How to Treat Anxiety With Nutrition
We have all felt it at some point in our lives: the feeling that paralyzes us and sends us into a cold sweat, causing our heart to beat at the speed of light. Anxiety is fear incarnate. It originates from our worries, our fear of failure, or simply believing the worst is bound to happen.
I personally battle with anxiety. I loathe the awful sense of powerlessness that anxiety brings. But it is a battle of the mind and one that isn’t always easily won!
Releasing negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones can overcome anxiety. One important way to do this is by processing through thoughts and fears on paper and with a friend or counselor.
However, what you put into your body can also affect the intensity of your anxiety. Though much of anxiety originates from thoughts and mindset, a healthy body is also important for a healthy mind! Our mind, body and spirit are interconnected. So keeping all three aspects healthy is imperative for overcoming anxiety.
Food affects our mood. Some foods create calm, while others produce anxiety. The key to overcoming afflicting anxiety just may be a diet that enhances a sense of peace and a calm mind.
Below are two lists of foods. The first is the list of foods to avoid that promote anxiety. These foods stimulate the nervous system or increase stress hormone production like cortisol. If you battle anxiety, then totally eliminate these foods from your diet to feel your best.
The second list features foods that help ease anxiety. These foods contain nutrients that promote a calm mind and help lower stress levels in the body. Make them a regular part of your diet and they will keep you calm and lower your anxiety.
4 Foods to Avoid Anxiety
This is by far the most obvious food on the list to avoid. Caffeine is a nervous system stimulant and can cause physical manifestations of anxiety, even if anxious thoughts aren’t present. It speeds the heart rate and can lead to an over-excited, jittery feeling that exacerbates or creates anxiety. Some people do well with just a small amount of caffeine in the morning. However, eliminating it all together is best for calming the mind and body.
When I refer to sugar, I am not just referring to white sugar. I am referring to all things that contain sugar: fruit juice, corn syrup, and honey, etc. All these sugary foods can negatively affect the body. They spike blood sugar levels which, in turn, flood your body with cortisol, a stress hormone. When cortisol levels are high, you can feel on edge and anxious. Therefore, steer clear of sugary drinks and desserts. Instead, opt for natural sweeteners that do not affect the blood sugar such as stevia.
Processed foods include: already-made-meals like boxed foods and fast foods. These foods contain a plethora of ingredients that are nearly unpronounceable. This abundance of fake food is not tolerated well by your body. Chemicals from the artificial preservatives and other ingredients can aggravate the brain by exciting neurotransmitters. This creates a sense of anxiousness and overstimulation.
Many of the artificial ingredients are addictive as well. Your body begins to crave these processed foods and you become anxious if you’re not able to eat them. The best way to avoid processed foods is to choose foods as close to their natural state as possible and cook your meals from scratch.
Also, read labels. If you see ingredients that sound more like chemicals than food, put it back on the shelf and buy something healthier!
Many people drink alcohol to help calm their nerves. However, alcohol can backfire. It can cause an even higher level of anxiety the following day. Alcohol depresses the body. That depression feeds anxiousness. The short term fix that alcohol creates can also be addictive, creating a cycle of anxiety and more depression.
Foods to Eat to Calm Anxiety
Green pumpkin seeds are high in zinc. Studies have found that anxiety is linked to a zinc-copper imbalance. Too much copper and not enough zinc in your body can cause anxiety. Just a small handful of pumpkin seeds a day provides a proper dose of zinc! Pumpkin seeds balance these trace minerals to offer relief for people suffering from anxiety.
Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon and sardines can increase EPA levels in the brain. EPA is the primary anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid for the brain. High levels of EPA correlate to a calmer mood and lessened anxiety. Essentially, EPA will make you happier and better able to handle stress. If you don’t consume large amounts of fish, then purified fish oil supplements can increase your EPA.
In a study of chocolate’s health benefits, eating 40 grams of dark chocolate (74% cocoa) every day for two weeks significantly reduced stress hormone levels. Those tested also noted feeling less anxious after eating dark chocolate. This is likely due to cocoa’s flavonol content. Flavonols are a subclass of flavonoids, natural chemicals found in plants, fruits and vegetables that repair cellular damage. Flavonoids are antioxidants so they help lower stress and inflammation throughout the body.
Turkey is high in the amino acid l-tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps you feel calm. Tryptophan present in protein like turkey has been found in studies to lower anxiety levels!
Full-fat yogurt or kefir
The majority (95%!) of serotonin, your feel-good neurotransmitter that keeps you happy and calm, is produced in the gut. Therefore, it is important to eat foods that help maintain proper intestinal balance.
To cultivate proper bacterial balance in the gut, go no further than your refrigerator! Naturally elevate your mood and reverse anxiety with fermented foods. The bacteria in fermented foods create an environment suitable for proper serotonin production. Fermented foods like kefir and yogurt contain probiotics that restore your gut health. Since gut microbes may influence your behavior, this suggests that fermented foods make us happier!
Tea (chamomile and green tea)
Each of these teas has anxiety-reducing benefits.
The effect of chamomile is to soothe and calm the nervous system. When feeling anxious, drink chamomile to relax. Studies showed that drinking chamomile tea lowered anxiety in 2 weeks! Best of all, chamomile comes without the nasty side-effects of traditional anxiety and depression medications.
Green tea contains amino acid l-theanine, which has a soothing, calming effect on people who drink it. L-theanine stimulates production of brain waves known as alpha waves. Alpha waves indicate a person is relaxed. L-theanine also increases the levels of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These two neurotransmitters directly affect a person’s mood and help induce a sense of calm and relaxation.
So, alleviate your mood and feel better by drinking quality green tea!
Eggs contain copious amounts of choline, needed for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is essentially the opposite of adrenaline. It induces a state of relaxation and promotes sleep. Farm raised, cage-free eggs are the best choice. They are fresher and have higher levels of nutrients. Eggs just may give you a new reason to come out of any depressing anxiety phase!
Green Leafy Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables are low in calories, and high in many nutrients, including magnesium. Magnesium is a natural nervous system relaxant. A lack of magnesium can cause electrical changes in your brain.
Most diets are deficient in magnesium, and stress causes our bodies to deplete this important mineral. So, getting enough magnesium in your diet while you’re stressed is so important. This essential mineral is key to relaxation and a lowered sense of anxiety. Nutrition just may trump any other form of self-help anxiety methods!
The Gut-Brain Connection
As mentioned earlier, our gut and our brain have an intimate connection. Many refer to the gut as the second brain, and for good reason! Our enteric nervous system is the name of the nervous system that resides in our gastrointestinal tract and enables us to “feel” the inner world of our gut and its contents. It is equipped with its own reflexes and senses to control gut behavior.
Our central nervous system, which is located in our brain and spinal column, is connected through the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain stem down to the abdomen. It is through the vagus nerve that gut bacteria transmit information to the brain. Thus, the nerves in our gut probably influence a big part of our emotions.
Also, the gut produces more serotonin than the brain does. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel good and it produces a sense of calm. This gut-brain connection applies to anxiety levels as well.
Dr. Kirsten Tillish, a lead author in a study of gut bacteria and anxiety, stated, “Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut.”
All of this makes creating a healthy gut environment key to overcoming anxiety. I believe there are 3 keys to creating a healthy gut.