When you’re feeling anxious, sometimes it can feel like the anxiety takes over and you have no control over it. And sometimes in the moment that’s true.
But if you want to start managing your anxiety naturally a good place to begin is by paying attention to what you eat. What you eat now inevitably impacts your body and brain chemistry, and there are certain choices you can make now that will help things run a little smoother later.
What’s Causing Your Anxiety?
Anxiety can be caused by many things, and so there are also many things you can do to effectively manage and reduce anxiety. Things like talk therapy, meditation, counseling, exercise, and journaling can all be an effective part of an anxiety management routine.
However, managing symptoms won’t always help to resolve the root cause of your anxiety. And that’s where your diet comes in.
Managing symptoms won’t always help to resolve the root cause of your anxiety. And that’s where your diet comes in.
What you eat has a major impact on your microbiome, or all of the bacteria living in your gut. We know that the microbiome plays an important role in our physical and mental health. Your microbiome actually informs your amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for our fight or flight response.
Since we know that diet is the #1 factor that influences your microbiome, it makes sense that what you eat is connected to your anxiety via the microbiome. If the food you eat is causing your microbiome to be unbalanced it could be sending signals to your brain that cause you to feel anxious!
But it’s not only that.
Inflammation is also one universally common factor that can contribute to anxiety, and inflammation can also be managed through diet.
So for me, a gut health specialist who also has lived with and managed anxiety for many decades, this is really exciting information! It means that we have more control over our anxiety than we thought.
But how do you begin to balance your microbiome and reduce inflammation with diet?
Here are some easy nutrition tips to manage your anxiety that you can implement now, so that you don’t feel as anxious later.
Reduce Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners
First, let me say that I don’t want to demonize sugar. I eat sugar sometimes, and I enjoy it! But it’s important to know that if you suffer from anxiety, regular and high sugar consumption can make your anxiety worse.
Sugar alters your microbiome by feeding certain strains of bacteria and fungus that can then begin to overgrow and release toxins into your system, and these toxins cause a stress response in the body. Sugar also causes inflammation throughout the entire body.
And artificial sweeteners may be even worse.
One study showed that when aspartame (an artificial sweetener) was given to rats it increased their stress hormone levels.
Other studies have shown that aspartame can also block the transport of dopamine and serotonin precursors into the brain and can increase the levels of excitatory neurotransmitters, shifting brain chemistry toward anxiety.
So if you’re going to eat sweets, be conscious of how much you consume and if you can, opt for natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup instead of refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. Stevia and monk fruit are also good options.
Focus on the Right Fats
The types of fat you’re eating can also impact your inflammation levels. Refined vegetable oils like corn oil, canola oil, and soybean oil can all contribute to increased inflammation in the body. These fats are generally derived through heavier processing and aren’t as shelf-stable once they’re extracted from the plant. This means they go rancid quickly, which increases their inflammatory effects.
These plant sources are also high in omega-6 fatty acids, which we need in small amounts but which can cause inflammation when consumed in higher amounts.
Cooking with unrefined fats like olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter and ghee is a much better option. These fats are from more stable sources, which means they stay good longer on the shelf instead of oxidizing. They are also composed of a good blend of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats which are all important for energy production and to support the natural anti-inflammatory process in the body.
In addition to changing up your cooking oils, focus on boosting your omega-3s! Healthy levels of omega-3’s have been linked to a more robust microbiome, and one study showed that in patients with social anxiety disorder omega-3 levels were reduced by 18–34%!
You can increase your omega-3 intake either through diet by eating fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, or through supplementation. Click here to learn more about omega-3s.
Be Careful with Caffeine
Lastly, if you are prone to anxiety or are sensitive to caffeine, studies have shown that consuming caffeine (especially in higher amounts, like over 100 mg daily) can worsen your experiences of anxiety and stress.
Caffeine is also important to monitor if your anxiousness leads to sleeplessness. Caffeine has a half life of up to 9.5 hours, which means that 9.5 hours after you consume it about half of the original amount of caffeine may still be in your system! If you’re someone that takes longer to process caffeine, it could definitely be interfering with your ability to get restful sleep.
And remember that caffeine isn’t just found in coffee. It can also be found in tea, energy drinks, sodas, and some medications.
These simple tips can help you to start managing your anxiety with your diet. Even implementing one small change at a time can make a big difference in the long-run:
- Choose natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup instead of refined sugar and artificial sweeteners.
- Increase healthy fats and omega-3s, and use less refined vegetable oils.
- Cut back on your caffeine consumption, especially in the afternoon.
Remember, anxiety management works best when you take a multi-pronged approach so make sure you’re including meditation, journaling, counseling or therapy, and regular exercise as part of your anxiety management plan. But if you’re living with anxiety, diet is a good place to start.
Make sure to download my free 101 Gut Healing Foods list, which will tell you exactly what to eat to help manage your anxiety. Remember that small adjustments can lead to big changes! Get it here now.