Can diet be a weapon in your stress-fighting arsenal? Can some simple dietary tweaks tame your anxiety?
Research suggests that mood disorders have a lot to do with imbalances in the gut, resulting from the food choices we make. That’s where nutrition therapy, which involves the intake of certain nutrients to improve physical and mental health, may be able to help.
The basic guidelines of an anti-stress diet involve eliminating or minimizing the intake of some foods (sugar) and adding more of the foods you may already enjoy (avocados, nuts, fish, and dark chocolate). It also emphasizes experimenting with a few new ones like turmeric and fermented foods.
Below are the ‘good mood foods’ -- and one evil saboteur -- that some experts claim can help you better manage your anxiety.
Sipping a cup of hot tea can actually deliver lots of soothing vibes. Regardless of the type or flavor, drinking a warm beverage produces a calming effect. Not sure what to buy? Lavender, lemon balm, and chamomile teas are all well-known mood boosters.
Anyone can benefit from curbing sugar intake. But if you suffer from anxiety on a regular basis, reducing sugar intake is a no-brainer.
Sugar is one of the seven most addictive legal substances and it’s wrecking your gut, your waistline, and your temperament. There have even been studies that show a connection between anxiety and higher-sugar diets.
Start eliminating sugar -- including artificial sweeteners -- from your diet by replacing it with less harmful sweeteners. Here are the worst of the worst sugars to avoid:
If you’re looking to sweeten up your food, try raw organic stevia, monk fruit, maple syrup, molasses, or dates. With any of these, moderation is still the rule. Consume no more than two tablespoons per day.
In addition to containing B vitamins and healthy fats, certain nuts like almonds, cashews, and pistachios contain the amino acid tryptophan. Amino acids are the building blocks of neurotransmitters in your brain. Research suggests that when your diet lacks these aminos — especially tryptophan — there's not enough to synthesize neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine). The result is moodiness and irritability.
Research has shown that one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in patients with mental disorders is a lack of omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and offer a major benefit to cardiovascular health. Add fish like anchovies, tuna, halibut, salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, and trout to your plate two to three times a week.
Fermented foods support the health of the gut by promoting a healthy balance of good bacteria. To maintain stability in the gut, eat a variety of fermented foods every day. Some fermented favorites to add to your daily rotation are kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh, full-fat plain yogurt, and sauerkraut.
Known for its anti-inflammatory powers, turmeric contains compounds with medicinal properties called curcuminoids. The most well-known and well-reserached cucuminoid is called curcumin.
For proper absorption, the best way to eat turmeric is with a fat source like coconut oil and black pepper. The great thing about turmeric is that it’s versatile -- you can add the spice to pretty much every meal.
It’s important to note that most turmeric studies involve turmeric extracts that contain mostly curcumin itself, with dosages typically exceeding 1 gram per day. It would be a challenge to get that amount on a daily basis simply from adding turmeric spice to your meals. Therefore, if you want to experience the broad-spectrum effects of curcumin, you need to take a turmeric supplement.
More fat, less stress! If you already consume a little bit of healthy fats, try to increase your intake -- in the form of avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds. An avocado a day? You don’t have to tell us twice!
Chopped salads containing dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, and Swiss chard are packed with a variety of antioxidants, including carotenoids, which have been studied for their positive impact on the body. Just a serving of spinach provides more than half of your vitamin A needs, and it's a good source of vitamin K, folate, magnesium, and the antioxidants beta-carotene and lutein. It also provides fiber and three grams of protein per serving. To support your mental health, try to get seven to nine servings a day of green leafy veggies.
When it comes to reducing stress, dark chocolate delivers a chemical impact by lowering levels of stress hormones in the body, and an emotional impact, giving you all the feels! Chocolate is often perceived as a delightfully sinful treat, and that perception alone can help to reduce tension.
Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids, antioxidants that offer a number of neuroprotective properties to the brain. In addition, chocolate can provide significant amounts of arginine, an amino acid that's required in the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps regulate blood flow, inflammation, and blood pressure. Unlike the saturated fats found in meat and dairy products, the saturated fats found in chocolate do not elevate cholesterol levels.
Shop for high-quality, low-sugar varieties of dark chocolate consisting of at least 70% cacao content. Treat yourself to two small squares (one to two ounces) of high-quality, ultra dark chocolate on occasion.
If you think you're suffering from anxiety (or another mental health issue), your first step is to find a mental health care provider to talk to so that you can create a plan of action. Together, you may agree that some simple dietary shifts -- eliminating sugar, eating anti-inflammatory foods, and consuming healthy fats -- can go a long way in managing your stress.
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