‘Getting Grounded with Grains’: Article 2 of 4
Written By: Meg De Jong & McKenna Garrison
In this second article of the ‘Getting Grounded with Grains’ Series, we are so excited to be talking about the connection between grains and anxiety!
If you read the first article of the series which provides a detailed introduction to grains you’ll likely recall that the topic of grains is rather complex – and quite honestly, the same is true when talking about the connection between grains and anxiety!
Like a lot of areas within nutrition, there is some conflicting research on whether grains are supportive for anxiety or triggering. However, in this article we’ll lay out the facts so you can figure out what is best for your body when it comes to grain consumption and your anxiety levels!
To give you a quick spoiler – we explain that for the most part, organic whole grains can be an excellent addition to a well balanced diet that is supportive for anxiety, however there are a few things to consider!
How Can Grains be Beneficial for Anxiety Reduction?
There are numerous reasons as to why whole grains can be an excellent addition to one’s diet to help support in easing anxiety!
But firstly, we should note that here we’re talking about *whole* grains, meaning they contain the nutrients from the germ, endosperm, and bran still intact!
Reasons Why Whole Grains Can be Beneficial for Anxiety Reduction:
- Whole grains are loaded with dietary fibre which can help to calm down brain inflammation. (7) In fact, there has been a potential link found between diets rich in fibre and omega 3 fatty acids in reducing the risk of developing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress (8).
- Whole grains are an excellent source of important trace minerals such as magnesium, B vitamins (especially folate), and zinc which are all known nutrients to help support anxiety levels (9).
- Whole grains can also be incredibly supportive for gut health (and in turn mental health) due to their prebiotic nature. The prebiotic bacteria contained within the fibre of whole grains can help improve gut microbiota (10) which is important for mental health as a healthy gut is necessary to produce mood boosting neurotransmitters that keep anxiety at bay (11).
- Whole grains have been shown to have significant amounts of GABA, a neurotransmitter that inhibits nervous system activity, meaning it has a calming effect on the body! Studies show that GABA levels are even higher when those grains are sprouted– having a greater impact on both mood and gut health (17)!
- Whole grains, as an addition to a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nourishing proteins, healthy fats, and other complex carbohydrates, can also help contribute to blood sugar balance – another very important element for managing anxiety levels (12).
- Grains can be grounding – hence the title of our series 🙂 Although this is less of a scientific fact, on an energetic level, whole grains can be an incredibly grounding food to consume when feeling anxious as they’re hearty, nutrient dense, and can often taste incredibly comforting (think: a fresh piece of whole grain sourdough toast with your favourite toppings).
As you can see – there are numerous reasons as to why whole grains can be incredibly supportive for anxiety!
However, there are 2 VERY important things to consider when consuming whole grains as a part of your diet for anxiety support:
- Ensure the grains are organic (aka were not grown with pesticides)
- Ensure that the grains you eat are included as part of a blood sugar balancing diet that also contains lots of veggies, nourishing protein sources, along with healthy, anti-inflammatory fats
* Whole grain snacks are great too – do your best to consume them with a protein or healthy fat source to help keep your blood sugars balanced!
So, When Can Grains Possibly be Triggering for Anxiety?
Despite generally being considered a supportive food to incorporate in your diet for anxiety support, there are a few instances when grains might actually do more harm than good when it comes to your anxiety levels.
Grains Can Worsen/ Trigger Anxiety If:
- You’re gluten sensitive or celiac and are eating gluten containing grains (1)
- You’re eating a lot of refined grains products – especially those that are not organic, and contain other sugary ingredients (2)
- Your body is unable to digest them properly. For example; you’re struggling with gut health and don’t prepare grains with the certain considerations we mentioned in article 1. This could lead to inflammation within your body, potentially causing neuroinflammation in the brain, further leading to a greater risk in triggering anxiety (3) * See note below *
- You’re eating too many grains (even if they are whole grains) and not eating a healthy balanced diet that contains vegetables, nourishing proteins, and healthy fats, along with your grains
*Note on point 3: Most often, when certain ‘health foods’ trigger inflammation in your body because you’re struggling with your gut health, it does not mean that you should never eat them. It does however mean you should incorporate practices to improve your gut health, then slowly reintroduce these grains over time.
