The following piece originally appeared as “Food for Thought” in the Spring 2022 issue of Tracy Anderson Magazine, available now for digital download and print orders.
For many, food choices lead to anxiety: Should we eat meat? Should we eat carbs? Should we eat kale? With nutrient density under attack and so many worries about the wrong things, it’s about time you reinvent how you think about food.
Why, you ask? You’ll have a bigger brain, for starters, and will likely be calmer and happier, according to the latest research. You’ll also be more confident in your food choices than ever before because science is finally starting to think about feeding your brain cells.
“Knowledge is power and food knowledge is brain power.”
Nutritional psychiatry uses food and nutrition to both prevent and treat mental health challenges like depression and anxiety. Think about your next meal for a moment: Are you planning that plate around brain growth? Are you working to diversify and feed your microbiome, all the various bacteria that live in your gut? Are you choosing the most nutrient-dense foods that bring the most brain nutrition per calorie? These are some of the fundamental questions that should drive your food choices and, in turn, reinvent your relationship with food.
Another reason to reinvent your relationship with food are the many pieces of misinformation that are prominent in wellness. If you think turmeric affects inflammation in humans or that oxalates in kale are problematic—there are more oxalates in a cup of decaf!—then you’ve been deeply misled. Misinformation like this is being used to generate enormous anxiety and fear. That’s no way to live, eat, or reduce anxiety with food. So, let’s talk about some of the foods that I prescribe in support of mental health.
One cause of anxiety that we can fight with food is excess inflammation. Inflammation is regulated by the immune system and the types of bacteria that live in your gut play a big role. That’s why I encourage people to eat more fermented foods, which contain live bacteria, along with more plants, which is what these “good bugs” eat. Researchers at Stanford University recently found that eating more fermented foods improves the immune system and can help with anxiety. I’m a big fan of kombucha, a fermented tea, and kefir, a fermented dairy drink with more of the good bugs than any other food I’ve found.
Fighting anxiety also means eating more foods that are linked to better brain power. We know that 52 percent of Americans don’t meet the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium. This could be because most people and even healthcare providers don’t know the top food sources. Nutrient density is pretty easy to understand: You get more nutrients without all the added sugars, saturated fat, or sodium. You can get a dose of magnesium from eating more greens and beans. Lentils, for example, are a top source of folate (vitamin B9) and clams are the most concentrated source of vitamin B12.
Knowledge is power and food knowledge is brain power. Swapping out ultra-processed foods for real, nutrient-dense foods is one great step to help ease anxiety and depression. It may take a bit more time and planning, but studies have found that people who adopt these dietary principles don’t just improve their mental health, but they save money, too.
Mental health and anxiety are complicated, with food being just one piece of the puzzle. It is a piece that many people are getting wrong or don’t even know about. Your brain is by far your most important asset. Start feeding it.