8 Foods to Fight Anxiety and Depression

soybeans against white backgroundWith the tragedy of Robin Williams’ death raising questions about mental illness, I started looking for answers. The statistics are staggering: Today, one in 10 Americans is on antidepressants—a 400% increase in the last 30 years. And there’s a lot of evidence showing that these drugs may not be able to help everybody. In fact, some experts believe that lifestyle shifts—especially dietary—might be a more effective first step to address depression, as well as anxiety, which is depression’s flip side. I asked Heather Lounsbury, author of Fix Your Mood with Food, to share her expertise on this important subject with Mommy Greenest readers. I am so honored to share her wisdom with you—and to host a giveaway of her amazing new book! 

Heather writes:

1 in 10 Americans is now on antidepressants, but lifestyle shifts—especially dietary—might be a more effective first step to address depression and anxiety.

Most of us live under stress, which can lead to depression and anxiety. Whether it’s driven by health, financial or family issues, concerns about the environment—or all of the above—times can get tough. In today’s world, avoiding stress is pretty much impossible. However, eating the right foods can help reduce its impact.

According to Chinese nutrition, each organ has an emotion that affects it; if you don’t release or process what you’re feeling, imbalances begin to occur. It’s very important to nourish your liver and kidneys with the best nutrition possible, since they have the most influence over anxiety and depression.

While Western nutrition focuses on nutrients and what they do in the body, Chinese nutrition views food energetically. Thousands of years ago no one knew what iron, calcium or B12 were, but the Chinese figured out the healing properties of every grain, vegetable, fruit, nut and seed. Calling on those principles, these eight foods support the kidneys and liver in order to reduce anxiety and depression.

DARK LEAFY GREENS are high in chlorophyll, which removes toxins from the liver. Add greens like chard, kale, spinach, arugula and watercress to salads, juices and stir-frys.

The high levels of copper in SEA VEGETABLES regulate blood pressure; they also contain vitamin B2, which aids in the absorption of other B vitamins that are key to reducing stress. Sprinkle nori, kelp, wakame, or dulse on your steamed grains or add to a miso broth.

ROOT VEGETABLES are said to calm and relax the mind. Roast or juice beets, radishes, yams, carrots, parsnips and yams.

BLACK BEANS are high in magnesium, which relaxes the nervous system and balances stress hormones. Cooked black beans can be a side or center point of many meals; sprouted black beans are a wonderful addition to salads.

High in iron, BLACKBERRIES are said to increase mental function. Add summer’s bounty to your smoothies or mix in with coconut or almond yogurt.

SOYBEANS—and TOFU made from soybeans—reduce blood pressure and are high in tryptophan, which is a natural sedative. Steam soybeans for a snack or side dish; substitute organic tofu products for meat.

Because it contains large amounts of chlorophyll, PARSLEY supports liver function. Add parsley to tabouli and juices—don’t just ignore it as a garnish!

RAW APPLE CIDER VINEGAR helps to regulate blood pressure. Try it in salad dressing or mix with warm water for a morning elixir.

In addition, make sure you are getting enough of these key nutrients, either from food or supplements:

B VITAMINS, FOLIC ACID and B12 support the adrenal glands, which regulate stress.

MAGNESIUM supports brain function and helps regulate mood disorders such as PMS and bipolar disorder.

OMEGA-3 fatty acids build healthy brain cell membranes and help facilitate neuron-to-neuron communication.

Want more ways to fight anxiety and depression, naturally? Drink lots of water and get daily exercise. Avoid sugar and caffeine. Simplify your life as much as possible, to reduce stress levels. Finally, talk to someone—a partner, friend, relative or therapist.

Learn more about Heather Lounsbury at LiveNaturalLiveWell.com

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  1. Yoga helps.

  2. a bike ride or walk by Lake Michigan, with stops to just gaze at the water…

  3. I haven’t quite gotten into a regular routine yet, but yoga in the morning really helps me. Not an intense workout or anything, just a set of what’s called “sun salutations” to help me stretch, get my muscles moving, and start my day on a positive note.

    • Rachel Sarnoff says

      I agree! I wish I was more disciplined about that. I tend to get my yoga in a class, but just waking up and doing 15 minutes can make a huge difference in how I feel!

  4. A. Soderquist says

    I exercise (go walking with my neighbors and our babies, and run), meditate and pray on scripture, and paint/read. I also found a lot of peace on my daily life when I started eating a cruelty-free diet. That is one thing that was really important for me.

  5. Terri Cole says

    Is it terrible that the first thing that comes to mind is chocolate?

    • Rachel Sarnoff says

      Not at all! I don’t think that’s on Heather’s list, but I have read studies that say chocolate–especially dark, raw, organic, fair trade–is good for you and can positively affect your mood. I have a piece every day!

  6. Getting enough sleep! It’s not always easy, though…especially when I’m stressed.

  7. Breathing and stretching. Yoga. Epsom salt baths.

  8. Alison Bramham says

    I do a ballet barre.

    • Rachel Sarnoff says

      Funny, that would stress me out. Because it HURTS! But I have friends who are totally addicted, so kudos to all of you for getting through the pain!

  9. Prayer really helps me, as well as Epsom salt baths or foot soaks and deep breathing.

  10. Folate – or methyl folate is better than folic acid (which is a synthetic chemical ). If you have the MTHFR mutation (which more than half of us do) – we don’t process folic acid properly. (check out Dr. Ben Lynch on methylation http://mthfr.net/) We make 80% of our serotonin in our gut so a healthy gut biome is HUGELY important. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/
    There is a huge amount of amazing info on the life of the gut (we are all only 10% human cells – the rest are microbial… 🙂 and how it relates to autism and our mental health overall. Exciting times!

  11. I love walking….eating fresh veggie and fruits…I feel so good when I do these things…clears body and soul I think…

  12. bananas daily seem to help me, plus doing yoga or Pilates. Exercise is important!

  13. I find that walking works for me

  14. A few long, deep breaths.

  15. Massage

  16. Kimberly K says

    Slow deep breathing helps me when I am feeling stressed.


  1. […] known as “Mommy Greenest,” Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff is a journalist, consultant, sustainability advocate and former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World who was Editor in Chief of Children […]

  2. […] known as “Mommy Greenest,” Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff is a journalist, consultant, sustainability advocate and former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World who was Editor in Chief of Children […]

  3. […] a doctor and the author of The Complete Guide to Beating Sugar Addiction. Similarly to the eight foods I wrote about last year that fight anxiety and depression, “There are a number of tried and true herbs and supplements that can keep your sweet tooth under […]

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