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Photo: Andreana Bitsis | Styling: Jessy Scarpone

Foods That Calm Anxiety (and Some Recipes for How to Integrate Them)

Do you spend some days feeling frazzled, jittery, or overwrought? Don’t chock it up to your humungous to-do list, the daily news, or a sick pet when it could be your diet!

Nutritional deficiencies and dietary patterns can have a big impact on how smoothly your brain computes and how hearty your nervous system functions, especially under the onslaught of regular, daily stress. It turns out that food can be your delicious fix to help flip the vitality switch in your brain and boost neurotransmitters, like serotonin, that safeguard a shaky nervous system.

Eating overall can be a very soulful experience, but when your nerves are on edge, don’t turn to your standard unhealthy comfort foods that might soothe in the moment but greatly increase stress levels shortly after, if they contain processed sugar, caffeine, and inflammatory fats.

Instead, dig into tasty foods that can comfort your nerves, soothe your brain long-term, and get you into the “chill zone” more regularly.

Photo: Andreana Bitsis | Styling: Jessy Scarpone

Nuts and Seeds for Increased Serotonin

Feeling stressed because you have low energy? Low energy that may also manifest as brain fog can in fact be a symptom of low serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, keeps depression at bay, and allows your nerve cells to communicate efficiently.

Most of this important compound (which also controls hormones like insulin) lives in the gut and helps you to “chillax” when you need it most, like unwinding at the end of a long day and getting a good night’s sleep. Nosh on nuts and seeds, as they contain tryptophan, an amino acid that can help trigger serotonin. Munching on a handful of nuts a day is wise advice in general since they can help boost heart health, they contain healthy fats that keep you feeling full, and they satisfy that salt craving the healthy way. They are also a good source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Mixed Nut Pesto
(Serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup assorted nuts such as walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts or hazel nuts, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled, quartered
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Method

  1. Place the nuts, thyme, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper.
  2. Pulse 10 to 15 minutes until the walnuts are finely chopped. Add the 1/2 cup olive oil and pulse 2 to 3 minutes more until a thick sauce forms. Stir in the Parmesan.
  3. Toss with 1 pound of your favorite pasta or “zoodles”.

Photo: Andreana Bitsis | Styling: Jessy Scarpone

Greens for Folate

Lavish your nervous system with one of the most important stabilizing nutrients it needs: folate. Folate, a B vitamin, helps to prevent neurological disorders and you may recognize it in supplement form as folic acid. But taking it as a supplement can be risky, so instead fill up on foods that contain folate like superfood leafy greens, including spinach, kale, and asparagus, which are better for your bod and an easy way to fill your dinner plate.

Grilled Lemon Asparagus with Spinach and Feta
(Serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground
  • 2 lemons, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
  • 1 pound baby spinach leaves
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta

Method

  1. Place the asparagus on a tray and drizzle with the olive oil, paprika, salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a grill over high heat and grill the asparagus and lemon rounds 2 to 3 minutes per side, until charred and tender.
  3. Arrange the spinach on a large platter and top with the asparagus and lemons. Sprinkle with the feta and serve immediately.

Prebiotic and Probiotic Foods

Since serotonin primarily inhabits your gut, snack on plenty of prebiotic foods like carrot sticks, apple wedges with nut butter, and cooked plain breakfast oats with berries as well as probiotic foods, like pickles, kimchee, and olives to keep gut flora healthy and well feed. Gut flora rule the health of your immune system and have a big impact on anxiety levels. Studies show there is a “gut brain axis” where fear signals are shared between your gut and brain, and poor diet along with stress can make anxiety signals rage out of control. But fear not, healing prebiotic and probiotic foods are the best way to keep good gut bugs from sounding the alarm.

Photo: Andreana Bitsis | Styling: Jessy Scarpone

Herbs

Lavender has been use for centuries as a nervine, and no wonder, it has a such a soothing scent and is rich in antibacterial compounds. Enjoy it in both edible form (such as in bitters) and use it topically in essential oil form for bedtime, bath, and even at your office. Place a drop on a sleep mask or directly on your temples for a great way to wind down after a busy day. And mix the bitters with sparkling water for a booze swap that still allows you to celebrate with friends or have a mocktail at home.

Lavender Blackberry Sparkler
(Serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 2 shots flavored gourmet syrup, such as black berry or grenadine
  • 2 cups sparkling water
  • 4 drops lavender bitters

Method

  1. Fill a pitcher with ice.
  2. Pour all ingredients over ice and stir.
  3. Divide between two glasses and serve.

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Need a complete body relaxation? Try this calming fall meditation or consider getting out and forest bathing

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