Utilizing Nutrition to Ease Anxiety

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States. Over forty-million live with a diagnosed, clinical anxiety disorder, and many more struggle with un-diagnosed, situational anxiety. 

First, let's look at the clinical definition of "anxiety." Anxiety is defined as "a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome."

One way to ease feelings of anxiety is to use nutritional strategies that make the body feel safe. Skipping meals, undereating, eating nutritionally-void foods, eating food that contains too much sugar, and overconsuming caffeine can all make the body feel "unsafe," therefore worsening anxiety. 

Even if someone does not suffer from an anxiety disorder, they can still feel anxious due to improper nutritional habits. Changes in blood sugar (the concentration of glucose in the bloodstream), spikes in cortisol (the stress hormone), and even hormonal changes can contribute to feelings of anxiety, which can be crippling. 

To consistently keep your body feeling safe, it's essential to develop a habit of following a science-backed strategy. 

Here are some ways that individuals can make their bodies feel safer and promote a calm, relaxed state, which is protective against the ill effects of anxiety:

1. Eat Breakfast Every Morning

Eating breakfast every morning is a key way to help your body feel safe. Although intermittent fasting is a trendy health fad, it can frequently worsen anxiety and cause an individual to develop low blood sugar due to the lack of glucose entering the body via carbohydrates. An example of a hearty, nourishing, anxiety-fighting breakfast could look like:

  • 30 grams of protein from animal sources (such as eggs, greek yogurt, or high-quality breakfast sausage), or protein from plant-based sources (such as pea protein, lentils, or beans)

  • 30 grams of carbohydrates from fresh fruit, such as mango, apple, berries, banana, pineapple, kiwi, orange, and cherries (opt for whole fruit over fruit juices, as whole fruit contains fiber, which is beneficial for blood sugar and for supporting proper digestion)

  • 10 grams of fat from a high-quality source, such as coconut oil, avocado, or grass grass-fed butter (fat is worth over 2x the amount of calories as carbohydrates and protein, so adding a smaller portion will help you create a helpful balance)

2. Wait Until After Breakfast to Drink Coffee

Waiting to drink coffee until after you eat breakfast significantly reduces the cortisol (the stress hormone) rising impacts of your daily cup of joe. Many people drink coffee on an empty stomach, and many also pride themselves on their ability to drink it black, meaning without any cream or sugar. Here are our three steps that you can take to make sure that coffee isn't causing stress within your body:

  1. Drink coffee after you eat a nourishing breakfast that is in line with the suggestions above 

  2. Add at least 1 tbsp of a fat source (half and half, coconut milk), 1 tsp of a carbohydrate source (maple syrup, coconut or date sugar), and (optional), 3 tbsp collagen protein peptides 

  3. Aim only to drink 120 milligrams of caffeine a day, and avoid drinking extra caffeine after noon (drinking caffeine too late increases stress levels and lowers sleep quality) 

3. Incorporate foods that are rich in Magnesium, Zinc, and B Vitamins

It's vital to be aware of how nutrients play a role in preventing and managing anxiety. Science shows us that three primary nutrients lower anxiety and promote overall mental wellbeing: magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins. 

Foods that are rich in magnesium: 

  • leafy greens, such as chard and spinach

  • legumes

  • nuts

  • seeds

  • whole grains

Foods that are rich in zinc:

  • oysters

  • beef liver

  • cashews

  • egg yolks

Foods that are rich in B vitamins: 

  • avocado

  • almonds

  • bee pollen

  • nutritional yeast 

  • high-quality meat

  • citrus fruits

  • whole grains

  • dark, leafy vegetables

By also eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and fermented products, like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha, gut flora is diversified, which also has a positive impact of the "brain and gut" connection in the body.