Anxiety (aNGˈzīədē/) (n): an apprehension of the future, especially about an upcoming challenging task. Perfectly acceptable EXCEPT when the reaction is significiantly blown out of proportion.
I’ve always been a bit of an anxious person. Every time I think I’ve got a handle on my nerves, something happens that sets them off again. And it isn’t always the result of something drastic. Sometimes, it’s simply the to-do list in my brain firing off all of the things I haven’t done yet, and all of the dreams I have yet to accomplish.
My good friend and fellow over-achiever approached me the other day to tell me that her anxiety, unknowingly, had gotten so out of hand that it manifested in a physical reaction. She went to the doctor and was given, to my surprise, strict instruction to alter her diet temporarily to help her symptoms subside.
I love that this advice came from a traditional physician. I wish it were the solution more often instead of prescription drugs.
As much as I rely on food and nutrition to help me in every other area of my life, I had honestly never thought to use food to ease my stress and anxiety (wine doesn’t count). It makes perfect sense, however, that food can affect our mood. Everything you ingest has an affect on your body chemistry –whether negative or positive. So I did a little digging to see what foods could hit the calm-my-nerves-button. And this is what I found. I think you'll like what you see:
GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES
What it’s got: Folate
What it does: Helps your body produce serotonin (the-feel good hormone) and dopamine (chemical critical to coordination, memory function, and your mood).
ORGANIC TURKEY BREAST
What it’s got: Tryptophan
What it does: It’s the Amino acid that your body converts into serotonin (the-feel good hormone).
What it’s got: Probiotics
What it does: I've talked about the benefits of Fermented Foods plenty of times before. But here is yet another reason. The probiotics in fermented food nourishes your gut flora to support a positive mood.
What they got: The animal-based omega-3 fats EPA and DHA
What it does: This one is a little more complicated, but, in my opinion, one of the most important. So I'm going to attempt to explain it with the help of Dr. Barry Sears…
The brain is incredibly sensitive to inflammation. And when it is inflamed, it causes a breakdown in signaling between cells (which affects mood and anxiety). This cellular inflammation is caused by an increase in Omega-6 fatty acids (which is abundant in processed foods). In fact, many of the drugs that people with anxiety are put on are anti-inflammatory drugs for this very reason (aspirin, non-steroid anti-inflammatories, COX-2 inhibitions and corticosteroids). These drugs, however, cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. SO when it's inflamed, the brain's only protection is Omega-3. Unfortunately, most people aren't getting nearly enough of this in their diet (wild caught fish is expensive!). Studies have shown that high levels of Omega-3 can reduce anxiety (2). Which means, the more Omega-3 we get in our diet, the more seamlessly our brain can function, and the more we can relax. Salmon, sardines and anchovies have them in spades.
What it’s got: Anthocyanins – the pigments that give berries like blueberries and blackberries their deep color
What it does: These antioxidants aid your brain in the production of dopamine (chemical critical to coordination, memory function, and your mood).
What it’s got: Flavonols, a subclass of flavonoids, which are natural chemicals found in plants, fruits and vegetables.
What it does: Reduces cortisol – the stress hormone that causes anxiety symptoms. It also contains other chemicals that prolong the "feel-good" aspects of anandamide. One study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology also revealed that drinking an antioxidant-rich chocolate drink equal to about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily felt calmer than those who did not.
KEY thing to remember here is that NOT ALL DARK CHOCOLATE IS THE SAME. The total antioxidant content of chocolate products are directly associated with the amount of raw cocoa it contains. So if you're going to eat it for the health benefits, the darker, the better. The Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with 88% Cacao is my absolute favorite. It is so smooth and indulgent with its high cacao content, but with a very small amount of sugar (5 grams/serving).
Fun fact: Anandamide is a derivative of the Sanskrit word “Bliss”
WATER (genius, I know)
What it's got: Hydration
What it does: Dehydration affects as many as 25% of those with persistent stress or more. Dehydration is also known to cause more anxiety.
What it's got: Monosaturated fats
What it does: Regulates blood sugar levels. This combination of satiety and blood-sugar regulation can help keep your mood steady and even in times of stress.
Great. So what to do you do now? I guess you make a big green leafy salad with turkey, sardines, saurkraut, avocado and blueberries, wash it down with a BIG glass of water, and finish the meal with a nice piece of 88% cacao dark chocolate. Easy peasy. You'll be one relaxed, even-keeled cat. OR you can start small with a couple awesome go-to recipes of mine…
AVOCADO MASH RECIPE
I was so glad to see avocados on this list, as they are one of my all-time favorites. And with their decadent texture and comforting qualities, I’m not surprised. I very rarely go a day without one – whether in my morning smoothie or chopped up in my afternoon salad. But this recipe is perfect for fast and immediate comfort and satisfaction.
- 1 Avocado
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice (fresh squeezed or bottled)
- 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast (if you’re dairy-free) OR 1 teaspoon shredded parmesan
- Sprinkle of cayenne pepper
- Mash up together in a bowl with a fork (really get in there and smash it up to get out all that anxiety)
- If you choose…put it back in the avocado shell for smile-inducing presentation
- Eat with a spoon!
HERBY SALMON RECIPE
- 3 oz. Grass-fed butter, ghee or coconut oil
- 1 t. Course Himalayan salt
- Zest of 1 Lemon
- 2 T. fresh herbs of choice (I used rosemary and thyme from my balcony garden)
- 1 Garlic clove, minced
- Dash of White Pepper
- 4 Salmon Fillets, about 4-5 oz. each
- Preheat the oven to broil (or grill it if you've got one!)
- Chop up your herbs and your garlic.
- Toss them in a bowl, along with salt and white pepper and melt together for approximately 30 seconds. Stir until combined.
- Place the salmon fillets on a broiling pan lined with aluminum foil that has been oiled so it doesn't stick.
- Coat the salmon with half of the lemon herb butter, evenly spreading it over the tops of each fillet.
- Place pan on about 6 inches away from the heat source. Timing here is key and very delicate. Becasue you're broiling, it's going to go fast. Let it go for about 3 minutes. Take it out. Turn over each filet. Brush eash side with the remaining herby mix. And put it back in for another 3 minutes. I'm 99% sure you won't need more than that. It should be nice and flaky.
1. Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Merikangas KR, and Walters EE. "Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication". Arch Gen Psychiatry 62:617-627 (2005)
2. Buydens-Branchey L, Branchey M, and Hibbeln JR. "Associations between increases in plasma n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids following supplementation and decreases in anger and anxiety in substance abusers." Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry 32:568-575 (2008)
Like what you read today? Think somebody else could benefit from a few anxiety-reducing foods? See those cute little gray shapes underneath this post? They're for sharing! Click one to post to Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or comment right here on the blog. I would love to hear from you.