Feeling stressed, wired, and tired all at the same time? You’re not alone. Over 40 million adults are affected by anxiety or anxiety-related disorders. We are in a chronic state of stress, running-on-empty, and constantly in burnout mode. As a functional medicine dietitian, I take a food-as-medicine approach, working to support my clients with proper nourishment that can naturally calm anxious tendencies. This means both the removal of pro-inflammatory ingredients that interfere with the signalling of the body and drive dysfunction, while focusing on an abundance of foods that provide a therapeutic benefit.

The foods we eat can influence our body’s function as well as our mood, energy, and metabolism. By addressing the microbiome, leaky gut, hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, and nutrient status, I suggest working to optimise mood stability and stress resilience.

But first, let’s take a look at exactly how diet and anxiety are connected in the first place.

How Diet Affects Anxiety

When we feel stressed or anxious, our body goes into fight or flight mode, a reactive response that suppresses regulatory functions of the thyroid, hormones, adrenals, and metabolism.

Fight or flight mode was great for our ancestors who had to worry about survival, but is not so great when the perceived threat is actually just an overflowing inbox or a looming deadline.

Physiologically, our bodies haven’t adapted to modern-day stressors, and survival reactions aren’t always necessary. The impact of constant stress, including the mental anticipatory what-ifs, rumination over what occurred, and excessive taxing on emotional processing, can drive imbalances in the body.

To add insult to injury, when we ‘treat’ chronic anxiety by dipping into the chocolate vending machine, it actually makes things worse. Over-indulging in sugary, processed or hyper-palatable food-like substances causes blood sugar spikes and crashes that interfere with our energy and mood, which potentially drive microbiome dysbiosis, fatigue, weight gain, and hormonal imbalances.

Our dietary choices, all the way down to the ingredient level, influence our brain chemistry and the fight or flight sympathetic signals of the HPA axis.

Luckily, just as food can amplify the stress response, it can also calm it.

Foods that are rich in mood-stabilizing minerals, brain-boosting B vitamins, amino acid building blocks, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory substances, or that contain adaptogenic properties can all work with our system to combat chronic anxiety.

Working strategically with nutrients that balance neurotransmitter production, release tension and stress hormone impact, and support the gut can reduce anxiety in two ways. Therapeutic nutrients can support a sense of inner calm and less excitatory reactions physiologically, while also promoting satiety and reducing cravings – thus, preventing the consumption of foods that perpetuate imbalance. Aim to consume the following nutrients on a daily basis to claim your sense of mellow, and you may even get a synergistic impact on your overall health.

1. Magnesium

Magnesium is the ultimate chill pill. It works directly at the HPA-axis to suppress cortisol and adrenal output, two of the body’s stress hormones.

Magnesium works by reducing the release of the adrenal stimulating hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) from the pituitary.

Plus, it has the unique ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, serving as gatekeeper to stress responders and blocking the entrance of stress hormones into the brain.

Magnesium deficiency is associated with increased anxiety, so it’s important to keep levels in check.

Foods to eat for magnesium:

  • Leafy greens
  • Cacao
  • Avocado
  • Nuts and seeds

2. Choline and B vitamins

Choline, a fat-soluble B vitamin found in egg yolks, is crucial for the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that regulates the stress response. However, low egg yolk consumption driven by cholesterol fears in the 1980s and ’90s has led to many people being clinically deficient in choline. Low serum choline levels have been associated with high anxiety and panic in research.

Other, water-soluble, B vitamins such as B-12, biotin, B-6, and folate have all been tied to mood disorders as well. B vitamins play an integral role in neurotransmitter production as well as supporting proper nerve signalling. B-5, also known as pantothenate, is critical to maintaining a healthy production of stress hormones and metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, and fat for energy regulation.

Foods to eat for choline and B vitamins:

  • Egg yolks
  • Offal (liver, kidneys): Look for pasture-raised and free of hormones and antibiotics
  • Salmon
  • Shellfish (oysters, mussels, clams)

3. L-theanine

L-theanine serves as a modulator for the brain’s neurotransmitters, aiding in balancing out both excesses and deficiencies. It can actually increase alpha brain waves, the type elevated during deep meditation, artistic and creative expression, relaxation, and REM cycles of sleep. Plus, it increases clarity and concentration during waking hours. In research L-theanine supplementation has been shown to reduce secretory IgA associated with stress response and leaky gut, meaning: less anxiety.

Foods to eat for L-theanine:

  • Matcha
  • Herbal Tea
  • Mushrooms

4. Probiotics

Probiotics are nature’s Prozac! Beneficial flora, specifically strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, play a role in producing our feel-good inhibitory neurotransmitters serotonin and GABA. But when the gut is in a state of bacterial imbalance due to SIBO, candida, or dysbiosis, it produces excitatory neurotransmitters, like epinephrine (adrenaline), perpetuating anxiety and chronic stress response. Although these neurotransmitters in the gut don’t cross the blood-brain barrier, they do communicate with the central nervous system via the enteric nervous system.

Foods to eat for probiotics:

  • Cultured veggies
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha

Fuelling your body with these nutrient-dense foods rich in magnesium, B vitamins, L-theanine, and probiotics will provide an abundance of compounds to support stress resilience and mood stability. Ensure you select two or three choices daily from the choices listed above to fill your prescription and start experiencing the effects.

*For the full article and references, please visit the below website. We also suggest you conduct your own further research.



Ali Miller is an integrative functional medicine practitioner with a background in naturopathic medicine.