March is nutrition month, and so we are bringing to you the ways nutrition can improve the way you feel, physically and mentally. Last month, the Bell Let’s Talk campaign highlighted the fact that 1 in 4 Canadians struggle with anxiety. That’s a lot.
If that’s you, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry when anxiety has gripped you to the point of not being able to function well – as a parent, a professional, or just a person. This is personally not my story, but I know many close to me who have felt this.
Anxiety can wear several hats it seems. There’s generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, and other specific phobias. Thankfully, there seems to be an abundance of research on how diet can help.
Unfortunately, not many of it is done on humans or on humans with diagnosed anxiety disorders…What? Why? In a review of diet and anxiety, the authors state that more than half of the studies were conducted using animal models, including rodents, zebrafish, pigs, lemurs, monkeys, cats, horses, and…tilapia?
I suppose I would be anxious too if I was a tilapia constantly worried about my skinny little body being scooped up by the local fisherman. So as with anything, take it all with a grain of salt and evaluate your own diet. There may holes you see or just big overall trends that we can start making changes toward.
How does anxiety impact our diet so much?
Let’s use the past couple years as an example.
Did you or did you not observe anyone panicking about buying toilet paper? Now, theoretically we can live without toilet paper. But extrapolate those feelings and behaviours onto food, and the threats of food shortages we were facing plus all the health concerns about going out in public. It’s easy to see how food or lack of food or a household task like grocery shopping can trigger panic attacks or general anxiety.
One study in Greece found the following results:
“On the one hand, consumption of palatable food could be used as a coping mechanism for regulating emotions such as anxiety, sorrow, and loneliness caused by prolonged house isolation. On the other hand, the increasing presence in the virtual reality environment of social networks has intensified the need for a perfect slim and fit body that could attract more followers and ensure social approval and success.”
So yah. Here we are post-pandemic (sort of?) wrestling with the after affects and potentially newfound or worsened anxiety.
How Can I Lower My Anxiety Through My Diet?
I fully appreciate that trying to muddle through the nutrition research can be an anxiety-causing thing all on its own! It’s often very unclear and contradictory, so let’s keep it simple, focus on what we can control, and stick to the basics.
To lower anxiety, these seem to be good principles to follow:
1) Eat more fruits and vegetables. Hit 2 cups of vegetables per day and 2-3 pieces of fruit. This should provide you with a least 5 servings of this food category. Particularly focus on berries, citrus fruits, and leafy greens.
2) Limit simple sugars AND artificial sweeteners. Neither one of those will benefit your anxiety. This doesn’t mean you can’t have dessert, but if Pepsi or Diet Pepsi is part of your daily routine, just know it’s not helping the cause.
3) Keep caffeine low. If you’ve ever had one too many coffees, you know that jittery buzzy feeling. Definitely doesn’t help us feel calm, cool, and collected. There can be both beneficial and harmful effects with caffeine on anxiety, but in general, high intake will worsen symptoms.
4) Eat or take omega-3 supplements. It seems to be just omega-3 that’s the important one here. If your supplement is an omega 3-6-9 blend, consider switching to an omega-3 only. Salmon, halibut, and artic char are all popular sources of this amazing fat too.
5) Include probiotic rich foods (or take a probiotic). The connection between your gut and your brain is so strong. The strains that seem to have the greatest benefit are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. They are often found in fermented foods like kefir or kombucha. A good quality probiotic may provide the same affect.
6) Get enough protein. Diets too low in protein do a couple of things – they will increase our likelihood of snacking (especially on carbs) and they may result in lower tryptophan intake, which is a risk factor for high anxiety. Tryptophan is an amino acid found in milk, canned tuna, turkey and chicken, cheese, nuts and seeds, eggs, peanuts, leafy greens and oats.
Other supplements that might help:
1) Multivitamin. Getting enough of zinc, selenium, magnesium, and B vitamins seem to be crucial for anxiety. If the diet is well balanced, we can hit most of these things through food; however, a good quality multivitamin might be a great strategy if you struggle with anxiety.
2) Probiotics. These may prove to be very beneficial especially if you struggle with IBS and anxiety. Improving your gut health can have tremendous impact on your mental health and vice versa.
3) Ashwagandha. I swear this supplement shows up EVERYWHERE. One review showed that Ashwagandha significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety compared to placebo, however the certainty of the evidence was low, meaning it wasn’t likely a great quality study.
4) Saffron. Surprisingly, the world’s most expensive herb may provide benefit to anxiety symptoms. So, if you’ve got extra cash kicking around, this may be for you!
A note of caution with supplements, especially herbal supplements. Supplements vary a lot between brands regarding their dose, purity, and effectiveness. Please work with a health care professional when choosing supplements. Many of them act like medication in the body, so they can interfere with other medications (such as anti-depressants or anti-psychotics) you may already be taking.
Guys, if you are doing all the things mentioned above, good job! You are truly helping your body and your brain as much as you can. If there’s a few things you think can be changed, that’s a great place to start. If you’ve never ever talked with any one before about this struggle with anxiety, now’s a good time too. If the stats are true, and 1 in 4 Canadians struggle with anxiety, you are absolutely not alone.
Need help with your diet? Don’t hesitate to reach out to book a one-on-one nutrition service. Even a small step can add to your health in a huge way. Click here for more information.
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