I have recently decided to become much stricter with my anti-anxiety diet. I’ve mentioned a couple of times on here about the mind-gut connection, and the best foods for soothing your mind, and I think it’s high time I started to take things more seriously!
I already use MyFitnessPal to help me keep track of what I’m eating – and to avoid the mindless afternoon munchies! And so I am going to also note down my anxiety levels and energy levels for that day, and really see for myself what affect my diet is having on my mental and physical health. Then I’ll let you all know how I’m getting on, and how my findings could help you, too.
I’m going to be using the fantastic Anxiety and Depression book written by the Medicinal Chef as my basis, and I would really recommend you giving it a read if you are interested in the anti-anxiety diet. It’s fascinating stuff.
I’ve also created a anti-anxiety diet food cheat sheet, which I’ll be uploading to the members’ area.
Not a member yet? Don’t worry, just sign up using the box at the bottom of this post and you’ll get access to all sorts of goodies and resources for living a healthier, happier and less anxious life.
In the meantime, here are three things I’m going to try to avoid and why.
*Sidenote: none of these things cause anxiety or mental health disorders, but there is research to suggest that they can make the problem worse.
Caffeine is the Western world’s favourite drug, with more and more people grabbing coffees on their way to work and having tea breaks throughout the day. With coffee alone, 2.25 billion cups are drunk a year! And plenty of people claim to be addicted to the stuff. Here are a few caffeine facts.
Caffeine blocks the depressant function of adenosine (a chemical in your brain which regulates sleepiness and alertness). In other words, caffeine makes us feel more alert and energetic. Which is what most people are looking for at 7am when they’re getting ready for work!
However, it also interferes with cortisol production. Most of us drink a caffeinated drink first thing in the morning to wake us up. This is when cortisol levels are higher – cortisol is involved in our circadian rhythm, and makes us wake up in the morning. By drinking caffeinated drinks, we interfere with our body’s natural alarm system and it means we start to release less. This leads to much sleepier mornings, and needing to drink more caffeine.
This can cause problems in people with anxiety disorders, or who are under a lot of stress.
By altering our sleeping patterns, it can make it harder to fall asleep and get enough rest. And, as I’ve talked about before, getting enough good quality sleep is vital for our mental health.
Furthermore, studies have shown (as I mentioned above) that caffeine increases cortisol levels to the extent that they are similar to those experienced by a person suffering from serious stress. In other words, our bodies react the same way to coffee as they do to a stressful event. Definitely not ideal if you are already anxious and overwhelmed.
Caffeine also inhibits the production of the neurotransmitter, GABA, which is responsible for making us feel calmer and happier.
Of course, there are also positive sides to drinking caffeinated drinks but I would be interested to see from my own perspective whether cutting out my morning tea ritual makes a difference to my mental health.
Natural cortisol levels drop down between 10am and 12pm, and then 2pm and 5pm. So perhaps, if I really feel a need for a cuppa I will try drinking one then.
As a Brit – we drink a lot of tea! – this is going to be a tough challenge I think!.I love my cups of tea but equally I think it will be great to see what kind of a difference it might make in my anti-anxiety diet…. I’ll keep you posted!
What’s next on our anti-anxiety diet tour?
Sugar – the latest food to be demonised by the media. Like most food, a little sugar in moderation can be fine for your health – both inside and out. However, there are some important things to bear in mind when it comes to sugar.
First of all sugar cause a huge spike in blood sugar levels, which is then followed by a big drop. These drastic swings can increase cortisol and adrenaline levels, which we know leaves us feeling more anxious and stressed out.
Sugar also seems to suppress BDNF, a hormone which may play a role in depression.
Sugar can also impair cognitive function – in other words how well our brains work. In a study by the University of California, rats who were given a sugary solution forgot how to find their way out of their maze, whereas rats fed a diet including omega-3s found their way out faster. The insulin resistance caused by the spikes and dips from eating sugar appeared to damage communication between brain cells.
However, sugar isn’t the only bad(ish) guy here. Sweeteners are not the angelic alternative we think they are…
Whilst sweeteners are seen as diet friendly alternatives, the opposite might well be true. Studies have shown that they can in fact stimulate appetite and cause weight gain. Sugary tasting foods make us want to eat more, and that’s true whether it is in the form of sugar, or sweetener.
The sweetener Aspartame has also been linked to depression in a study published in 1993. According to this study: there was “a significant difference between aspartame and placebo in number and severity of symptoms for patients with a history of depression […] We conclude that individuals with mood disorders are particularly sensitive to this artificial sweetener and its use in this population should be discouraged.”
Furthermore, sweeteners have also been linked to lower cognitive function, irritability and anxiety. The conclusion of the study stating: “careful consideration is warranted when consuming food products that may affect neurobehavioral health.” And finally, according to one study conducted on mice, Aspartame, decreased seratonin levels in the brain. And seratonin production, as we know, is vital for regulating our mood and helping us feel happy.
So, however you choose to sweeten your food, it should be kept to a minimum.
Carbs are essential to our diet and in fact help in the production and release of serotonin. However, a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that the more refined carbohydrates – such as white bread and pasta – a woman ate, the higher her glucose levels and greater her risk of suffering from depression. Conversely, they also found that a “greater consumption of dietary fiber, whole grains, vegetables and non-juice fruits was associated with decreased risk.”
If you are interested in this subject, I would highly recommend you read this study by Diana Fishbein. It goes into great detail about exactly why we need carbohydrates, how the body uses the glucose from them, and what the effects of eating refined carbohydrates are.
However, the main ideas are these: the body, and in particular the brain, needs glucose to function effectively. We get our glucose from carbohydrates. The problem with artificially refined carbohydrates is that they are very easily and quickly digested. This leads to a large and rapid spike in our glucose levels which, as we saw previously in the sugar section, cause havoc on our brains and mental health.
So what’s the solution? Fibre is your friend in all this. Whole wheat products, vegetables, whole grains – anything that contains a good source of fibre alongside the carby goodness is what you need to look out for. Fibre makes sugars harder to access and it requires much more digestive effort to break them down. This means that the glucose is released more slowly – stopping us from having that sharp rise in our insulin levels.
Want to really up your grain game? Add in a source of protein whenever you want some carbs. This really helps your body control the release of glucose, giving you a slow and steady release over a much longer period of time. So it’s good for your mental health, and stops you from snacking!
None of these things actively cause mental health disorders or stress, but there is clear research that suggests they can make you feel much worse. Try to have a diet based around whole grains and protein, along with a good dose of healthy fats, and avoid overdoing the sugar and caffeine. And above all, make sure you drink plenty of water.
Interested in the link between mind and gut? Check out this article.
I’ve created a cheat sheet to help you choose the best foods to boost your mood – as well as some great meal plan ideas to get you started on your anti-anxiety diet. Pop your details in the box below and you’ll get access to the cheat sheet, along with lots of other health and happiness boosting goodies.
You’ll then get a confirmation email (to make sure you’re definitely on the list) and once you click confirm, you’ll get instant access to the cheat sheet.