Anxiety and Nutrition – What is the connection ?

Do You Have Anxiety?

A common element present in anxiety and mood disorders is an imbalance of neurotransmitters. For example, you may have unusually high levels of adrenaline that cause excitatory responses. In contrast, you can also have remarkably low levels of GABA (Gamma-AminoButyric Acid), a calming neurotransmitter known to reduce excitability.

Such imbalances with neurotransmitters can alter the brain’s circuitry and make you more likely to suffer from generalized anxiety, panic, and fear.

Food and anxiety

Everything you eat affects your mental state. So we’d like to refer to your gut as your ‘second brain’. Your gut plays a leading role in healing mood disorders. When you eat to improve your health, you improve many areas of well-being as well.

Food impacts your neurotransmitter levels of serotonin and dopamine, both of which play a big part in how you feel and perceive the world. Serotonin, for example, is responsible for mood, sleep cycles, and appetite control. And over 80% of this is made in your gut.

When levels of this neurotransmitter drop, the results can be mood disorders, anxiety, and depression. This is one reason why we crave carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, and lollies, all of which raise serotonin levels quickly but temporarily.

Fast sugars raise and drop the moods quickly.

Complex carbs such as apples and sweet potatoes are better options. They work the same magic but don’t drop quickly. Moreover, they are a more sustainable source of energy for your body. In the same manner, dopamine helps to increase focus and motivation. Eating small amounts of protein throughout the day can boost dopamine and stabilize blood sugar levels. Nuts, seeds, eggs, and legumes are all great proteins.

Foods to help with Anxiety

Tips to help with anxiety

Stay hydrated. The brain comprises a high percentage of water. Anything that dehydrates it, such as too much caffeine or alcohol, impairs your cognition and judgment. Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Have breakfast. It is important to start each day with protein to boost your focus and concentration. Protein helps balance your blood sugar, increases focus and gives your brain the necessary nutrients for optimum brain health. Eggs are great choices. (Try to always buy organic eggs.)

  • Other wonderful sources of protein include wild fish, organic turkey or chicken, beans, seeds, raw nuts, and vegetables such as broccoli and spinach.

Eat healthy fats. Focus on healthy fats, especially those that contain omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like salmon, sardines, Cod Liver Oil,  walnuts, chia seeds, and dark green, leafy vegetables. Our brain is full of fat – therefore, it is vital that we feed it with healthy fats. Try to use first cold-pressed, extra-virgin vegetable oils like olive, flax, and hemp oil. Coconut oil is a good option, too.

While fish is a great source of healthy protein and fat, it is important to know about the mercury levels in fish. Here are a couple of general rules to guide you:

  • The larger the fish, the more mercury it probably contains. Go for smaller varieties.
  • Eat a variety from the safe fish choices, preferably those highest in omega-3 like wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies, and Pacific halibut.

Have your dose of fermented foods. A recent study has linked the consumption of fermented food with reduced social anxiety in young people. It is among a growing number of studies that find gut microbiota affects mental health, and in particular to depression and anxiety. When you start to heal your gut, you are healing your mind as well. Great sources of fermented foods are kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt and fermented soy products such as tempeh and miso, which are all high in natural probiotics.

Feast on a rainbow of fruits and veggies. Have loads of different coloured vegetables and fruits, but try to limit even the natural sugars and avoid things like dried fruit. Go for berries, citrus, pomegranates, pears, apples, and bananas (grapes and stone fruits are high in natural sugars).

Read labels. Become familiar with food triggers such as artificial colours and preservatives. MSG is often a big trigger for some people.

Seasonal and local are the freshest.

Whenever you can, eat organically grown or raised foods. Pesticides used in commercial farming can accumulate in your brain and body, even though the levels in each food may be low. Also, eat hormone and antibiotic-free meat from free-range and grass-fed animals.

What to avoid

Tips for Anxiety - avoid sugar

Processed sugar. Sugars are carbohydrates divided into simple and complex groups based on their molecular composition. Most of the sugar we consume is harvested from sugarcane and sugar beet, two plants incredibly rich in the substance. However, alternative hidden sugar sources are in almost all processed foods.

Cortisol and sugar are highly intertwined when it comes to anxiety. Cortisol serves to restore homeostasis or balance the body after stress. However, when exposed to prolonged stress, the body naturally produces more cortisol, causing blood sugar levels and insulin production to spike.

These increased amounts of sugar and insulin can effectively crash blood sugar levels. This signals the hypothalamus that its only source of energy (glucose) is severely needed and the brain is likely starved. The hypothalamus then panics, sending the adrenal glands signals to pump out more adrenaline. This, of course, causes the emergence of further anxiety attacks and symptoms.

Under chronic stress, the brain believes it needs more sugar even though it has received far more than it needs. It is an addictive pattern that causes us to overindulge in sweets. A recent study conducted at Princeton University found that rats after consuming excessive amounts of sugar, rats exhibited withdrawal symptoms similar to those of opiate addicts when fasting.

With anxious personalities, it’s better to have more small meals throughout the day than three big ones. This helps keep your blood sugar from spiking and causing unnecessary stress.

Caffeine. As we know it, caffeine is the world’s most popularly consumed psychoactive drug. We ingest it in many forms: coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, energy drinks, and certain supplements. According to one study, caffeine triggers mood-elevating effects by interacting with noradrenergic and dopaminergic pathways in our brain. Building tolerance to the substance occurs quickly, often leaving consumers wanting to experience the same effects as before. This leads them to amplified intake and exposes them to possible health risks. A common consequence of overusing caffeine is increased anxiety and insomnia. If your diet is high in caffeine, consider gradually limiting your intake to prevent a difficult withdrawal.

Low-Carb Diets. Eating a diet low in carbohydrates may sound healthy, but it can have serious consequences for anxious people. A diet rich in whole grains, on the other hand, increases the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter your brain releases. The release of this chemical can cause a pleasurable and calming effect on the body. Anxious people typically have lower levels of serotonin, to begin with, so increasing the release of this neurotransmitter is crucial in warding off symptoms of anxiety.

Recent studies show that carbohydrates affect an amino acid called tryptophan. This amino acid is essential in the production of both melatonin and serotonin. Tryptophan is especially high in bananas, chocolate, and dairy. (I would recommend raw organic dairy as it easier to digest and packed with nutrients and enzymes.) A diet rich in whole grains usually has plenty of fibre as well. As an added benefit, a high-carb diet can also help with indigestion problems common among anxious children.

Emotional Support

  • Face your fears. Try things that push you beyond your comfort zone.
  • Recognise it is okay to be imperfect.
  • Practice EFT.
  • Focus on the positives. Surround yourself with positive people.
  • Schedule relaxing activities such as yoga, meditation, and time with nature. There are many great apps you can download to help you with this.
  • Practice nurturing self-care and positive thinking.
  • Encourage good sleeping habits (limit screen time before bed).
  • Express and talk about your anxiety. Find supportive friends.
  • Try to problem solve.
  • Stay calm. Surround yourself with calming people.
  • Practice relaxation exercises such as breathing.
  • Keep trying and don’t give up. Set small but achievable goals.

Contact or Ph: 086 6123683 for more detail including how to test your Nutritional Status, Adrenal & Thyroid function, Gut, Liver and Blood Sugar handling.

Don’t let anxiety control your life! Take control of your Health instead!

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