Eat to Beat Stress

Am J Lifestyle Med. 2020 Dec 8;15(1):39-42. doi: 10.1177/1559827620973936. eCollection 2021 Jan-Feb.


There is a tendency to accept anxiety as an inevitable part of living in a stressful modern world. However, simple dietary changes can help attenuate the stress response. While there are several approaches to treating anxiety, research by Peter Roy-Byrne in 2015 has shown that only 50% to 60% of people respond to medication and psychotherapy, and only a quarter of patients have complete resolution of their symptoms. According to statistics from the National Institute of Mental health, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety disorders were the most common mental health disorder in the United States, about 3 times more common than depression (18.1% vs 6.7%). A recent Express Scripts survey showed the percent increase in the number of new prescriptions for antianxiety medications by the middle March 2020 for antianxiety medications was 37.7%, underscoring the likely rise in anxiety associated with the pandemic. While traditional medications and therapies are well needed, to beat stress during times of a pandemic, it is important to think more broadly about how we can best affect our mental well-being. One of those ways is through our nutrition and dietary habits, and research by Opie et al in 2015 demonstrates that our dietary choices are more crucial than ever. This column reviews foods and substances that are important to consider in managing anxiety.

Keywords: anxiety; cooking; culinary medicine; lifestyle medicine; nutrition; nutritional psychiatry; stress management.