Treating Anxiety with Nutrition
Feeling anxious or having episodes of anxiety can be very overwhelming and debilitating; yet struggling with daily anxiety is a common issue for many people.
Fortunately, there are many simple, natural approaches to reducing anxiety. One of the simplest – and a necessary fundamental treatment – is a healthy diet as dietary choices can either contribute to, or alleviate, anxiety.
Studies have shown that a consistent protein and plant-based diet can diminish anxiety episodes over time. Maintaining an even level of blood sugar throughout the day is also a primary dietary method to control anxiety. Eating regular, whole food-based protein-rich meals provides the body with a steady level of fuel to burn evenly and continually.
The consistent intake of high quality food regulates an even ebb and flow of blood sugar levels which decreases the severity and frequency of anxiety episodes. Therefore, eating a snack or meal every three hours alleviates any large dips in blood sugar (low levels or dips in blood sugar can be a trigger for anxiety).
In addition to regular and consistent food intake, meals and snacks should contain protein, good fat, and be nutrient-dense to nourish the body and keep blood sugar levels from spiking too high. An apple with 2 tbsp. of almond butter is an excellent example.
Eating breakfast daily with some type of protein and preferably vegetables, having a snack before and after lunch, a lunch rich in vegetables, a small portion of whole grains or whole food carbohydrates with protein, and a lighter dinner of protein and vegetables is the perfect combination for eating to control anxiety. Hydrating regularly throughout the day to prevent dehydration-related irritability and mood shifts, and limiting processed, quick, simple carbohydrates also help to reduce anxiety.
There are also certain foods that are particularly beneficial to control anxiety. Turkey, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, split peas, and black beans all contain high levels of the amino acid L-Tryptophan which is known to have calming and sedative properties for the mind and body. Nourishing your body with L-Tryptophan can help control anxiety.
Foods abundant in essential fatty acids such as salmon, low-mercury tuna, lake trout, ground flax seed, and chia seed can help enhance the body’s level of good fats which help control mood, depression, and anxiety.
B vitamins are known to enhance energy while stabilizing the nervous system. Foods rich in B vitamins include beef, chicken, green leafy vegetables, legumes, oranges and other citrus fruits, nuts, and eggs.
Eating a diet rich in healthy fats, low-mercury fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, plant-based proteins such as seeds and nuts, provides the essential nutrients that contribute to stabilizing mood, energy, and overall physical well-being. Eating well for mood regulation can help you feel good throughout the entire day.
There are also foods that can contribute to anxiety such as caffeine, sugar, white flour, processed and packaged foods, and alcohol. Caffeine in small quantities can be tolerable to some, but many individuals with anxiety are affected by any amount of caffeine which overstimulates the nervous system and causes irregular blood sugar. Eliminating caffeine can help reduce anxiety episodes.
Sugar consumption is a major trigger for anxiety. Eating sugary products and processed and packaged foods spikes blood sugar too rapidly which then causes it to drop too quickly. This rapid rise and fall is an extremely common cause of anxiety. The yo-yo effect on blood sugar also contributes to more sugar and caffeine cravings to create a false sense of energy. This cycle of eating becomes regular with anxiety which creates, and then fosters, an ongoing anxiety issue.
Alcohol, even in small quantities, can have short term effects in anxiety reduction but increases anxiety episodes in the long term. Alcohol also negatively affects blood sugar regulation and contributes to sugar and simple carbohydrate food cravings. Avoiding simple, processed, sugary, caffeinated products and limiting alcohol can help to control the severity and frequency of anxiety episodes.
Dietary regulation is just one type of natural treatment for anxiety; however, it is a fundamental necessity to address for success with any other type of natural treatment or medication. Without a proper nutritional diet, some of the underlying causes of anxiety will not be entirely addressed.
Dr. Sinsheimer is Optimal Health Center’s naturopathic doctor and can be reached at (760) 568.2598.