Diet guidelines for the Highly Sensitive Person

Dinner plate

Figuring out what to eat can be a challenge of epic proportions for the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), because everything we eat affects us so much.

If we don’t eat enough we feel light-headed, drained, anxious and jittery.

If we eat too much, or the wrong things, mind fog sets in big time.

We’re also prone to digestive issues and to everything else that goes with having a sensitive constitution.

Processed foods affect us more than most – refined sugar and caffeine are powerful mind-altering drugs for us.

But if we strip away all that and eat a super clean raw diet, our emotions can feel far too…well…raw.

While food that’s unfired is an essential component of any diet, eating 100% raw is challenging for HSPs, as we need to eat in a way that calms and grounds us.

It’s hard to get enough grounding foods on a raw diet without overdoing the fats (though we certainly shouldn’t underdo them either; they’re essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system).

A whole foods diet is the way to go – experiment to find the amount of raw that works for you, and also the foods that you feel best on.

The number one rule is the same for you as for everyone else: make vegetables the centre of your diet. Enjoy them in salads, juices, smoothies, soups, stews and other dishes.

They are grounding, balancing, and loaded with essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

With vegetables as the star of the show, pick from a supporting cast that can include nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and high-quality animal foods, if you desire.

Stay away from stimulants, and not just the obvious ones like cola, coffee and cocaine. Give cacao (or “raw” chocolate) a wide berth (it’s not for nothing that it’s often referred to as “crackao”). You may find you need to skip the green tea, too, and opt for caffeine-free alternatives.

Beware of extreme detox regimes such as water or juice fasts.

These put a great deal of strain on the body’s organs and systems and are very depleting.

HSPs fare much better on gentler detox diets because, as psychologist Elaine Aron writes in her book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You:

“Hunger is yet another stimulus. Besides arousing one further it produces a diminution of the biochemical substances necessary for the usual, calmer functioning of the nervous system.”

So while a juice fast might seem like the quickest way to get results, it can be counterproductive.

It can put nervous system in a state of stress, which will switch on its sympathetic “fight or flight” branch, and switch off its parasympathetic “detox and rest” one.

So although it’s counterintuitive, you are likely to experience deeper detoxification, faster, on a less punishing regime.

When our blood sugar is out, us HSPs feel it quickly and profoundly in the form of anxiety, light-headedness, tiredness and/or irritability, so eating for blood sugar balance is essential.

This means eating regularly, and eating grounding and balancing foods such as greens and healthy fats and proteins.

I also recommend taking chlorella between meals, as this can help keep blood sugar balanced, and is also loaded with healthy chlorophyll.

Our sensitivity makes us prone to stress, and stress burns through magnesium and B vitamins at a fantastic rate, so we may need to supplement those.

For Bs, choose from a multi-vitamin/mineral or a good B-Complex – either way, ideally go for one that’s free of magnesium stearate (which, as I explained here, does not give you magnesium; it’s a synthetic flow agent added to make manufacturing equipment run more smoothly).

As well as taking a quality magnesium supplement, another way to get extra magnesium into your body is transdermally, i.e. through the skin. There are two ways to do this:

1. Rub magnesium oil into your skin every morning after washing and before getting dressed.

2. Add 500g of magnesium salts to a hot bath once a week and soak for half an hour. If you’re feeling especially frazzled make it a whole kilo.

In summary:

  • Eat regularly and resist any urge to undereat.
  • Base your diet around vegetables.
  • Be sure to get plenty of healthy fats.
  • If you need extra help balancing your blood sugar, take chlorella between meals.
  • Steer clear of stimulants.
  • If you’re feeling stressed, give yourself extra magnesium and B vitamins.

Want more HSP tips?

Go here to join my (free, private) Highly Sensitive Woman Facebook group.


  • This is wonderful, finally someone addressing us ‘highly sensitive individuals’ instead of a one-size-fits-all approach! I particularly love this bit…

    “Give cacao a wide berth (it’s not for nothing that it’s often referred to as “crackao”) and if your adrenals are exhausted you may find you need to skip the green tea, too, and opt for caffeine-free alternatives.”

    Great to hear when so many health conscious people are raving about how wonderful raw cacao is, and green tea too. I love the taste of raw cacao but it lowers my blood sugar by extremes and I feel awful on it. Same with green tea, it’s still tea after all, way too much caffeine in both of these for me.

    Thanks for this article! 🙂

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  • Hi Sarah
    Stumbled on this after reading about the Raw vegan village fiasco. I read the book about being highly sensitive a few months ago and it was an eye opener. But I hadn’t thought about how to apply it to my raw diet.
    After reading your blog it will be easier for me to resist the pressure to follow the 80.10.10 diet. Now I know why I need my fat!
    And I will be more consistent about taking chorella.
    I find all your articles so wise! Many thanks

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  • Sarah,
    Thank you so much. This really helps – I’ve been following a raw diet for a year, with not so good results this past couple months. Now I know how to tweak it 🙂 Really enjoyed the first article in this series. It was eye opening – and affirming. Again – thank you.

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  • Hi,

    I am sensitive to caffeine and I may be sensitive to sugar also.

    I have a contraction in my left SCM muscle in my neck and it turns my head to the right involuntarily consistently.

    Please let me know at my email address what I can do other than the advice I am taking from this great article. I really need help I have tried everything. I am goingto a chiropractor for my neck but I also believe my sympathetic nervous systems must be locked in. Thanks, Teri

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  • Hi Again,Can you please also let me know if you have ever helped anyone and with what results with the contractions in the neck. Other than these contractions my right groin was injured 10 years before my neck began contracting. I thought maybe the left side was compensating for the right side that became increasingly weak after the groin injury. Thanks again.

