Updated: Mar 26
A word on anxiety: Feelings of anxiety are completely normal! Anxious feelings arise when we are faced with any type of threat but will usually subside. Having chronic feelings of anxiety is when it becomes disordered. This more chronic anxiety is usually caused by a source of chronic stress. This could be work stress, financial stress, relationship stress, everyday life stress, and the stress placed on our bodies physiologically by eating a diet lacking in nutrients. In other words, anxiety is often a symptom of something else we are not taking care of. Having said that, this is not to say there is no place for anxiety medications, because there definitely is! This IS to say that if we do all we can by taking control of our lifestyle and nutrition, we can manage, prevent or get rid of some chronic anxiety and even depressive feelings.
What does our diet have to do with anxiety?
The gut-brain connection: Our “gut microbiome” are all the microorganisms that line our digestive tract. The microbiome is the center point of our immune system. These microorganism, or gut bacteria, are critical for many health functions including food digestion and absorption of nutrients, metabolism, body weight, immune regulation and mood, to name a few. It is imperative that we maintain an abundance of good bacteria that are diverse. This keeps the gut balance. If our microbiome becomes unbalanced, we will start to see some negative effects such as chronic indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, cramping, food sensitivities or intolerances, low energy and low moods, poor immunity.
· Serotonin – About 90% of our body’s serotonin is produced in the gut. This means that if our microbiome is unbalanced due to a poor diet, our serotonin levels can become affected and therefore our overall mood and energy.
There is a direct nerve – called the Vagus nerve – that sends constant signals between the gut and the brain. You may have noticed this connection if you feel nervous about something and become nauseous or if you’ve had “butterflies in your stomach.”
A healthy gut is one that keeps toxins, bacteria and undigested food from leaking through the intestines into the bloodstream. The food we eat can either help or hurt our gut microbiome and ultimately lead to any or all of the symptoms above.
We hear this term constantly as an explanation for so many health issues. But what is it? Inflammation is good! Acute inflammation that is. Inflammation is an immune response and it happens in the face of a threat – bacteria, virus, cancer, psychological or emotional stress. The immune system releases chemicals to attack these invaders. These chemicals do their job and disappear. But, when stress is chronic these chemicals can begin to run unregulated in our system and the cycle of stress -> inflammation becomes habitual in the body. This is when inflammation becomes chronic and can start to wreak its havoc!
These chemicals released by the immune system can trigger emotional symptoms that lead to lowered mood, fatigue, lack of general enjoyment for life and anxiety. It can lead to symptoms that look like depression and exacerbate depressive symptoms in people who are already struggling with them.
SO now that we talked a bunch of science, let’s get into what foods we should or should not eat in order to best manage anxiety! If you attended the seminar on this topic last week, you know we into lots of detail, but to make for a more concise read I’ll keep it simple here.
Foods to limit or avoid:
· Sugar and sugary drinks. Sugar can be highly inflammatory and cause blood sugar spikes. When the body releases insulin to lower it, it can drop too low which causes anxiety, trouble focusing, irritability and low energy.
· Processed meat – cold cuts, bacon, sausage, etc.
· Other processed foods and refined carbohydrates. Any nutrition has been stripped away or replaced
· Fast food
· Fried food
· Red meat – Along with dairy, red meat cab contain high amounts of saturated fat which is inflammatory in the body.
· Caffeine – this isn’t necessarily for everyone but if you find you take in a lot, maybe try to cut back
*These foods are lacking in vitamins, minerals and FIBER! Fiber is often overlooked but may be the most important nutrient to look out for. It helps removes toxins from our gut as well as keeping us “regular.” It is essential for blood sugar control and many other important processes.
Foods that help fight inflammation and feed your gut good bacteria
These foods also contain essential vitamins and minerals such as Magnesium, Zinc, Iron, Omega-3s, Vitamin D and B vitamins .
· Any and all vegetables in abundance
· Any and all fruit in abundance. Berries are an amazing source of antioxidants.
· Whole grains including oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, etc.
· Beans – any variety including chickpeas as well as lentils, peas, soybeans. All of these are some of the healthiest foods you can eat. They are packed with plant-based protein, lots of fiber as well as essential vitamins.
· Starchy vegetables such as potatoes (any variety), squash (any variety), zucchini, etc.
· WATER – Water is ESSENTIAL. Aim for ½ your bodyweight in ounces per day.
· Spices –Create variety in your meals. Turmeric, garlic and ginger are some examples of anti-inflammatory spices.
· Fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut
· Prebiotic foodssuch as jicama, asparagus, garlic, leeks, onion and artichoke.
Tips to get started:
Now that you have a clearer picture as to which foods to incorporate, how do you break some of your current habits and invite new ones into your life? Here are some tips:
· Go Slow! Change takes time. Try one or two steps per week.
· Think more about what you are adding to your diet than what you are cutting from it.
· Honestly assess your current diet. You can write down your meals, track them in an app or just be really mindful of what you eat. This will help you determine the changes you may need to make. Pay attention to how you feel after eating certain foods, even hours later or the next day.
· Eat real food!This means food that is minimally or not processed. Food you find in its original state - without packaging and long ingredient lists – that ideally mostly comes from the Earth.
· Eat breakfast.Ideally within 2-3hrs after waking. This aids in blood sugar control
· Take a probiotic. Do your research to make sure it comes from a reputable source
· FIBER. Aim for more fiber but if you are currently low, increase it slowly. Add in one more fibrous meal per day until you work your way up to two, and eventually eating fiber with every meal. Try to get this from real, whole foods and not a supplement.
· Eat throughout the day. Skipping meals can cause that pesky blood sugar spike -> crash.
· Eat fruit as a snack. It’s naturally sweet but without any crashing because it contains natural sugars. It will provide tons of benefits as well as long lasting energy.
· Think of meat as a side dish or condiment. The Standard American Diet has us believing a meal should be built around meat, when in actuality the main part of a meal should be the veggies, grains, starchy vegetables, etc. This is where you will get most of your essential nutrients from.
· Batch cook. This means making a big pot of rice or quinoa, roasting a bunch of potatoes and veggies, opening up a couple cans of beans or chickpeas, rinsing, draining and storing them in the refrigerator This is not necessarily meal prepping but it is have healthy quality food on hand, ready to go at mealtime.
· Go convenient. Frozen fruits and vegetables are your friend!
I do hope this helps you make some sense of how the foods we choose to eat can affect much more than our weight! I also hope this encourages you to take your health seriously and begin to see food as fuel for a healthy body and mind!