You are what you eat – is your food giving you anxiety?
While mental health, anxiety and physical health have historically been addressed very separately in Western medicine, the two are much more intertwined than many realize. In fact, our guts and brains closely interact through a system called the gut-brain axis.
Have you ever heard the phrase “you are what you eat?” There is actually a lot of truth to this. If you’re eating junk food and drinking alcohol consistently, this could lead to dysbiosis, or an off-balanced gut, which could signal to your brain and can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. On the other side of this, mental health challenges can also cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux, bloating, pain, constipation, and diarrhea.
Our bodies are complex systems, so, when trying to identify ways to treat mental health challenges like anxiety, our physical health and lifestyles should be addressed as well.
Nutrition tips for managing anxiety
Somewhere along the way, the idea that “food is fuel” has become a foreign concept. In the fast paced world we’re living in, many view nourishing their bodies as a chore and seek out the quick and easy options that aren’t necessarily the most nutritious. Then, when it’s time to relax and enjoy a meal, eating becomes a form of recreation and binging becomes the norm. Does this sound familiar?
If we approach food in such a sporadic way, our bodies and moods will react in similar ways. Not to mention, lack of nutrition can lead to poor gut health and, in turn, poor mental health. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet to cure anxiety, altering your nutrition by making some lifestyle changes could make a huge difference.
6 tips for overcoming anxiety through nutrition
- Find balance – It’s important to avoid extreme highs and lows when it comes to physical and mental health which is why a well-balanced diet is critical. Whether it’s a morning smoothie or a new routine, finding ways to nourish your body in a way that works for your lifestyle is key. Eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and seeking out other nutrients will pay off in the long run when it comes to taking control of anxiety.
- Watch what you drink – When suffering with anxiety, it’s easy for people to go for beverages that will provide immediate gratification. That glass of wine might soothe you or cup of coffee will provide a temporary boost of energy, but the effects of alcohol and caffeine can contribute to dysbiosis, interfere with sleep, and have other negative effects. Water is key to keeping your body and mind balanced. Even mild dehydration can impact an individual’s mood and contribute to anxious feelings.
- Eat breakfast – Eating breakfast, especially a breakfast that includes some form of protein, will help to keep blood sugar steady and boost energy throughout the day.
- Eat complex carbs – It’s not just in your head, carbs actually have a calming effect. In fact, carbohydrates increase serotonin in the brain, and are scientifically thought to soothe and boost moods. However, this doesn’t mean you should run out and eat every carb in sight. Find foods rich in complex carbs like whole grains (quinoa, oatmeal, whole-grain breads and cereals).
- Identify food sensitivities – All of us are different so paying attention to how foods make you feel is key. Do you feel bloated or sluggish after eating certain foods which is leading to negative moods? It might be time to limit or avoid them. Not sure what is causing unpleasant physical reactions? Talk to your doctor. An elimination diet might help to pinpoint the cause.
- Seek out mood-boosting foods – In addition to what poor nutrition does to our guts, a low antioxidant state, lack of magnesium, zinc and other vital nutrients are all thought to be triggers for anxiety. Here are some mood boosting foods you can eat to help:
- Fruits – blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, apples, prunes, sweet cherries, and plums.
- Legumes – red kidney, dried small red, pinto beans, lentils and black beans.
- Nuts (walnuts) and hemp seeds – Also try almonds, cashews, and pecans. Great for protein!
- Vegetables – artichokes, beets, broccoli, kale, asparagus, avocado, and spinach and other leafy greens.
- Certain spices also have antioxidant and anti-anxiety properties like ginger and turmeric.
- Proteins – organic tofu and arugula
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut are considered probiotics and add good bacteria to the gut.
Everyone is different – find what works for you
While nutrition certainly plays a key role in all of our body functions, exercise, social support, therapy, and, if recommended by a doctor or therapist, medication should also be considered when treating anxiety and other mental health issues. Everyone is different so understanding your body and mind is key. Addressing your health and wellbeing is a lifelong journey that should be taken seriously. If you want to see if we can help, book an appointment at Dr. Lifestyle today. We see patients worldwide.