Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders, affecting more than 8 million people in the UK. Anxiety can come in many different forms and can have a significant impact on day-to-day activities for those suffering from it, affecting concentration, sleep and the ability carry out ordinary tasks at work, home or school.
Those who suffer from severe anxiety will usually require professional medical help, and we would never intend to replace the advice of your doctor or psychologist*. But, for mild-to-moderate levels of anxiety, making changes to diet and lifestyle can make a real difference. Just like there are foods that harm or help our bodies, there are foods that harm or help our mental health.
The mood-boosting effects of chocolate have been touted for quite some time, but more recent research has shown a particular link between dark chocolate and anxiety. And here’s why:
A 2013 study in the Journal of Pharmacology showed that a special compound found in cocoa called polyphenols can positively affect anxiety and enhance calmness.
Low serotonin is one of the leading causes (and outcomes) of anxiety. Dark chocolate provides large amounts of Tryptophan, an amino acid that also works as a precursor to serotonin. So, it’s possible that by ingesting more dark chocolate, you’re improving your serotonin levels.
- Mood Elevation
Another ingredient in chocolate is theobromine — an ingredient that studies have shown can have a positive, mood elevating effect on those that ingest it.
Dark chocolate also contains high amounts of magnesium. Studies are starting to show that magnesium may be one of the few nutrients that has a noticeable effect on anxiety. People often take magnesium supplements, but getting your magnesium through food is considered a much healthier overall option.
Darker the better
It’s important to note that these benefits are only found in dark chocolate. Milk chocolate has almost no nutritional value, contains very little of those all-important nutrients mentioned above, and contains high levels of sugar that can actually lead to worse feelings of anxiety!
The closer you get to pure dark cocoa (preferably sugar-free) the more benefit you will see. We know that dark chocolate can be bitter, so try starting with a percentage of around 75% cocoa while your tastebuds adjust. We love Norwegian small-batch organic chocolate makers, Fjak — start with their 70% Mork Brasil, before moving up to the more intense award-winning Chocolat Madagascar 100%.
Other diet tips to improve anxiety:
- Drink more water. Many studies have found that dehydration affects up to 25% of those with persistent stress, and dehydration is known to cause more anxiety.
- Look for foods rich in magnesium, vitamin B12 (and other B vitamins), zinc, and antioxidants
- Avoid eating foods that contribute to anxiety, such as fried foods, high glycemic carbs, refined sugars, and alcoholic beverages.