How Food and Drink Choices Can Affect Anxiety
Jenny Tschiesche BSc(Hons) Dip(ION) FdSc BANT
How Food and Drink Choices Can Affect Anxiety
Whilst there is no miracle diet for anxiety there are many nutritional areas to focus on that will help to reduce its likelihood and severity.
Eat Happy Fats - Not Low Fat
Omega 3 fatty acids, found in oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel as well as to a lesser degree in flaxseeds, and chia seeds are shown to reduce anxiety. Brain membranes contain a high proportion of these fats, and studies suggest that a lack of omega 3 in the brain may induce anxiety. A diet too low in fat is also linked to increased anxiety. It is easy these days, thanks to the numerous low or 0% fat products on the market, to mistakenly remove too much fat from our diet. That is going to prohibit the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients and is also likely to lead to cravings for fast release carbohydrates more regularly. Both factors play a part in increasing anxiety.
Optimise Gut Health with Probiotic and Prebiotic foods
Improving the health of the microbiome means improving the production of the neurotransmitter’s GABA, dopamine and serotonin, all of which play their part in reducing anxiety. That’s because the gut and brain are directly linked by the vagus nerve. This acts like a communication superhighway between the two areas. To optimise gut health increase your intake of probiotic foods. Try including kefir, yogurt, miso, natto, tempeh, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, water kefir, unpasteurised cheese, cultured butter in your diet. To increase your intake of prebiotic foods try including cooked and cooled starches (rice, pasta, potatoes), oats, onions, leeks, garlic, underripe bananas, legumes e.g. chickpeas, beans and lentils
Monitor Effects of Caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant for the nervous system which increases your heart rate, your blood pressure, and your body temperature all of which mirror the bodily responses to anxiety. In some people, caffeine can trigger the same type of physical feelings as anxiety. Furthermore, a Brazilian study showed caffeine could actually induce panic attacks in certain people. If you feel that you experience anxiety or similar feelings to anxiety in response to caffeine consumption, then cut back slowly. Remember that coffee, tea, energy drinks and chocolate all contain caffeine as do some medications.
Drink Water and Herbal Teas
A University of Connecticut study showed that even mild dehydration can cause mood problems. In fact, our thirst sensation doesn’t appear until we are 1 - 2% dehydrated and by then we are likely to be experiencing feelings of anxiety. It is believed that anxiety and dehydration may be linked directly as an ancient warning system alerting us to find water for survival.
In order to stay hydrated and reduce your chances of anxiety at the same time you may benefit from supplementing water with the following teas:
- Passionflower Tea – contains chrysin which can help reduce anxiety
- Green Tea – contains l-theanine which increases alpha wave activity which can induce relaxation
- Chamomile Tea- can bind to GABA receptors helping to induce relaxation
- Lemon Balm Tea – shown to reduce stress
Whilst many “treat” anxiety with alcohol it is in fact a depressant that can worsen anxiety because it causes spikes and dips in blood sugar, dehydrates you and impairs brain function. A study found that people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) were 4.5 x more likely to develop alcohol dependence. Try to reduce your alcohol consumption and when you do consume it take steps to rebalance hydration levels.
Bring Back Some Colour
Antioxidants protect the brain against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress means inflammation, which impairs neurotransmitter production. Studies show that anxiety is linked to a lower antioxidant status and that eating antioxidant-rich foods can help. Try and include the following in your diet:
Beta-carotene - carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, and kale
Vitamin C - citrus fruits, red peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and strawberries
Vitamin E - almonds, avocado, spinach, sunflower seeds, spinach, and sweet potatoes
Selenium - Brazil nuts, halibut, grass-fed beef, turkey, chicken, and eggs
Zinc – cashews, pumpkin seeds, fish
Include Fibre and Protein in Meals and Snacks
Combining protein and fibre with slow-release carbohydrates can help to maximise satiety, keep energy levels stable which helps to keep your mood stable and to reduce anxiety. For snacks you might like to combine for example:
Vegetables and Hummus
Cheese and Oatcake
Yogurt and Fruit