Clammy hands, tummy trembles and restlessness, we’ve all experienced those discombobulating feelings associated with anxiety at some time in our lives. When we feel on edge the temptation is to reach for the usual suspects: comfort foods like pizza and pasta, or sugar-laden chocolate.
That’s because these release the feel-good molecule serotonin, making us feel a sense of fabulous relief…for a minute or so. Sadly this is usually followed by blood sugar imbalances that can make us even more anxious, and probably a little bit guilty. The good news is that with the right foods you can eat to beat anxiety…
Along with the advice on the below, it’s essential you learn to eat in a way that doesn’t disrupt your blood sugar levels, ensure you get plenty of B-vitamins and other micronutrients needed for brain health, focus on liver and gut health, and have some stress management techniques in place … but that information may have to wait for another day, perhaps in a Part 2 and 3! The good news is that is it possible to eat yourself calm. If you suffer from anxiety, eating plenty of the nutrients and foods listed below could work wonders…
Zinc: e.g. Oysters or legumes
Research suggests that a low dietary intake of zinc is associated with anxiety and depression. In fact, the highest amount of zinc in the body is found in the brain, and it turns out that this trace mineral plays a crucial role in the way the brain and body respond to stress. Oysters are packed with this essential mineral, with just two containing well over the recommended daily intake. White spots on your nails often indicate a zinc deficiency (although the absence of white spots doesn’t necessarily mean adequate zinc intake either).
For vegetarians or vegans, the best, common plant sources of zinc are legumes, nuts, seeds, and oatmeal.
Friendly Bacteria: e.g. Fermented Vegetables or Coconut Kefir
Our gut is home to trillions of beneficial and not-so-beneficial bacteria, which in an ideal world, all live together in a harmonious ecosystem. However, this delicate balance can easily be disrupted by numerous factors, such as high-sugar foods, antibiotics or even a heavy night out on the town.
In recent years, research has shown strong links between bacterial imbalances in the gut and imbalances in brain chemistry, and in particular mental disorders such as anxiety. So much so, that the folk within neuroscientific research circles now refer to probiotics as ‘psychobiotics’.
Fermented veggies (such as sauerkraut, pickles) are loaded with friendly bacteria. Typically, Kefir is a fermented dairy drink but non-dairy versions such as coconut are also available. It is loaded with these friendly bacteria to help balance your the microbes in your gut. It also contains fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K2, which are all essential for brain health.
Magnesium: e.g. Dark green leafy veg
Eat your greens: swiss chard, kale and spinach are loaded with magnesium, which is nature’s ‘chill-pill’ mineral, helping to calm the nervous system and regulate the stress response. You could also supplement with 300mg of magnesium citrate to boost your levels in times of high stress.
Omega 3 fatty acids: e.g. Walnuts and oily fish
Since the brain is incredibly sensitive to inflammation, it needs a constant supply of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats in order to protect it. These fats help facilitate neuron-to-neuron communication and help to build healthy brain cell membranes, staving off anxiety.
Oily fish like salmon and mackerel are packed with them, but vegetarians or the seafood-averse can get their good fats from plant-based sources like walnuts, chia seeds and seaweed.
If you have a jittery moment, then sipping on a cup of chamomile tea may calm your nerves. That’s because compounds in the chamomile plant actually bind to the same brain receptors as anti-anxiety drugs such as valium. The effects of drinking chamomile can accumulate over several days after consumption, so make this your brew of choice on a daily basis, and check in after a week to see if you feel the benefits.