Easing Anxiety with Food
According to Beyond Blue, anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. On average, one in four people will experience anxiety at some stage in their life.
Feeling anxious in certain situations can be helpful and preserve life, but if you become overly worried about perceived threats and live in a state of anxiety, this survival mechanism is not serving you any good. As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic people are increasingly feeling anxious due to the “new normal” and the uncertainty ahead. Managing mental health and trying to avoid the escalation of anxiety has never been more important and one way to help this is through diet.
Specific therapies and medications can help relieve the burden of anxiety, and while nutritional psychiatry is not a substitute for other treatments, the relationship between food, mood, and anxiety is not new and there is a growing body of evidence.
In my practice, part of what I discuss when explaining treatment options is the important role of diet in helping to manage anxiety.
Managing blood sugar
Managing blood sugar will, in turn, manage your mood. Sugar in the form of refined carbohydrates or junk food gives us a little high, shortly followed by a low, but if we eat foods that keep the blood sugar balanced, we avoid the lows.
Eating protein and fat with every meal is the key to balancing your blood sugar. Protein and fat make you feel full and won’t spike the blood sugar. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, can spike the blood sugar, leading to mood swings and cravings, especially refined carbohydrates such as white bread, rice, noodles, cakes, and sugary drinks. Root vegetables can also spike the blood sugar, but they are healthy so small amounts are ok.
Complex carbohydrates are better than refined carbohydrates but again can spike the blood sugar, so always have a moderate amount along with some fat and protein. Green leafy vegetables you can have as many as you like.
The gut and your mood
The gut-brain axis is also very important since a large percentage (about 95%) of serotonin receptors are found in the lining of the gut. Serotonin is a hormone that stabilises your mood and promotes good sleep, it is also called the happy hormone. Research is examining the potential of probiotics for treating both anxiety and depression.
Try fermented foods such as miso, kimchi, sauerkraut to increase the beneficial bacteria in the gut and consume bone broth to heal the gut lining or take a collagen supplement if bone broth is not your thing.
Serotonin boosting foods
Serotonin, the happy hormone, is synthesized from tryptophan, an amino acid found in tofu, eggs, cheese, salmon, turkey, pineapple and nuts and seeds.
Other foods to consider
- Low magnesium has been found to increase anxiety related behaviour, magnesium rich foods include leafy greens, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Omega 3 found in fish has been linked to improving depression and anxiety
- Based on research, the Chinese government approved the use of an asparagus extract as a natural functional food and beverage ingredient due to its anti-anxiety properties.
- People with low levels of zinc are more prone to depression and anxiety. Foods rich in zinc are oysters, cashews, egg yolks, liver and beef.
- Anxiety has been correlated to lowered antioxidant state. Antioxidants should always be on your shopping list as they protect you from disease and are anti-aging. Fruit, especially berries are high in antioxidants as are spices, vegetables, nuts and any superfood you can get your hands on
Be sure to speak to your doctor if you are experiencing ongoing severe anxiety.
Author: Pernille Jensen / The Gut Co.
Pernille Jensen is a Naturopath and Clinical Nutritionist with over 10 years of experience. Pernille has dedicated her life to researching gut issues, as she truly believes everything begins in the gut; disease as well as health.
Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety
Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/clinical-resources/anxiety
Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: Modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198864/
Magnesium fact sheet https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
Effects of nano and conventional zinc oxide on anxiety-like behavior in male rats. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24130388
Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25998000
Evaluation of Anxiolytic-Like Effect of Aqueous Extract of Asparagus Stem in Mice https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3853311/