A nutritional approach to beating anxiety and depression

Your diet can have a huge impact on your neurological health. Eating the right foods can help manage anxiety and depression

pumpkin, brown rice, spinach, fish oil capsules, collage

Those of you struggling with the debilitating emotional states of anxiety and depression know the condition only too well. You are at the end of your tether, feel unmotivated and have no interest in life, have gained/lost weight, feel foggy, anxious, confused and constantly worried about everything and it feels as though you can’t get control. You have family responsibilities piling up all around you when all you feel like doing is pressing the stop button, but you can’t. The next best thing is to visit your doctor and 30 minutes later you are at the chemist to buy your prescribed antidepressant.

But what if it doesn’t have to be this way? What if you discover that you can return to the driver’s seat of your life?

Depression and anxiety affects over 120 million people worldwide and India has the highest cases of depression than any other country [36 per cent]. Recent WHO statistics reveal that the burden of depression is 50 per cent higher in Indian women than males and rates have risen quite dramatically in the last 10 years.

Broken down

Depression is an emotional state that presents symptoms such as melancholy, moodiness, sadness, grief, guilt, loss of motivation, anorexia, emotional eating, weight gain or loss, social isolation, suicidal thoughts, decreased libido and loss of interest in living. It is not something you just a ‘snap’ out of and it doesn’t mean you are crazy.

Depression is not something you just a ‘snap’ out of and it doesn’t mean you are crazy

Chronic anxiety is often a response to prolonged stress [of any nature]. Our fast paced lifestyles tend to provide arousal of the sympathetic nervous system [commonly known as the fight or flight response or as “fear spread thin”]. Symptoms include fear, mental confusion, tension, apprehension, lack of focus and memory loss. Chronic anxiety can lead to or be associated with depression, panic attacks, phobias, post traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorders. Often the emotional disturbances cause symptomatic effects such as skin rashes, palpitation, shaking and trembling, sweating, nail biting, frequent urination, insomnia, abdominal discomfort and irritability. Depression and anxiety can develop from deficiency states brought on by malnutrition, poor dietary choices, malabsorption conditions, gastro intestinal dysfunction and other chronic illnesses.

Dietary guidelines

Health is as strong as its weakest link. The weak link may be something well recognised such as vitamin C, protein or magnesium resulting in impairment of the functions of the body.

The nervous system is inextricably connected to all bodily systems and plays a major role in every disease and health condition. The differing factor with this system in comparison to other bodily systems is that the mind has a potent effect on each individual’s wellbeing. For the nervous system to function effectively and for us to feel happy, calm, safe and positive, this system requires adequate nutrition and the body needs to be effectively eliminating toxic metabolic waste.

The nervous system is inextricably connected to all bodily systems and plays a major role in every disease and health condition

7 ways to reduce anxiety and depression by way of nutrition

1. Eliminate sugar and caffeine

coffee cup with thumbs down signThe average person consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar daily, yet this sweet poison reaps havoc on our body, suppressing immune function, increasing inflammation and contributes to panic disorder, depression and even leads to addiction. Sugar triggers a spike in insulin that drops you lower than before consuming it, leaving you feeling tired, foggy, anxious and edgy.

Caffeine and sugar are both stimulants that deplete the chemical serotonin—an essential feel good chemical that reduces anxiety. Serotonin deficiency also leads to cravings for high carbohydrate foods which can contribute to weight gain and inflammation and further mood alteration.

2. Eat healthy omega-3 fats and reduce omega-6 fats

Omega tabletsOne of the biggest mistakes in the field of health and nutrition was the myth that fat makes you fat and it must be avoided. The brain is made up of fat, as are the cell membranes and therefore to ensure cognitive function, good omega-3 fats such as flaxseeds, avocados, cold pressed oils such as coconut and extra virgin olive oil are essential. Walnuts are one of the best nuts for brain health and cashews and almonds contain a chemical called tryptophan, which stimulates the production of serotonin.

Reduce omega-6 fats such as meat and avoid sunflower oils, corn oil and cotton seed oils.

3. Eat more berries and kiwi fruit

BerriesBerries and kiwi fruits are high in vitamin C, which is an adrenal gland nutrient. The adrenal glands produce thyroid and reproductive hormones when under stress. These contribute to further disease, lethargy, weight gain and inflammation. Adrenal overload can contribute to loss of coping mechanisms and increased anxiety.

4.  Eat more green leafy vegetables

Leafy vegetablesGreen leafy vegetables are high in magnesium. They also support liver function, which aids metabolic waste removal. Spinach is also high in folate, a B vitamin that aids nervous system function. Good source examples are spinach, kale, mustard greens and beetroot leaves.

5. Eat pumpkin seeds

PumpkinThe green part of the pumpkin seed is one of the highest plant forms [apart from Chaga mushroom which is the highest] of zinc. Zinc is not only a supportive nutrient for neurotransmitter production, but also supports the immune system. Anxiety greatly suppresses immunity, so this nutrient will provide additional support.

6. Eat foods rich in B vitamins

Brown riceB Vitamins are the most influential nutrients in maintaining a healthy nervous system. Foods rich in B vitamins are brown rice, eggs, legumes, green leafy vegetables.

7. Use saffron in the diet

SaffronClinical studies conducted to compare the chemical compounds of saffron with the anti-depressant drugs fluoxetine and imipramine showed equal efficacy in improving depression. Saffron also induces sound sleep, which helps in combatting melancholic moods.

A few additional tips

  • Eat small meals regularly to increase glucose supply to the brain
  • Take a multi-vitamin containing high levels of B vitamins
  • Increase root vegetables to reduce anxiety
  • Drink teas made from ashwaganda, licorice root and brahmi
  • Seek a counsellor to collectively implement new coping mechanisms
  • Begin yoga to reduce stress and improve the uptake of nutrition into the cells.


A version of this article was first published in the July 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Rowena Jayne
Rowena Jayne is a leading international yoga instructor, raw food chef and wellness presenter. She is a qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist and has studied Ayurvedic Medicine, Remedial Massage, Raw food Nutrition, Usui reiki and various other modalities. She is the author of The Joy of Real Food.


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