There is no health without mental health.
Good mental health requires proper nutrition. An underappreciated fact is that the primary raw material for the synthesis of many neurotransmitters are nutrients.
I felt inspired to write about anxiety since it's something that comes up in nearly every session. My clients often ask, "what can I do manage my anxiety?" One of the best things you can do for your anxiety is stabilize your blood sugar.
Dr. Mark Hyman, a leader in the field of functional medicine, recently posted on his social media, "Many of us get too little good food, nutrients, light, air, water, rest, sleep, exercise, community, love, meaning, and purpose. We are exposed to far too much poor-quality food, stress, toxins and allergens."
When I work with my clients, I look at all of the environmental factors that are contributing to the reasons they are coming to see me. In this article, I share a few things you can do to improve your mood, by improving your food.
In the United States, 18% of the population has been diagnosed with anxiety. Anxiety can affect all of us at some point. Specific therapies and medications are known to lessen the burden of anxiety symptoms, but these often leave out the role diet plays in managing anxiety. The gut-brain axis is very important because a large percentage (about 95%) of serotonin receptors are found in the lining of the gut.
It is obvious that what we eat may affect our moods and mental functioning- anyone who gets cranky when hungry or sleepy after a big meal has experienced this connection. Modifications to your diet may lessen the severity of your anxiety and mood symptoms. So much so, researchers are now referring to the gut as the “second brain”.
The mood-food connection is an emerging field of research has demonstrated great progress over the past 20 years. Promising lines of evidence suggest that certain vitamins and nutrients in food have potential efficacy in reducing somatic, cognitive and affective anxiety symptoms across a range of disorders including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), acute stress disorders and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Modern life is stressful and following this global pandemic most Americans are experiencing some level of distress and are struggling with anxiety, depression, anger and/or fear. Under these circumstances, proper nutrition is crucial for maintaining optimal health and well-being. While physical activity can improve your mood, using nutritional supplements and making small changes to your diet to treat anxiety may also help. Avoid binge-eating your go-to comfort foods (which only leave you feeling guilty and more anxious) and enjoy nutritious superfoods with mood-boosting properties like the ones below:
Many people who suffer from anxiety and depression often have a folate deficiency. Foods like Asparagus contain valuable amounts of this mood-boosting nutrient.
B-vitamin deficiencies have been linked to an increase in anxiety in some people. Foods rich in vitamin B6 help with the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which influences mood. Avocados are rich in B vitamins and contain healthy fats that are good for your heart.
Vitamin C and Antioxidants
Vitamin C has a multitude of benefits. Not only does vitamin C help repair and protect our cells, but it also contains antioxidants that are useful for the prevention and reduction of anxiety. Blueberries are full of antioxidants and vitamin C. Beans, berries, nuts and spices like turmeric and ginger are also antioxidants with anti-anxiety properties. Kale and other dark leafy greens are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C. Instead of sugary foods, try reaching for blueberries and substitute kale in your sandwich instead of lettuce.
Low levels of magnesium have been linked to low levels of serotonin. Almonds, leafy greens, such as spinach and Swiss chard, nuts, seeds, and whole grains all contain magnesium.
OMEGA-3 Fatty Acids
Omega3’s have been linked to improving depression for years, recent studies suggest omega-3’s may reduce anxiety as well. Fatty fish like wild Alaskan salmon, contain omega-3 fatty acids.
Probiotics have been found to sooth social anxiety. By eating foods like yogurt, kimchi and miso that contain probiotics, help produce the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter made in the gut that has an effect similar to that of antianxiety drugs. To reap the benefits, aim for at least one serving of probiotic-rich foods every day.
Anxiety can also be triggered by certain foods we put in our bodies. It might be worth slowly eliminating some of these anxiety-triggering foods and beverages:
· Alcohol changes the level of serotonin and neurotransmitters in the brain, making anxiety worse.
· Caffeine increases anxiety and nervousness. Try limiting your caffeine by having it in lower doses or earlier in the day.
· Sugar is in nearly everything and almost impossible to avoid. Try staying away from “added sugar”. Added sugar causes your blood-sugar levels to go up and down. This spike of energy and crash causes anxiety to spike.
If you are experiencing extreme anxiety, it might be helpful to look at things to eliminate from your diet such as coffee, alcohol, high sugar foods and complex carbohydrates, for example. If adjusting your diet doesn’t help, it may be necessary to make some small lifestyle changes. Are you exercising, sleeping well and/or eating enough? Are there long periods of time between meals? It is also important to drink plenty of water, pay attention to food sensitivities, and try to eat healthy balanced meals.
Be sure to talk to your doctor if your anxiety symptoms are severe or last more than two weeks. Even if your doctor recommends medication or therapy for anxiety, it is still worth asking whether you might also have some success by adjusting your diet.
Dr. Vived Gonzalez, Psy.D, LMFT
Solutions Counseling & Family Therapy
Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @solutionsoc