Nutrition for Anxiety: Facts for Health

Anxiety is not caused by a specific nutritional deficiency and cannot be cured with any dietary manipulation. But, it does put a stress on the body and can therefore be made worse by a poor diet. Further, stress causes certain nutrients to be used at a greater level, so those need to be replaced. And certainly there are substances that cause stress to a system or can exacerbate anxiety.

Basic Good Health

A basic healthy diet can reduce the chance of getting anxiety and can keep anxiety at a minimum. The healthy diet includes elements from all the food groups. Recently, the iconic food pyramid was replaced with a food plate which indicates that half of the plate should be occupied with fruits and vegetables, about one quarter with grains, and the remaining quarter is protein. Beside the plate is a cup of dairy, presumably milk. The U.S.D.A. is advising these proportions for optimal health. Note that potatoes and corn, while technically vegetables, are starchy and thus may fit more in the "grains" category for the anxiety diet.

Special Needs

The Mayo Clinic recommends that those suffering from anxiety should start their day with protein, which provides an even source of energy throughout the day. They also note that carbohydrates increase serotonin in the brain, and a lack of serotonin has been noted as a likely cause of anxiety. Even slight dehydration can affect mood, and is another stress on the system, so drinking plenty of water is important (don't over-drink, hyponutremia can be risky, too).

Omega fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are getting a lot of attention. Some researchers have found that Omega 3 reduces anxiety. They believe that it reduces the level of cytokines in the body. Cytokines are proteins that signal the cells associated with inflammation and may be produced by psychological stress.

The body may have extra need for vitamin B, calcium, and vitamin C, all of which may be depleted with continued stress.

Stress Eating

Food is one of the first connections we make with our caregiver when first born. It remains both sustenance and reward as we grow. It's not surprising, then, that we turn to food in times of stress. The food we turn to is rich; it's comforting. While the carbohydrates may help to a small extent with anxiety, too much is another stress on the system. Simple carbohydrates like sugar and alcohol, both things we reach for when stressed, make the condition worse. Salt can cause tissues to retain water, which can lead to stress, among other problems. Try substituting crunchy things like apples and carrots for the soft, sweet, or salty things that are habits to reach for.

Further substances to avoid with anxiety:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Salt
  • Dehydration
  • Hunger
  • Dyes and preservatives

What You Can Do

When stress is a factor, it's important not to get dehydrated, which can affect hormones and mood. Similarly, don't let blood sugar get too low; average people get cranky and anxious when hungry, and low blood sugar can worsen an anxiety condition. Add some protein and carbohydrates to every meal. If digestion is a problem, avoid irritants and consider taking a digestive enzyme since an irritated GI tract can exacerbate anxiety. If problems persist, consider if there is an allergen that may be upsetting the system; it might even be the cause of the anxiety. To that end, avoid dyes and preservatives, which might cause the body to react negatively. Also note if spices are affecting your mood. Eating with stress reduction in mind means consuming small, regular, healthy meals. Lean toward choosing raw, organic foods and avoiding the processing and chemicals abundant in pre-prepared foods.

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