Does diet affect anxiety? If so, what should I eat, and which foods should I try to avoid?
People who suffer with anxiety should remember a few simple rules:
- Low blood sugar, poor hydration, use of alcohol, caffeine, and smoking can also precipitate or mimic symptoms of anxiety.
- Eating regular meals and preventing hypoglycemic states are therefore important.
- Adequately hydrating with plain water is best, at least six to eight glasses a day.
- While nicotine does not cause anxiety, withdrawal from nicotine can mimic anxiety, and people with anxiety may smoke to soothe themselves. It may become a problematic behavior, as nicotine can also raise blood pressure and heart rate, which are also symptoms of anxiety.
- People who feel anxiety may lean on alcohol to calm their nerves, but excessive drinking can lead to its own set of emotional and physical problems.
- Many sodas contain caffeine and have a high sugar content. Being aware of these factors and substituting plain water or sparking water for soda can be a healthier option.
- Working toward a well-balanced diet with adequate fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats remains a good recommendation for those who struggle with anxiety. Avoiding processed foods and foods high in sugar means the body experiences fewer highs and lows of blood sugar, which helps to further reduce feelings of anxiety. Very simply put, a sugar rush can mimic a panic attack.
For example, eating a frozen dinner and ice cream will affect you differently than eating chicken and broccoli with a pasta made from whole grains or quinoa. The second meal includes whole, unprocessed foods, and you control the amount of sugar, if any, added to the meal. It takes longer for your body to metabolize these foods, which helps you feel fuller for longer and keeps blood sugar levels steady, rather than yo-yoing up and down.
Does sugar increase anxiety symptoms?
Yes! And there are many hidden sugars in the foods we eat, including savory foods. Many people don’t realize this. One example is a popular store-bought tomato basil sauce. One half-cup serving (and very few people would eat just half a cup at a meal) contains 12 grams of sugar, which is 3 teaspoons (4 grams sugar = 1 teaspoon). Food labels in the US use grams, and many people do not really know how to interpret these. Recipes use ounces, pounds, teaspoons, and tablespoons, so this conversion becomes important for the consumer. So, if you used 1-1/2 cups of the pasta sauce, you would be consuming 36 grams or 9 teaspoons of sugar just from the sauce in your meal!
While your body needs a healthy balance of sugar, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to function, it is also that very balance that helps keep us healthy. Consuming sugar through natural sources such as a piece of fruit, and not fruit juice or dried fruit, affects your body differently than candy or hidden sugars in your foods.
The FDA has a new nutrition label law coming into effect which will list the added sugars on the nutrition label for consumers and provide some other helpful data.
Do anxiety symptoms improve when you cut back on sugar and feed your body the right foods?
It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor before making dramatic changes in what you eat. Involve a nutritionist (your doctor can refer you to one) if you need some extra guidance.
As with any dietary change, your body will need some time to adjust. If you are otherwise healthy and cut back on processed sugar, you may feel your anxiety slowly improve thanks to fewer ups and downs caused by the excess sugar. If you are only using diet to combat anxiety, this change may not be obvious or immediate. You may also need to speak to a doctor about a medication. An integrated treatment approach including talk therapy, mindfulness techniques, stress relief, good sleep hygiene, and a balanced diet are all equally important parts of your care.
What else should I know about diet and anxiety?
Anxiety is linked with many physical illnesses. In addition to taking guidance from your doctor about options for treating anxiety, you should augment that treatment by paying attention to how and what you eat. A review of the literature examining the effects of diet on anxiety-related behavior highlighted that foods high in fat and/or sugar, or that are highly palatable, can affect behavior in animal models, and may do the same in humans. More human studies are needed.
Some of the following tips may be useful for you:
- eat a healthy and balanced diet along the lines of a Mediterranean diet
- cut back on sugar and processed foods
- cut back on caffeine, alcohol, and smoking cigarettes
- eat foods rich in zinc, like whole grains, oysters, kale, broccoli, legumes, and nuts
- eat foods rich in magnesium: fish, avocado, dark leafy greens
- eat foods rich in vitamin B, such as asparagus, leafy greens, meat, and avocado
- eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, for example, wild caught salmon
- eat probiotic-rich foods like kefir, yogurt, and other fermented foods.
Of course, first and foremost, follow the medical advice of your doctor. Discuss diet, lifestyle, and medication changes, and keep track of your symptoms to see whether they improve.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Psalm 80:1 Oh, give ear, Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth!
Psalm 4:1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; Be gracious to me and hear my prayer.
Psalm 5:1 Give ear to my words, O LORD, Consider my groaning.
Psalm 6:1 O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger, Nor chasten me in Your wrath.
Psalm 54:1. Save me, O God, by Your name, And vindicate me by Your power.
Psalm 55:1 Give ear to my prayer, O God; And do not hide Yourself from my supplication.
Psalm 61:1 Hear my cry, O God; Give heed to my prayer.
Psalm 67:1 God be gracious to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us– Selah.
Psalm 76:1 God is known in Judah; His name is great in Israel.
2 Chronicles 20:27-28 Every man of Judah and Jerusalem returned with Jehoshaphat at their head, returning to Jerusalem with joy, for the LORD had made them to rejoice over their enemies. They came to Jerusalem with harps, lyres and trumpets to the house of the LORD.
Exodus 15:1-21 Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and said, “I will sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted; The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. “The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; This is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will extol Him. “The LORD is a warrior; The LORD is His name.
Judges 5:1-31 Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying, “That the leaders led in Israel, That the people volunteered, Bless the LORD! “Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers! I–to the LORD, I will sing, I will sing praise to the LORD, the God of Israel.
1 Samuel 18:6-7 It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. The women sang as they played, and said, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.”
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