We’ve all felt anxiety at one point or another. But chronic anxiety can be crippling and life-altering. Though there are many contributing factors and causes of anxiety, not many people are aware of those that are nutrition based. Here are just a few of the common nutrition factors in anxiety.
Most foods that are considered high GI are highly processed and devoid of nutrients, which can lead to numerous deficiencies that could play a hand in anxiety. However, even putting that aside, high GI foods have a big impact on the way that your body regulates its blood sugar.
The spike in glucose can leave you feeling jittery and nervous, and then the drop can make you feel depressed and shaky. This can also mean fluctuations in insulin levels, which can have a big impact on neurotransmitters.
Insulin is required for tryptophan to cross the blood-brain-barrier where it is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin. Insufficient levels of these can lead to mood changes and poor sleep, further worsening the cycle of anxiety.
Copper can be a serious issue when it comes to anxiety. High copper levels can lead to symptoms such as brain fog, anxious feeling, feeling of detachment, loss of appetite, irrational fears and phobias and nervousness. All of these can be very familiar to someone with an anxiety condition. High copper can also interfere with processes such as liver function, blood glucose balance, digestion and sexual function.
Copper is commonly found in fruits and vegetables such as avocado and mushrooms. It’s also in nuts, seeds, beans, cocoa and chocolate products. These foods are all very nutritious, but they do need to be balanced out with other nutrients to ensure optimal health, as explained below.
Because of the high copper and low zinc content, those following a vegetarian or vegan diet are at a much higher risk of high copper. If you are experiencing symptoms, you should consult a health practitioner versed in copper toxicity.
Omega 6 Fatty Acids
We live in a world full of omega-6 fatty acids. Many of us cook food in ‘vegetable’ oil or buy foods cooked in it. Many eat grain-fed meat and chicken as their main protein source and consume grains as our main carbohydrate source. Even the health conscious can overconsume it through Paleo/vegan desserts packed full of nuts and seeds.
The problem is, the natural human diet was never this high in omega-6s. In fact, it was very well balanced out with omega-3s. This imbalance in the modern age can increase inflammation, which is now being linked to mental health issues in a recent research breakthrough.
It can also affect the nervous system significantly. It causes reduced neurotransmitter production and reduced blood-brain barrier. This allows dangerous compounds such as neurotoxins to cross into the brain.
Switching out plain vegetable oil for oils higher in monounsaturated and saturated fat, such as olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil, can help to reduce your intake of omega-6s and will help rebalance your nervous system.
Where would the Western world be without its precious coffee and energy drinks? Caffeine is worshipped – there are countless memes across social media about it. Caffeine does have some health benefits when coming from a natural source such as coffee, but high dosages can have a devastating effect on wellbeing.
A common issue is that high intake of caffeine can cause symptoms of anxiety as well as exacerbating current anxiety. This is because caffeine stimulates adrenal hormones including cortisol. This then can lead to problems with blood sugar levels, making you feel shaky and jittery.
Messed up adrenal hormones and blood sugar also affects your neurotransmitter balance. So that further affects your nervous system and mental health.
If you have anxiety, you may want to cut down on caffeine, especially if you have regular high amounts. Energy drinks and soft drinks have no health benefits, so ideally, remove these entirely. However if coffee or black tea is your vice, you may be ok with 1-2 per day, depending on your personal tolerance.
The good news is, nutrition can also help to alleviate anxiety. Try these few simple tips to help you feel better:
So if high GI can exacerbate your anxiety, then your best bet of reversing this is to lower the GI of the food you eat. A couple of easy ways to do this include:
Switch out ‘white’ processed foods such as pasta or bread for wholemeal versions
Include a source of good fats with each meal, such as avocado or olive oil
Increase your high fibre vegetables and beans to slow the uptake of energy from your food
Sprinkle your sweet foods with cinnamon to keep your blood sugar levels steady
Avoid drinking high sugar drinks such as soft drinks
Incorporating these steps will have you feeling calmer and steadier in no time!
Zinc is not just for your immune system. It’s also your best weapon when it comes to balancing out high copper levels.
Zinc and copper need to be in balance for optimal wellbeing, and higher intakes of zinc can be the first step in reducing your body’s absorption of copper from food. Having adequate levels of zinc can also help boost your memory and rid you of brain fog.
Vegan diets and some vegetarian diets can be quite low in zinc, which is another reason why they are at a high risk of copper issues. People following a vegan diet should consult a nutritionist about supplementing zinc safely and effectively.
Want to boost up your zinc levels? A few zinc-superstars include:
Beans (beans have high levels of copper as well, so should be used with caution in those with high copper levels)
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
So if inflammation is a driver in mental health issues, and omega imbalance can cause problems with neurotransmitters and the blood-brain barrier, then omega-3 is to the rescue! Including omega-3s into your diet is simple – some good choices include:
Cod liver oil
Omega-3 is one of the nutrients that can be difficult to obtain in a vegetarian or vegan diet, as plant sources can be poorly converted in people with health condition. So consider consulting your nutritionist to see if you may need supplemental support.
Green Tea (in moderation)
So you’ve heard the bad news about caffeine. But what if there was a form of caffeine that had fewer side effects and even a therapeutic benefit? My friends, let me introduce you to my good friend green tea.
Green tea contains caffeine, just as your coffee, tea or energy drink does, so it will give you a boost of energy. However, it also contains an antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate, which has been shown to convert your active stress hormone cortisol back to an inactive form. This has a calming effect on the body – exactly what someone with anxiety needs!
So if you want to get a caffeine hit, green tea is your best choice to keep anxiety at bay. However, it can still disrupt sleep in large quantities, so don’t go drinking litres of it before bed!
Remember to always consult your health practitioner for an individualized assessment and plan. You don’t have to go through anxiety alone, so ask for help if you need it.