Often times, when I tell people I’m a nutritionist who specializes in anxiety, people will say something like – “oh wow I didn’t know nutrition impacted anxiety!” And then I get to have a beautiful conversation about the many, many ways it really does!
So, in case you aren’t too aware of the major ways nutrition can impact anxiety, in this blog post, I’m going to break it all down!
How Does Nutrition Impact Anxiety?
Although not often talked about, there are certainly foods that are known to trigger anxiety!
Foods that are poor quality, highly processed, and/or spike blood sugar levels are known to be some of the main triggers for anxiety (1).
Although different for everyone, Some examples include:
- Refined sugars (ex. white sugar, brown sugar, HFCS)
- Food dyes (ex. Red Dye #40, Yellow Dye #5)
- Food additives & artificial sweeteners (ex. MSG, aspartame)
- Foods containing pesticides (especially the foods found on the “dirty dozen list”)
- Poor quality meat (ex. factory farmed)
- Undiagnosed food allergies such as gluten or dairy
It can be important to work with a nutritionist (such as myself 🙂 to help address your specific trigger foods. Certain foods will be worse for some people over others, and so it’s critical to know which ones trigger you, and how to find healthy alternatives! The way nutrition impacts anxiety is unique for everyone.
On the flip side of trigger foods, there are grounding foods. These are the sorts of food that can actually have a calming effect on the body and mind (2)! The most grounding foods are often whole foods found in nature (aka not processed), foods that will not spike your blood sugar, and hearty foods that make you feel good & you know your body can digest well.
Although different for everyone, some examples include:
- Root veggies (just as they grow in the ground, they can help to ground you!)
- Lentil soup
- A warm bowl of oatmeal, with blood sugar balancing toppings such as nuts or nut butter, seeds, cinnamon, and fresh fruit
- Baked yams or sweet potatoes
- Chickpeas, hummus, other beans and legumes
- Nuts & seeds and/or nut butters
- Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, or a rye sourdough bread (find ones that work for you!)
- Kitchari (an ancient ayruvedic healing dish loaded with brown rice, mung beans, root veggies, & calming spices – one of the *most grounding dishes ever*!)
- Your favourite nourishing foods – food that brings you and your body/ mind joy 🙂
VITAMIN & MINERAL DEFICIENCIES:
This one is huge and definitely when considering how nutrition can impact anxiety – it’s definitely not talked about enough!
In fact, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are very prevalent with anxiety related conditions.
In her book, The Mood Cure, Julia Ross explains that,
“much of our increasing emotional distress stems from easily correctable malfunctions in our brain and body chemistry- malfunctions that are primarily the result of critical, unmet nutritional needs.” (3)
Common nutrient deficiencies as another example of how nutrition impacts anxiety:
- Vitamin B6: without adequate amounts, the body can’t produce serotonin. Not only this, but B6 deficiencies are often very prevalent in a condition called Pylroluria, which can symptomatize as severe anxiety (1)
- Zinc: without enough zinc the body can’t release serotonin, dopamine, or GABA (our most calming neurotransmitter). Not only this, the ratio between zinc and copper is incredibly important for keeping anxiety at bay. When zinc levels fall too low in relation to copper levels, anxiety is one of the most common symptoms that shows up (4).
- Vitamin. D: sadness, fear, and loneliness are common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. (5) When one is struggling with anxiety, vitamin D levels should be one of the first things tested, as deficiencies are incredibly common (especially for those living in colder climates during winter time).
- Magnesium: long thought of as the “anti-anxiety mineral.” There are numerous studies documenting the correlation between magnesium deficiency and increased anxiety. For example, a 2016 study found, magnesium supplementation was significantly beneficial in the treatment of anxiety in mildly anxious individuals and those reporting premenstrual syndrome-related anxiety (6).
You can read more about various vitamin and mineral deficiencies in my post here.
Maintaining balanced blood sugars is critical for curbing anxiety! In fact, this is one of the most fast acting way a persons nutrition can impact their anxiety. The best way to balance blood sugars is through healthy, consistent whole food meals that contain lots of veggies along with proteins, complex carbs, and a healthy fat source.
When blood sugars drop too low or raise too high, cortisol levels spike which can lead to increased feelings of anxiety. In fact, it is not unusual for panic attacks to occur when blood sugar levels drop too low or raise too high in those that are prone to them, and also have challenges with blood sugar regulation (7).
Where do I even begin? Having adequate gut health is arguably the MOST important health factor when considering the impact nutrition has on anxiety!
The reason being is that there are all sorts of different healthy bacteria within our gut microbiome that help to produce mood regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. On top of this, certain bacteria actually help to increase GABA (our most calming neurotransmitter) receptors in the brain (8).
Some beneficial bacteria are also believed to influence the amygdala (the tiny walnut-shaped area of the brain responsible for emotions). The beneficial bacteria that act on this region of the brain are believed to help one to feel less fear and anxiety. This was demonstrated in a study done on mice which found that microbiota are required in order to support healthy morphology of the amygdala, for it to regulate mood properly (9).
Hormones are another predominant area which explains how nutrition can impact anxiety. The intricate balance hormones must maintain to keep the body functioning optimally are heavily dictated by ones’ diet.
Imbalanced hormones can often be a trigger for anxiety. This is especially true during the premenstrual phase (luteal phase) of those who bleed. If you’re curious to learn more – be sure to check out my post on “Hormone Induced Anxiety” by clicking here!
In all honesty, this is just such a snippet in to some of the many ways in which nutrition can impact anxiety levels. It’s so true that the foods we put into our bodies are the very foods that will go on to fuel a healthy brain!
It’s important to know that nutrition for anxiety can be so personalized! Just because a certain food might not make your friend anxious, it could be greatly affecting you!
If you want to know more about how your diet might be contributing to your anxiety – be sure to check out my ‘One on One Anxiety Reduction Protocol‘
I hope you enjoyed learning more about the many ways nutrition can impact anxiety levels!