Looking to More of the Research
We should note that there have been various success stories in helping to reduce anxiety by following paleo or keto type diets, (4, 5) which either completely restrict or highly reduce grain consumption (respectively).
However, research on paleo and keto diets for anxiety is mixed. For example, one study suggested that the keto diet can actually contribute to a less healthy gut microbiota (13). This could be problematic for anxiety levels as it is now very well understood that a healthy gut is one of the most important physiological factors for a less anxious mind (11)!
One diet type that shows up again and again as being one of the best ‘go to diets’ for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression is the Mediterranean Diet (14, 15). The Mediterranean Diet consists primarily of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fish, along with an abundance of healthy fats from foods like olives and olive oil. The Mediterranean Diet also entails low to moderate alcohol intake from sources such as red wine, limited red meat (some say none), and a small amount of dairy consumption (preferably fermented sources such as yogurt or cheese) (16). The point here is that whole grains such as; whole oats, barley, brown rice, freekah, and farro, are a key components of the Mediterranean Diet.
Another body of research that highlights the potential benefit of whole grains for anxiety, explains that consumption of complex carbohydrates (which whole grains are made of), alongside protein, can help to increase tryptophan in the brain, which is then converted to serotonin (an important mood boosting neurotransmitter) (6). These findings indicate that perhaps a paleo or keto type diet might not be the best diet for anxiety support, as low carbohydrate diets can potentially result in lower levels of serotonin production.
How to Know if You are Sensitive to Gluten or Celiac?
As we mentioned, grains can be a big trigger for anxiety if you are gluten sensitive or Celiac and continue to eat gluten containing grains!
If you think you might be sensitive to gluten and believe grains may be contributing to your anxiety, the best thing to do is work with a health care practitioner to follow a proper elimination diet in order to determine if in fact grains are triggering for your body. If you suspect you might be celiac, you should go to your doctor and get a celiac test.
If you want to know more – reach out here to learn what working together could look like for you in order to help uncover your potential physiological roots of anxiety.
What are Some Ways to Consume Whole Grains for Anxiety Support?
Below are some delicious and creative ways you can incorporate whole grains for anxiety support.
- Whole grain sourdough toast with toppings such as:
- Avocado, pasture raised eggs, and sautéed kale
- Wild smoked salmon, sautéed onions, sprouts, and olives
- Nut butter of choice, drizzle of honey, cacao nibs, and cinnamon
- The Best Ever Banana Oatmeal Pancakes with a generous drizzle of peanut butter (pictured below)
- A nourish bowl made with brown rice, sautéed cabbage, baked carrots and cauliflower, tofu, topped with a creamy peanut sauce
- Try this ‘Ease Your Anxiety Nourish Bowl’ made with quinoa
- Kale, Cabbage, Yam, & Green lentil tacos on organic corn or whole grain tortillas
- Snack idea: Mary’s Crackers with Green Pea Hummus
So in conclusion, you can likely see that YES whole grains can be incredibly supportive for anxiety (with a few exceptions of course).
When adding grains into your diet to help support anxiety, firstly ensure that you are NOT in fact gluten sensitive or celiac, in order to know which grains are best for you to consume. Once you’re clear on that, enjoy incorporating all sorts of organic whole grains into your diet in a variety of ways to get maximal health benefits!
Whole grains can be supportive for anxiety because:
- They’re loaded with important brain boosting micronutrients
- They contain lots of fibre to support your gut health
- They can help keep you satiated and support blood sugar balance
- They can even have a ‘grounding’ effect on the body energetically