For Time To Talk Day, Maidstone and Mid-Kent Mind are looking at the ties between physical and mental health. We’re hosting a stand at Maidstone Hospital on the day itself to encourage people to look more at the links there – but we wanted to do more. That is why we are delighted that Katie from Nutritionist Resource shared a look at the ties between Nutrition And Anxiety.
Don’t forget – Nutrition is also helped by exercise, so click here to read more about our Running group.
How can nutritional therapy help ease symptoms of anxiety?
When struggling with general anxiety or a specific anxiety disorder, food can often become a coping mechanism. Whether that’s turning to food for comfort, or shunning food as a way of control your relationship with food can become unbalanced.
Anxiety, defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome,” is a natural human feeling, particularly in times of distress or unease. We all suffer from anxiety from time to time, remember your first date, driving test, or pre-exam nerves. But hopefully, once we are in the moment the nerves disappear.
Anxiety can develop into a problem when these feelings become a perpetual state and affect your ability to live your life.
Anxiety and gut health
As we now know, the gut and the brain talk to each other, and both negatively and positively affect how each performs, it’s a two-way street. Our gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to our emotions and our brain is aware if our gut is less than happy. A recent study on mice indicated that absence of ‘good’ live gut bacteria (probiotics) can affect areas of the brain associated with anxiety and heightened depressive-like symptoms.
The good gut bacteria we gain from food and our lifestyle choices can play a big part in helping to reduce anxiety levels, and balance cortisol levels (the stress hormone).
In order to manage your symptoms of anxiety through diet, it’s important to recognise specific triggers in your lifestyle and manage your reaction to these. This is where diet comes into play, and the overuse of stimulants, often a temporary relaxant, such as cigarettes, chocolate or wine that in many cases, increase our anxiety.
What should we avoid?
- reduce all caffeine
- avoid coffee on an empty stomach
- avoid fizzy drinks (especially diet)
- cut down refined carbohydrates/processed foods
- reduce gluten
- be mindful of trans fats (particularly frozen pizza, biscuits and microwave popcorn)
- decrease ketchup intake due to its high amounts of added sugar causing an imbalance in your insulin release
- alcohol, even though alcohol is technically a depressant, when drinking it acts a stimulant. An excessive amount of alcohol increases the body’s level of norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter sparking arousal.
- the non-essential amino acid, is used in foods as a flavour enhancer and commonly linked to headaches, nausea and raised blood pressure.
What can we do?
- eat three balanced meals a day
- maintain level blood sugar
- establish a sustainable sleep routine
- exercise, preferably in the fresh air
- increase turmeric with black pepper in cooking, or smoothies
- practice mindfulness and meditation
- listen to calming music
- take a bath with epsom salts
- eat magnesium-rich foods
- eat foods high in tryptophan (the amino acid responsible for producing the hormone Serotonin essential for mood balance)
- drink plenty of water (recommended daily six to eight glasses)
How can we help ourselves?
Foods that are rich in magnesium, the amino acid tryptophan and antioxidants full of vitamin C & E and vitamin B are essential for our nervous systems as they help to calm and reduce anxiety levels.
Make sure you have your recommended daily amount of 375mg Magnesium. Magnesium is a cofactor in over thousands of processes in the body, both cellular and at protein structure levels. For anxiety, one of magnesium’s main benefits is as a relaxant and sleep-aid. It’s fundamental for energy production and is a muscle relaxant, aiding bone creation and cardiovascular health. So what should we eat?
- Foods with a high magnesium count include pumpkin seeds, swiss chard, sesame seeds, almonds, spinach, quinoa, black and navy beans, dark chocolate, avocado, yoghurt/kefir and bananas.
- Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin (often referred to as the happy hormone) and melatonin, neurotransmitters aiding our mood, well-being and sleep respectively. By eating foods rich in tryptophan such as cheese, eggs, poultry, meat, dark chocolate, buckwheat and most proteins, we can help to increase the feel-good benefits from these neurotransmitters.
- A study in 2011 on healthy young students showed a reduction in anxiety levels from Omega 3 supplementation. Oily fish is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids as well as walnuts, chia or flaxseeds, all beneficial for brain health.
Anxiety can be a debilitating condition, but it’s important to note that you’re not alone and you can help manage your symptoms by making some minor diet changes.
If you are struggling with your mental health, we do recommend that you check with a medical professional or qualified practitioner before trying new dietary approaches or supplements in your recovery.
For further help with anxiety and food, you can search for a local nutritionist via Nutritionist Resource. For 24 hour support, you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This number is FREE to call and you don’t have to be in complete despair to call them.
If you need immediate assistance please dial 999.
Written by Katie at Nutritionist Resource a leading support network for nutrition and health, connecting over 2,000 professional nutritionists with the general public nationwide. Visit their dedicated Healthy Eating page for guidance, advice and inspiration for a balanced diet.