Functioning

Anxiety and that feeling of tension, worry, and unease can also cause physical symptoms like fatigue, and digestive issues such as bloating or constipation. This is because of the body turns on its fight or flight response when we are anxious. 

The fight or flight response is a reaction to an immediate threat that prepares the body to either fight the danger or run away from it. This response causes your body to release adrenaline which increases your heart rate and blood pressure while also slowing down digestion in order to provide you with energy for fighting or running.

The rest and digest response is what happens when there's no immediate threat present (when we feel relaxed) but your body needs time to recover from the fight-or-flight response. This process allows your heart rate and blood pressure to slow down while digestion speeds up.

In times of high stress or anxiety, our digestive systems are not running at their full capacity, which can lead to many unpleasant digestive issues like bloating, abdominal distention or constipation.

Foods to support depression and anxiety

How Nutrition can Support Mental Health

There's a fascinating pathway in our body, known as the gut-brain axis through which your gut and brain communicate. This pathway can be a two-way street, meaning that what you eat can affect your mood and vice versa.

Studies show that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, and legumes is linked to a lower risk of depression and fewer depressive symptoms.

What are the best foods for depression? The answer depends on your personal needs and preferences, but here are some ideas. 


Try to enjoy a good variety of: 

- Fresh fruit and vegetables

- Nuts and seeds

- Fish and seafood

- Lean meat like chicken or turkey

- Fermented foods like cheese and yogurt. 

- Oils like Olive Oil

Food Preparation tips for Anxiety and Depression

It can feel overwhelming to cook from scratch when your mind is burdened with thoughts of anxiety and depression. Try some of these strategies to see if they can help you. 

Plan ahead

Make a list of meals and snacks that you can prepare in advance to bring with you to work or have at home. This can help you if you're not feeling motivated at the time.

Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Aim to eat more vegetables

Try to add vegetables to every meal, whether it be a salad, soup, or pasta dish. You can even roast them in the oven for a quick side dish!

Go for whole grains

Try to switch white bread for whole grain bread or pasta. They are better for your gut health, and they taste just as good. 

Experiment with Pre-made or Meal Scratch Kits

Pre-made meals, or scratch kits where you do part of the cooking can help cut down cooking time and give you something nutritious to eat. 

When to seek help 

If anxiety or depression impacts your ability to prepare food, you are experiencing ongoing digestive symptoms. Suppose your eating habits have changed significantly, or you have lost or gained weight in response to these mental health issues. It's a good idea to consult with a dietitian who can help you figure out your circumstances.


Image credit: svetazi, aamulya 


Jacka FN, O'Neil A, Opie R, Itsiopoulos C, Cotton S, Mohebbi M, Castle D, Dash S, Mihalopoulos C, Chatterton ML, Brazionis L. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the 'SMILES'trial). BMC medicine. 2017 Dec;15(1):1-3.

Jacka FN, O'Neil A, Opie R, Itsiopoulos C, Cotton S, Mohebbi M, Castle D, Dash S, Mihalopoulos C, Chatterton ML, Brazionis L. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the 'SMILES'trial). BMC medicine. 2017 Dec;15(1):1-3.


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