Anxiety is a common symptom in the early stages of sobriety, and our diet and nutrition play a significant role in dictating our feelings throughout the day. When you put those two facts together, it stands to reason that what we eat can help us regulate emotions and even feelings of anxiety.
Doctors and dietitians are beginning to understand more about how the properties of certain foods affect the brain. It seems that there is a significant link between the brain and the gut. When essential nutrients are scarce, there is a direct effect on brain chemistry and neurotransmitter production impacting anxiety, and anxiety-related behaviors.
With minor adjustments to our diet and incorporating certain foods, we can begin feeling helpful reductions in our anxiety and other negative emotions. The changes we make to what we eat are as simple as reducing foods that might be spiking pressure and increasing those that lessen those symptoms, says Johnny K – owner of True Life Recovery detox center in Orange County, California.
Foods that Help Reduce Anxiety
The following are some of the foods that have been shown to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety:
Salmon contains high levels of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA. According to Healthline, these fatty acids may help regulate the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which are responsible for feelings of calm and relaxation. Studies also show that the EPA and DHA may alleviate inflammation and prevent brain cell dysfunction that can cause mental disorders like anxiety.
Magnesium is a mineral that is essential to body function. It’s found in various foods, including almonds. Insufficient magnesium levels have been shown to reduce serotonin (a neurotransmitter) in the brain. That means that when consumed in adequate amounts, it may help treat anxiety-related symptoms. In just a handful of almonds (about 12 nuts), there is about 75mg of magnesium, which is 20% of the recommended daily value for adults. Eating healthy fats, like those found in almonds, rather than trans-fats found in other snack foods, like cookies, ensures that we are getting the fiber and minerals that promote good health and help our brains produce healthy levels of serotonin.
Complex carbs like whole-grain bread and cereals increase serotonin, which provides a calming effect. Conversely, eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates leads to an increased risk of mood changes, depression, and anxiety. According to Everyday Health, it takes longer for the body to break down whole grains and release sugar into the bloodstream. While it’s true that eating processed carbs can give you an energy boost, it can also be followed by an insulin rush. When that happens, blood sugar levels drop drastically and quickly, making you feel tired and even lightheaded.
Yogurt is an excellent source of protein, which boosts the brain’s production of norepinephrine and dopamine. According to Everyday Health, “Higher levels of norepinephrine and dopamine have been shown to improve alertness, mental energy, and reaction time.” Additionally, yogurt contains probiotics, which may promote brain function and mental health by inhibiting neurotoxins and free radicals, leading to nerve tissue damage in the brain, causing feelings of anxiety.
If you’ve ever wanted to take a nap after Thanksgiving dinner, it may have been due to the effects of the nutrient tryptophan that is contained in turkey. However, tryptophan is more than just a nap-inducing nutrient. It’s an amino acid that the body needs to produce serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter that regulates sleep and mood. According to Healthline, tryptophan may help alleviate anxiety and promote relaxation. So, next time you think about frying up some chicken, consider opting for some lean roasted turkey instead. You will enjoy the benefits of tryptophan found in turkey and eliminate the unhealthy fats in fried chicken. A meal with turkey diced into brown rice or quinoa with added vegetables provides a wide range of healthy nutrients, supports sound sleep, and helps reduce anxiety levels.
DRINK PLENTY OF WATER
Dehydration can cause symptoms that are anxiety-producing. In an article in The Atlantic that details dehydration, it was reported that even mild dehydration could affect mood and make thinking more difficult. The lack of water can lead to fatigue, headaches, and trouble concentrating. Cognitive tasks are more complicated, even with only slight dehydration.
A different study found similar results. Dehydration can result in degraded moods, reduced ability to concentrate, increased perception of task difficulty, and headaches. That means that an increased emphasis on hydration is needed, not only physically but also for improved mood.
Don’t Expect These Changes to be Magic
While the above foods can power our anxiety levels, they aren’t magic – they won’t cure us of every anxious feeling. But when they are used as one tool in our anxiety-fighting toolbox, they can help. It will help even more when we swap anxiety-inducing foods (like caffeine, diet soda, refined carbs, added sugar, processed foods, soy sauce, etc.) for anxiety-reducing options.