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  • Yes…thank you so much for this page. I do especially appreciate the recommendation for the chlorella…took my first pill of it today, have to go easy on a dicey tummy, but i felt light and happy and lifted up after I took it…gonna clean up my diet too and try to lay off the caffiene…ur page made me feel not so alone…thank you very much. MM

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  • Really great read thank you , I admit when I first came to the page and saw raw, I thought oh no not a go raw thing. As you say raw just throws me for a loop! Green tea oh I had a terrible reaction with that after a health educator told me to try it.My father found me 2hours after I had had a cup of green tea hanging on to the garage door , trying to run away from home ( yes I am an adult !!)but hearing a house in the next street being knocked down I thought the FBI and the CIA where trying to kill me with bombs. Seriously and I do not even live in the US. He took me in put me to bed and when I woke up 5 hours later I had a terrible hangover, but was in my right mind again. Could I ask what magnesium oil you would use please. I have tried two one peeled my feet to bits, later discovered there was soy in it that had not been declared on the label. The other one knocked me out, I later was told an ingredient in it could be very hard for sensitive people to detox. So just wondered what you would suggest please ? Thank you for such interesting info

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  • I’m a extremely highly sensitive person and to me it feels like I’m struggling to make it through every day. I have to change my diet but I’m very picky.. Ill take your advice or try for that matter if I’m ever motivated

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  • Thanks so much for what you have offered here for HSPs. I am sensitive to wheat, soy, corn, sugar (prediabetic), dairy, most nuts. I am searching for a multivitamin. Any help on this? I also need something to help with the brain fog. Thanks

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  • Hi Ijunanya,

    I love the Viridian brand of supplements and they do a good multi-vitamin which is available in the UK:

    For a whole-food option that is available in more countries (I’m not sure where you are), I recommend Pure Synergy:

    For brain fog my number one nutritional recommendation would be to make sure you’re getting enough potassium. Many people are deficient in this without realising, and this is a topic I’ll be writing about soon.

    Sarah x

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  • Thanks for this and your other articles. I have recently come to recognize myself as an HSP and it has been an eye opener. I have always had a larger than anyone I knew empathic response to all living things and have been vegan for 21 years. I could just never (since childhood) bear the thought of causing that much suffering. I am curious how many other HSPs have had a similar expereince.

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  • Thanks so much for writing this article, I have just started taking chlorella and really hoping for a positive affect. I am extremely sensitive to coffee and alcohol for some reason but alcohol only the last few years. However I have realised that I am a Hsp and react to other things too. So glad I found your site.

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  • Chia seeds, water, kefir, spices – lots of spices, and moringa are also very good. Now I use cocoa butter every day, in my tea and on my skin. I love it. Very healthy for us. The problem with most cocoa products out there, is the mainstream cocoa industry is using a lower quality cocoa plant, that isn’t as good as the original cocoa plants. And most cocoa products are loaded with refined sugar. Make sure any cocoa product is organic and GMO free. Many processed foods now have GMO’s in them, as it doesn’t need to be declared.

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  • Ketogenic diet, wich is a very high in fats, very low in carbohydrates and moderate in protein, and fasting work for me. Carbohydrates keep me in an alert modus and also like hyper. When I eat them I also feel extremly exhausted and sleepy. Fasting is a physical stress but a hormetic stimulus and switches on Autophagy, wich is the key to health and longevity. Juice fasts are nothing like a water fast, juices are sugars on liquid, sure from veggies and fruits, but sugars. And they are more or less like fasting with candies, making you hyper and irritable. My body and brain running on ketones feel stable, more resilient, less prone to stick with an obsesive thought, easier to let go. The ketogenic diet is like eating meditation.

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  • The only time I reach for meat is when my gut needs repair, so I boil some bones, usually free range drumsticks or lamb shanks. Something about the leg meats and bones. Maybe because they keep the animal on the ground, grounded? Casseroles and stews are the healthiest way to consume meat and bone simmering provides things fried roasted grilled muscle cuts cant offer. Do not overdo bone broth at all and use only for repair.
    Otherwise if all the machinery is running good[because I am eating and living well] I am a vegan.
    Slowly I’m improving my diet, just recently I’ve discovered the benefits of soaking grains, pulses and seeds to transform the antinutrients on the husks.
    Hopefully soon I may never need to repair with animal broth. Maybe once a month is neccessary due to environmental pollutants.
    The #1 antioxidant in the body is glutathione and is highest in meats.
    However if oxidative stress is reduced [digestion produces oxidative stress so it can never be removed unless you stop eating] probably antioxidants from plant sources can be all that is required.
    Thanks for the reminder, I get caught up with the world and free food events but regret it after every time.

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  • Thank you for writing this article! You mentioned a lot of things that I have experienced but been confused about, such as: eating a 100% raw diet and feeling like my emotions are also too “raw” or too intense, the need to eat “grounding” foods, and the general wondering of why food has such a strong affect on my emotions compared to people who seem to be able to eat whatever they want without it affecting their mood.

    It definitely seems like the HSP has to create a sort of alternative lifestyle compared to the traditional advice on how to thrive. I’ve felt so bad that I seem to need a calm lifestyle with a lot of indoors and downtime – the ideal healthy person is always outside doing rock climbing and attending concerts – but if it really is something genetic and it’s just the way I am, then I can stop feeling so bad about it and instead figure out how to create the life I need.

    Thanks again for the article!

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  • My brain shuts down when i eat too much food. Its been a while since ive eating that amount. What helps is to do some simple motion like fold clothes or wash dishes. Other wise I’m like that until i do a simple motion.

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