Mood Food - How your diet can affect your anxiety
Everyone knows a good diet is important to physical health, but it can also help with mental health. Different nutrients affect the brain in different ways, and getting enough of the right ones can help you fight mental illness. Here are some which are especially good for anxiety.
Food and Mood
Omega 3 fatty acids keep your brain healthy, and can also reduce inflammation which can lead to anxiety by affecting nerve cells in the brain. They can also affect the release and uptake of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, chemicals which affect mood and nerve function. Omega 3s are found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout, and fish oil capsules are widely available. This isn’t the only source, though; seeds and nuts, especially walnuts and flaxseed, are full of them too, and vegan omega 3 supplements are made from algae. Plant oils are also a good source, and as unsaturated fats are much healthier than saturated animal fats, so try to use vegetable oil instead of butter for cooking.
Vitamin D affects brain function, and low levels are connected to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Sunlight causes the body to make its own vitamin D, but extra in your diet will help too, especially in winter. Oily fish is again a good source, as are dairy and eggs. For non-animal sources, try mushrooms.
Unlike vitamin D, tryptophan can’t be made in the body, so you need it from your diet. It can be found in meat, eggs, seeds, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), bananas, and oats, and is processed into serotonin in the body. It helps with relaxation and sleep.
B-complex vitamins are also involved in the production of neurotransmitters and can be found in whole grains like brown rice, and in avocados, broccoli, seeds, nuts, legumes, dairy, and meat. Try different grains; porridge is a good breakfast, barley makes a great substitute for rice, and gluten-free pasta made of brown rice or lentils makes a nice change from wheat pasta. Swap white bread for brown as much as possible, since brown bread contains the outer shell of the wheat grain where most of the B vitamins are. Whole grains also provide slow-release carbohydrates, which keep your blood sugar steady and make you less likely to feel hungry between meals, which also helps with anxiety – no one’s in a good mood when they’re hungry.
Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E are found in fruit and vegetables. Make sure to eat lots of different kinds to get the most benefit; try to eat vegetables of different colours each day, as they have different nutrients. One of the strongest antioxidants is lycopene, the red pigment in tomatoes, and bell peppers have some of the highest levels of vitamin C of all vegetables. Dark leafy greens are also good, as they contain lots of trace minerals which will improve your health in many ways. Try to eat more vegetables than fruit, as fruit is high in sugar.
Foods to improve mood
Healthy gut flora has been linked to mental health. A balanced diet will help, but try some probiotic foods as well. Yoghurt is a favourite – make sure to choose one with live cultures listed on the label – but other probiotic foods include pickles and cottage cheese or cheddar. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try sauerkraut, kimchi, or miso soup.
Sugar provides a quick mood and energy boost, but don’t rely on it, because your body processes it very fast and when it’s gone you’ll be left feeling worse off than before. Try to limit your intake and stick to slow-release carbs instead. Don’t replace them with artificial sweeteners, which have been linked to low mood and can make you hungrier later on. No need to deny yourself completely, though; small amounts of dark chocolate contain tryptophan, antioxidants, and magnesium, which can all improve your mood. If you really miss ice cream, try mashing up frozen soft fruits like bananas and avocados to a creamy texture, or freeze some yoghurt.
Caffeine and alcohol can also make you feel worse, so limit them. Try switching coffee for herbal tea; chamomile, fennel, and lavender blends are especially relaxing. Green tea is caffeinated, so try not to drink too much, but contains antioxidants such as theanine, so it’s the best option if you really need caffeine.
Remember to drink lots of water, preferably slowly throughout the day instead of in large amounts once or twice a day so your body can absorb it properly. Good hydration increases blood flow, allowing nutrients and neurotransmitters to be carried through the body quickly and reducing inflammation, and allows the body to eliminate toxins.
A varied, balanced diet will ensure you get all the nutrients you need to keep your body healthy, which will, in turn, keep your brain healthier.
And, of course, if you need help in sticking to your new routines, or in dealing with anxiety, give me a call.
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter: Rachel Waller.