Is the pandemic worsening your anxiety? Check out the foods that can help you reduce the symptoms of anxiety.

Since its appearance in December 2019, COVID-19 has caused problems in people’s lives. These problems are varied and, in many cases, still getting worse.

Social isolation is psychologically impacting the population in a number of ways. Issues such as depression, anxiety, and binge eating have been exacerbated by loneliness and uncertainty.

Human beings have always combined food and company. The relationship between socialising and eating, festivity and feasting, is as old as our species. An abundance of food, friends, and leisure time is what makes us happy.

The pandemic has disrupted these staple patterns of human existence. Studies show that the population is increasingly anxious and reveal impacts on people’s sleep and eating habits.

If you frequently feel anxious, you should be aware that – in addition to the pandemic – your anxiety might be linked to your diet.

Foods that can increase anxiety and binge eating include:

  • Simple carbohydrates (white flour): rice, pizza, pasta, fries, bread, refined cereals etc.
  • Sugar and candies: cakes, cookies, ice cream, industrialised juices etc.
  • Ultra-processed foods and unhealthy fats: tortilla chips, crisps, ketchup, margarine, sausage meat, ham, frozen ready meals etc. Processed foods can alter the body’s levels of hormones like insulin and adrenaline, and even trigger chronic inflammation. These hormonal changes can create food compulsions, as binge eating releases large amounts of neurotransmitters such as dopamine. This gives us a short-term feeling of comfort and well-being. Basically, the more anxious you feel, the more you may feel the need to compulsively eat anxiety-worsening foods – a vicious circle.
  • Alcohol, soft drinks, and caffeine: The substances in these foods cause an increase in cortisol, a hormone released during times of stress. They can also decrease hormones such as serotonin, known to be the hormone of happiness and stable moods.

So, if you are anxious, it’s best to avoid excessive consumption of the foods mentioned above. On the other hand, there are lots of foods that can actively help your symptoms of anxiety.

Foods that can help reduce anxiety and binge eating include:

  • Egg: Contains tryptophan, an amino acid precursor to serotonin – a hormone that regulates mood and helps with sleep and well-being
  • Chamomile: Has relaxing and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa: A source of flavonoids, which reduce neuroinflammation. Dark chocolate, for example, contains magnesium, which helps reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Brazil nuts: Rich in selenium, they reduce inflammation and improve mood.
  • Omega-3: Foods rich in omega-3s can improve brain function and reduce anxiety. Good sources of omega-3s include salmon, tuna, sardines, chia, flaxseed, avocados and nuts.

Eating the nutrients above as part of a balanced diet – especially when combined with regular physical activity – helps to control stress, anxiety, and binge eating.

The pandemic isn’t something we can control, but we can mitigate its impact on our mental health by being mindful about how we eat.

Elizete Reis Bennett
Elizete Reis Bennett

Nutritional Scientist BSc ANutr

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