How to support anxiety through nutrition

With mental health awareness week upon us, now more than ever we focus our attention to our mood and anxiety levels. In this current climate, we may find our anxiety levels triggered, our stress levels exacerbated and our moods swinging left right and centre.

Effective management of our anxiety involves a factor that is often forgotten – our diet! If you haven’t tried fine-tuning what you eat then you may be missing a significant opportunity to boost your mood.

Clarissa Lenherr, Registered Nutritionist, shares her top tips on managing your mood and anxiety levels through good nutrition.

Look after your gut health
Did you know that 90% of Serotonin, the hormone that is responsible for feelings of wellbeing and happiness, is created in the digestive system? Pretty impressive right! Alongside that, emerging evidence is showing that our commensal bacteria in the gut can create GABA (a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of calm), and plays a role in reducing anxiety. 
To look after your digestive system and bacterial ecosystem that live within it, you want to ensure you are getting in 30g of fibre every day, chewing your food thoroughly and eating lots of prebiotic and probiotic foods. More info in Clarissa’s recent post here

Balance your blood sugar
Ever heard of the blood sugar rollercoaster and wondered what this means to you? Well, when our blood sugar (glucose in the blood that gives us energy) is peaking and dropping all day long, our energy levels fluctuate and our mood can often follow suit. For example, ever felt your anxiety levels are more pronounced when you are tired? Felt your mood is lifted after eating and drops an hour after? That’s all thanks to your blood sugar. To avoid yo-yo energy and mood levels all day, we want to eat well balanced meals at every opportunity, to give us a slow, consistent release of energy. 
Try and aim for this breakdown of macros on your plate:

  • ¼ of your plate should be protein – tofu, beans, red meat, poultry, eggs, fish or shellfish
  • ¼ of your plate complex carbohydrates which are full of fibre – brown rice, quinoa, oats, starchy veg
  • ½ your plate veggies galore!
  • 1 tbsp of good fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds

Reduce/avoid caffeine
When we consume caffeinated foods or drinks, it prompts us to secrete our stress hormone cortisol. This is fine in moderation, but too much cortisol can trigger anxiety, mood swings, irritability and even headaches, nausea and jitteriness for some. 
The maximum recommended intake of caffeine is 400mg which is about eight cups of lightly stewed green/black tea or four espresso shots. And if you notice that caffeine triggers your anxiety, try to reduce your consumption even further. But don’t go cold turkey! Taper off over time, as cutting out caffeine abruptly can trigger headaches, mood swings and malaise for some people.
Try swapping with non-caffeinated alternatives such as chicory root coffee, naturally non-caffeinated herbal teas such as peppermint or turmeric lattes.

Consider green tea
Adaptogenic herbs may be your go-to. Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, Holy Basil and Reishi mushrooms have all been shown to help support your body when it is stressed and this in turn can help reduce the onset of anxiety or mood changes. Check out MEDA’S CALM blend which contains Chamomile, CBD and Ashwagandha, all of which may help to manage your anxiety levels and promote relaxation. Read more about adaptogens and their benefits here

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