Can Nutrition Prevent or Control Anxiety and Depression?


By Rachel Spencer, MS RDN CNSC

Is there a diet for anxiety caused by cancer? Cancer and cancer treatments may cause a range of emotions, most of them negative. Worry, fear, stress, and anxiety often top the list. If you or a loved one have just received a cancer diagnosis, you may have many new feelings that you want to understand and treat.  Working with a therapist or meditation coach is often the most effective treatment, as well as having good communication with your cancer physician and caregivers. Many people also ask how their diets can affect their mood or what is the best diet for anxiety? It turns out, the food you eat can affect the way you feel emotionally. Read on for some interesting research on how your diet can affect your mood, and act as cancer support. 

Blood Sugar 

We’ve all been there – after eating a piece of cake or a candy bar in the middle of the day, you feel great! But then an hour later you feel tired and miserable. Big swings in your blood sugar can lead to a low mood, fatigue and headaches which can worsen anxiety. Try to choose complex carbohydrates, like whole grain crackers, whole wheat toast or similar foods, as these are digested slowly leading to steady blood sugar level. If you do crave sweets, have a piece of fruit and a source of protein. It’ll satisfy your sweet tooth but still keep your blood sugar steady. 

Magnesium & Zinc

Minerals like magnesium and zinc are not common to talk about, but can have big impacts on your mood. Low magnesium is very common, and is tied to poor sleep and increased anxiety. Add magnesium to your diet with leafy greens like swiss chard, kale, or spinach and beans and nuts and seeds. Dark chocolate also is a good source of magnesium, and can satisfy a sweet tooth. Similarly, low zinc levels have also been tied to mood disorders.  Zinc is found in egg yolks, red meat, and nuts and beans. Both minerals are often added to fortified grains like breakfast cereal, which can be a great way to increase your overall vitamin and mineral content as well. 

Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fats, like EPA, DHA and AHA, are found in fatty cold-water fish and also in nuts and seeds. They are often referred to as ‘anti-inflammatory’ fats, and they can help your body in many different ways. Studies have shows that both intake of foods sources, as well as supplemental omega-3 fats, improve both anxiety and depression. But make sure to speak with your care team before starting any supplements, as omega-3 can interfere with some medications. 

Caffeine and Alcohol

That second cup of coffee in the morning have you feeling jittery? All that extra energy can often raise your heart rate and worsen anxiety, making you feel mentally worse. Try switching to half caf or black tea, which would reduce your overall caffeine intake but still give you an energy boost. Alcohol is a known depressive, meaning it slows down your body and mental functions. This can worsen any low mood, and worsen depression. Try to reduce or eliminate alcohol from your daily pattern, reserving it in moderation for special occasions. This can help improve your mood, and your general inflammation levels as well. 

Overall, eating a balanced diet that is rich in lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and lots of brightly pigmented fruits and vegetables will increase your antioxidant intake and reduce your inflammation. Using spices like cinnamon, turmeric and ginger in your cooking can also add valuable anti-inflammatory properties your diet. Lower inflammation and higher antioxidants helps not only your response to cancer treatment and overall prognosis, but may also improve your mood and anxiety levels. If you have questions about how to incorporate any of this advice into your diet, please reach out to our Registered Dietitians on OncoPower. Our platform exists to provide cancer help for patients and caregivers, through medical and cancer support services – Join Today

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