I believe that we can be strategic about food to nourish our bodies and minds. Let’s dive in to understand more about the connection between diet and stress and how we can eat for happier days!


I’m going to let you in on a little secret…Your stress or anxiety is not all in your head. Sometimes it’s in your gut! 

What to eat to prevent anxiety is likely the most common conversation I have with my patients here at Calm San Diego. 

Unfortunately, many of our go-to snacks and favorite foods aren’t just bad for our health, they’re also bad for our minds. Certain ingredients or additives can increase stress and skyrocket your anxiety without you even knowing it.

I believe that we can be strategic about food to nourish our bodies and minds. Let’s dive in to understand more about the connection between diet and stress and how we can eat for happier days!

The Food and Mood Connection: How Diet Affects Mental Health 

Can what you put into your belly affect your brain? Absolutely - for better or for worse. 

Your digestive system and nervous system are so closely connected that researchers have dubbed the gastrointestinal tract the “second brain.”

The gut is home to trillions of bacteria that make up your microbiome. These bacteria help to digest your food, as well as influence your mood by affecting the production of neurotransmitters. Studies show that a healthy and diverse microbiome can help to ward off mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. 

So, how does diet come into play?

When we eat healthy foods (like those listed below), we promote the growth of “good” bacteria. These strains the production of stress-reducing neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. With plenty of these feel-good chemicals in our bloodstream, we feel balanced, happy, and our moods are easier to manage. 

When we eat processed foods, however, we increase inflammation in the gut and slow down the production of these neurotransmitters. We don’t have enough of these neurotransmitters and our moods start to fluctuate. 

But the trouble doesn’t stop there. Certain foods, especially refined sugar and empty carbs, not only fuel inflammation and “bad” bacteria. They also raise our blood sugar and cause a cascade of events that leads to a surge in stress and anxiety. 

Here’s the good news: when you stick to a healthy diet, full of mood-boosting and gut-healthy foods, you have better control over your moods and brain health. For many people, a healthy diet is one of the most important steps to taking control over anxiety.

Relieve Stress with Your Diet

Calmer days are possible with a few simple diet swaps. Here we’ll review the foods that are highly likely to increase your stress (let’s avoid these as much as possible). Then, we’ll share some mood-boosting, anxiety-reducing foods to support your mental health. Feel free to fill your plate!

Stress-Inducing Foods to Avoid

The following foods contain refined sugar, additives, or other ingredients that increase inflammation or harm the good gut bacteria. Avoid these to reduce your stress and anxiety. 

  • Refined sugar
  • White breads or refined grains
  • Processed meats
  • Dairy 
  • Fast food or fried food
  • “Lite” or fat-free foods (the fat is often replaced with sugar!)
  • Soda or energy drinks
  • Energy drinks
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners

Mood-Boosting Foods to Enjoy

Now, let’s fill up on the foods that help us stay balanced and stress-free. The following foods are safe to enjoy regularly, just remember to strike a balance and eat a variety of different foods each day. 

  • Colorful fruits and vegetables
    Fruits and vegetables are nature’s medicine cabinets. They contain a wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibers, and other nutrients we need to keep our gut and nervous system in working order.

  • Whole grains
    Whole grains are a better alternative to processed, refined grains. The fiber and minerals in whole grains prevent a blood sugar spike and offer valuable nutrients for your good gut bacteria.

  • Other fiber-rich foods
    Beans, lentils, and other foods rich in fiber are a great way to feed your healthy gut bacteria and keep your digestion - and moods - regular.

  • Healthy fats
    The omega-3 fatty acids in foods like chia seeds, pumpkin seeds almonds, salmon, and avocados help to reduce inflammation and protect the brain.

  • Healthy Proteins
    The protein in eggs, fish, and lean meats feeds your gut tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin. Plus, protein gives you the natural energy to take on the day with ease (and without the stress of a carb crash).

  • Mushrooms
    Mushrooms are one of the few food sources of vitamin D, which helps to improve serotonin levels and general mood balance. Along with your typical cooking mushrooms, the medicinal mushroom reishi can help to relieve anxiety and calm your mind even more.

  • Fermented foods
    Foods like kimchi, miso, tempeh, and kombucha contain helpful probiotics, which encourage a healthy and strong microbiome.

Nourishing Yourself Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful 

You are what you eat, right? Well, you are how you eat, too! Diet isn’t just about the foods you eat but how you shop for them, the energy you put into preparing them, and how you feel about nourishing yourself. 

Along with eating the right foods to keep stress levels low, let’s also consider how we enjoy our delicious meals. Try these simple tips to nourish yourself the Calm way:

  • Find ways to enjoy cooking.
    If you don’t like to cook, nourishing yourself may feel more like a chore than an act of self-care. The trick is to find ways to make it fun. Put on music, enjoy a glass of wine or a mocktail, listen to an audiobook, or get your family involved. If cooking feels like rocket science to you, try an easy-to-make meal prep service like Hello Fresh. Or, invite a foodie friend over to give you a cooking lesson.

  • Meal plan or meal prep to avoid stress.
    If you live a busy life, cooking for yourself probably doesn’t always make the list of daily “must-dos.” Use meal planning or meal prepping to batch your cooking and still enjoy the peace of a home-cooked meal - all while saving yourself time, energy, and stress.

  • Give thanks for your meal.
    Whether you use prayer, a moment of silence, or a simple “thank you” before digging in, a moment of gratitude relieves stress by reminding you how lucky you are. Give thanks to your food, to those who grew the food, to yourself for taking the time to carefully prepare it, and to your body for its amazing power to transform this food into energy that gives you life.

  • Eat mindfully.
    As a culture, we like to rush. But food should be savored! Chew each bite thoroughly and notice the unique flavors and textures. Not only does chewing naturally calm the mind with a release of serotonin, but it also improves your digestion. Win-win!

Eat Calm with Calm San Diego!

We are big food lovers here at Calm San Diego, and that means that food and diet are always part of our anti-anxiety treatment plans. 

Whether you work with us in our cozy clinic, or simply follow along with us from home, we’re here to help take the stress out of nourishing yourself well. 

Are you ready to start a tailored wellness and diet plan made just for your unique mind and body? Click here to schedule your free consultation!Hi Friends!

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