Stress and anxiety entail healthy and beneficial diet

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Sandhya Govind

Sandhya Govind
Auckland, November 27, 2021

Food has been used for centuries across various cultures to not only achieve good health and wellbeing and prevent disease, but to also relieve symptoms such as inflammation that can cause physical and mental stress. Stress causes the body’s natural balance to be disturbed and this can be improved to a large extent by eating the right foods.

This is a continuation of my previous article that provided nutritional guidelines to help reduce the impact that stress has on our mind and our bodies as well as prepare us for any future stress. Given below are some more types of food that are beneficial during periods of stress and anxiety, and some that can make the stress worse, and should therefore be avoided.

Vitamin C – rich foods

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is an antioxidant that can help reduce anxiety levels, regulate heart rate and blood pressure. Thus, daily intake of foods containing Vitamin C can help combat stress.

Good sources of Vitamin C include: a) Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons) b) Peppers c) Strawberries d) Blackcurrants e) Broccoli f) Brussels sprouts g) Potatoes

High-protein foods

Protein is another important nutrient that can help with stress and anxiety. One of the many functions of protein is to provide the body with the essential amino acid called tyrosine which is broken down in the body to produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine plays an important role in regulating mood, improving cognitive function and motivation, and creating a positive frame of mind. Tyrosine is found in protein-rich foods such as: a) Fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines) b) Unprocessed New Zealand grass fed cattle c) Chicken d) Turkey e) Eggs f) Low-fat milk and milk products g) Nuts (almonds & walnuts).

Tryptophan is another essential amino acid that helps in the production of the hormones serotonin (a mood stabilizer) and melatonin (helps regulate sleep patterns). As tryptophan cannot be produced by the human body, it must be obtained through the diet, primarily from animal or plant – based protein sources such as: a) Milk b) Canned Tuna c) Turkey and Chicken d) Oats e) Cheese f) Nuts and Seeds (almonds, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds) g) Tofu and soy products

Chocolate and bananas are also good sources of tryptophan.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates increase the absorption of tryptophan in the body, thereby increasing the production of serotonin. This can improve our sleep quality and help to alleviate stress and anxiety. In addition, complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly than simple carbohydrates (sugars), which helps in stabilising blood sugar. 

The following are good sources of complex carbohydrates: a) Whole grains (buckwheat, quinoa, oats, barley etc.) b) Lentils and legumes (chickpeas, soybeans, dhals) c) Fruits and vegetables (carrots, peas, broccoli, beans, onions, sweet potatoes).

Theanine-rich drinks

L-theanine is an amino acid that has been shown to reduce stress. It creates a tranquilizing effect by increasing the alpha waves in the brain, which in turn helps a person relax without causing drowsiness. L-theanine is present in teas derived from the Camellia sinensis plant  (regular green tea or black tea). Matcha tea is a concentrated source of theanine. However, this tea should be consumed in moderation (2 cups a day), as it also has a very high caffeine content and drinking more than the recommended dose may cause headaches, diarrhoea, insomnia and irritability. It is recommended that you consult with a doctor before deciding to drink matcha if you are pregnant, are on any medications or have any medical condition.

Calcium-rich foods 

Calcium is a mineral that plays a role in nourishing the nervous system, thereby helping to reduce anxiety, restlessness or irritability. Calcium can also help regulate the sleep cycle. Therefore, low calcium levels may cause difficulty in falling asleep as well as disturbed sleep. Good food sources of calcium include a) Low-fat milk b) Yoghurt c) cheese d) Sesame seeds e) Leafy greens such as kale f) Broccoli g) Sardines with bones, canned in oil g) Fortified soy, almond and rice milk h) Fortified orange juice i) Garbanzo, kidney and navy beans j) Dried figs k) Oranges.

Vitamin D also is required for calcium absorption. The best source of vitamin D is sunshine for approximately 20 minutes per day. Vitamin D is found in foods such as: a) Oily fish (salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel) b) Red meat c) Liver d) Egg yolks

Foods to avoid

A lot of people resort to a cup of coffee when they are stressed to lift their mood and give them a boost. Though small amounts of coffee may help with this, drinking too much coffee can have negative side effects on the on the brain and nervous system, especially when the person is under stress. A craving for coffee is actually an indication that the body needs rest and drinking coffee to stay awake will eventually lead to a pattern of addiction which can lead to more stress as well as have other harmful effects on the body.  Caffeine acts as a stimulant, causing the adrenal glands to release more hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that add to stress.

Caffeine can also deplete levels of magnesium and B vitamins in the body.


People who are stressed often have a craving for sweet, sugary foods and tend to consume more of these foods. Though this will provide a short burst of energy and temporary relief from stressful feelings, it quickly leads to a vicious cycle, as consuming sugar to manage stress may only make the feelings of anxiety, fatigue, or hopelessness worse.

Food additives

A lot of the food sold today is processed and contains food additives to improve attributes such as shelf life, texture, and palatability. Salt is another food additive that is found in large quantities in processed foods. All these additives create inflammation in the gut and causes a decrease in beneficial gut bacteria, which can affect our emotional health and how we cope with stress and anxiety. 

I would like to reiterate here that we should strive to achieve our nutritional goals through our diet. Nutritional supplements should only be taken if they are prescribed by a health care professional. Moreover, please seek professional advice before making any major dietary changes. This is especially important if you are pregnant, are already on medication or supplements, or are suffering from any medical condition.

If you are finding it difficult to cope with stress or anxiety, do not hesitate to seek professional help. If you need support, there are several 24-hour helplines in New Zealand that you can call to talk to trained counsellors who will be able to guide you.

These are Youthline (young people and their families): Free Text 234; Phone: 0800-376633
Anxiety Helpline: 0800-2694389; Lifeline: Free Text 4357; Phone: 0800-543354.

Sandhya Govind is a qualified and trained Naturopath and runs the ‘Sandhya’s Naturopathy Clinic,’ an integrated Natural Medicine facility, which helps people rediscover optimal health, radiance and vitality naturally. She provides holistic support including Herbal Medicine, Supplements, Health Coaching, Diet Advice and Mineral Therapy. Ms Govind also creates Crossword and Word Search puzzles for Indian Newslink Digital Edition every fortnight. She can be contacted on 021-0709243. Email:; The above article should be read for general information purposes only and not taken as individual advice. Please always consult your GP or other authorised persons or agencies for personal advice. Indian Newslink and Sandhya Govind absolve themselves of all responsibility or liability in this connection.

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