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“I’m having a lot of anxiety”: Here’s how a healthy diet helps you manage stress symptoms

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Jiya Saini
Jiya Saini is a Journalist and Writer at Revyuh.com. She has been working with us since January 2018. After studying at Jamia Millia University, she is fascinated by smart lifestyle and smart living. She covers technology, games, sports and smart living, as well as good experience in press relations. She is also a freelance trainer for macOS and iOS, and In the past, she has worked with various online news magazines in India and Singapore. Email: jiya (at) revyuh (dot) com

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, had it clear more than 2,000 years ago: Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. In cases of anxiety, specific medications are usually recommended, instead of focusing first on food. As Hippocrates pointed out, we are going to describe how the type of diet can improve or aggravate our anxiety.

A diet is gasoline that we put into our body, and with which it has to work. If we use poor quality fuel, or even fuels that are not suitable for our body, it is easy to imagine that sooner or later it will leave us stranded and we will have to go through the workshop.

In this article, we will talk about anxiety, closely related to depression, and the first step towards other more serious mental disorders. But the food groups that are part of this healthy diet for anxiety, serve to tune our system and save, as far as possible, visits to the doctor.

Vegetables and fruits for optimal intake of vitamins and minerals

diet low in vitamins and minerals can increase anxiety-related behaviors. Examples of this are studies where it can be observed how diets low in magnesium or zinc make us control anxiety symptoms worse.

Some rich sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables (spinach and chard, for example), legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. We can complete the diet with other foods high in zinc such as cashews, animal entrails (cow liver, for example), and egg yolks.

Asparagus, widely used in traditional Chinese medicine as a tonic and cleansing agent, may also have neuropharmacological properties that serve as an anxiolytic.

Achieving adequate values of daily vitamins and minerals helps the optimal functioning of our system. A deficiency in any of these vitamins or minerals limits that proper functioning, can hinder or aggravate a state of anxiety.

It is mandatory to incorporate into the diet all dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, which contain a low amount of calories, but a high concentration of vitamins and minerals.

This group of foods also interests us because of its high concentration of water that keeps us hydrated, avoiding dehydration

Proper hydration is another way to make our body work perfectly, keeping away from alterations such as anxiety or any other anomaly.

Antioxidant-rich foods to relieve anxiety symptoms

There is a correlation between low antioxidant intake with diet and symptoms of anxiety disorders. It should be noted that correlation does not imply causality, that is, although low antioxidant intake is related to worse anxiety symptoms, it does not mean that this is the cause.

However, it is coherent to think that, as we have commented in the previous section, antioxidants also present in a large number of fruits and vegetables make our body work more efficiently.

In a great review of foods according to their antioxidant contentthe following stood out: fruits (apples, plums, and cherries); berries (blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries); and vegetables (artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli).

To that list, we must add beans and spices with antioxidant and anxiolytic properties such as turmeric and ginger.

Eat complex carbohydrates and avoid simple ones

There are very unhealthy foods that make us feel good while we eat them, but very bad soon after. On the contrary, there are other foods that release neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are responsible for reducing that anxiety, and that do not produce that drop and those ups and downs of anxiety.

Incorporating those of this second group into our diet, the healthy foods that help us control anxiety, and removing those of the first group, the unhealthy foods that worsen our state of anxiety, will be a fundamental part of preventing, treating, and improving anxiety.

The role of carbohydrates is vital in this section. Taking complex carbohydrates that are metabolized more slowly, helps to have stable blood sugar levels throughout the day, thus creating a feeling of calm. The opposite of simple sugars that produce high blood levels, which can create agitation.

diet rich in whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits provides us with those complex carbohydrates and keeps us away from badly processed and ultra-processed ones, whose sugars produce those high blood sugar peaks.

It is often said that everything that goes up comes down, and that happens after trying to mitigate anxiety with unhealthy ultra-processed. After that “rush” of serotonin and dopamine, there is a rapid decline that greatly hinders the treatment of anxiety.

Other food groups to incorporate that are recommended in our anxiolytic diet

Omega-3 fatty acids

Consuming adequate amounts of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a reduction in anxiety states, and also with greater control of depression. This source of energy is essential for brain function, so it must be taken into account when treating mental disorders.

Quality vegetable oils such as extra virgin olive oil, seeds, bluefish and nuts, are other food groups that we must add to our anti-anxiety diet.

Probiotics to treat anxiety

There is an associative link between the consumption of probiotic foods and an improvement in anxiety. Probiotics are nothing more than live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate quantities, help the health of the host that hosts them, that is, those who consume them.

We have already talked about serotonin as an essential neurotransmitter in the feeling of well-being, which drives away anxiety. Almost all of the serotonin receptors are found in the lining of the gut, and gut health benefits greatly from eating a healthy diet, which also includes probiotics.

Some probiotics to introduce into our diet can be sauerkraut and kefir, olives and pickles, and others such as yogurt.

80/20 rule: limit your intake of alcohol and stimulants

There are food and drink groups that can ruin all the good work done by eating a healthy diet to alleviate anxiety. Alcohol and stimulants should mainly be eliminated from the diet, or at least limited.

And a glass of wine now and then? Of course, there is room. Following Pareto’s law, and as a final reflection, follow a perfect diet at least 80% of the total, with a 20% margin for those moments where the struggle not to eat some unhealthy food is worse than eating it.

diet that includes plenty of vegetables, plenty of fruit, foods rich in antioxidants and omega3s, legumes, whole grains, quality meat, eggs and fish, nuts, seeds, probiotics, and quality vegetable oils would be part of that 80%.

Some beer or glass of wine, a coffee, some processed or ultra-processed, and other foods that are not part of the list in the previous paragraph can be ingested in 20% of the diet. It is a very high percentage, but depending on your degree of anxiety, you may need it. 

Go reducing that 20% to as close to 0% as possible, and enjoying the process. It is useless to be anxious in a process whose objective is to reduce anxiety.

Image Credit: Getty

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