The nights are drawing in, it’s cold outside and with the panic of Christmas fast approaching, stress levels can be running high. You wouldn’t be alone if it’s at these times good intentions go out the window and you reach for those ‘comfort’ default foods – sugary, salty, processed snacks as well as a good slosh of tea and coffee thrown in for good measure. But, this can make everything worse and actually heighten anxiety levels – our liver goes into over-drive and we can have trouble sleeping and so our symptoms increase.
You may also find you have bloating, gas, nausea or constipation – your gut is literally telling you something is wrong. This is stress manifesting itself in your digestive system and it’s no biggie to see the obvious connection.
So what can you do to help things? Well you could try instead to incorporate some nutrients that actually lower anxiety levels. They will have a calming effect on your body and help relieve feelings of anxiety.
Here’s my Top Ten list of anti-anxiety food and super nutrients to try and include regularly in your weekly diet:
1. Number one would have to be SPINACH as it’s high in MAGNESIUM. Nicknamed ‘nature’s tranquilizer’, magnesium helps to keep our muscles relaxed and prevent our nerves from becoming frayed. Cramps, fatigue and muscle tension can all be an indicator of deficiency. Aim for one cup of fresh or half a cup of cooked spinach a day and you’ll also be getting lots of vitamin A, iron and folate. Popeye certainly knew what he was talking about!
2. Next on the list would be a healthy portion of TURKEY or CHICKEN. Both contain high amounts of TRYPTOPHAN which is an essential amino acid found in most protein foods. It’s used by the body to create serotonin, a neuro-chemical that relaxes the brain and decreases anxiety and assists relaxation, restfulness and sleep. Other good sources are ALMONDS, PEANUTS (not the salty kind you eat down the pub!) and WALNUTS which also contain a little B6 which actually helps tryptophan absorption. They’re so easy to keep on hand for a quick snack! The complex carbohydrate in OATS also help tryptophan absorption, so they’d be a great start to the day with a handful of healthy nuts.
3. And now for the really good news, chocolate! DARK CHOCOLATE is a powerhouse of nutrients, which not only contains tryptophan, but is also high in FLAVANOIDS and PHENETHYLAMINE, a chemical that enhances mood by increasing serotonin, as well as other brain feel gooders – endorphin and dopamine. The important thing to remember here is the darker the chocolate, the better – it needs to be at least 70% cacao or higher or even better if you opt for raw chocolate which has even higher levels of these super substances. Furthermore the saturated fat in dark chocolate does not raise LDL cholesterol, and enhances nervous and hormonal system functioning.
4. It’s harder to eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables at this time of year, but CLEMENTINES and KIWI are an easy way to sneak in VITAMIN C. Our brain needs adequate amount of vitamin C to convert tryptophan into serotonin and in fact the brain cleverly has a special vitamin C “pump” that draws extra vitamin C out of the blood and brings it to the brain. Kiwi fruit is one vitamin C factory that will satisfy your recommended daily intake of vitamin C with just one fruit. Vitamin C is also vital for keeping the coughs and colds at bay.
5. OILY FISH is a true super food. As well as being high in protein which stabilizes blood glucose levels, they are also high in OMEGA 3, which numerous studies show enhances brain chemistry and mood and reduces inflammation. Whilst SALMON is an easy choice as it’s so available, avoid farmed fish as it contains higher levels of pesticides and antibiotics. Choose WILD if you can, next best choice being farmed ORGANIC. Other easy fish to incorporate into your diet include anchovies, herring, mackerel, sardines and trout.
WALNUTS are another way to bring in the 3s. A recent study showed that eating at least one ounce of walnuts a day can prevent your blood pressure from rising and keep your anxiety levels in check. If you tend towards anxiety, make sure you get some of these delicious nuts into your diet so you’re not make your heart work more than it needs to. Walnut butter is also a great snack with oatcakes.
6. NUTS are a re-occurring theme here! BRAZIL NUTS are high in the mineral SELENIUM, a deficiency of which is a proven link to stress and poor thyroid function. You only need two Brazil nuts a day to keep you out of crankiness!
7. Getting enough B VITAMINS is essential for good mood. FOLATE in particular makes dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. Normal levels of dopamine help control of your emotional responses. Folate is found in good amounts in the aforementioned LEAFY GREENS, but also in beans, especially chickpeas. So HUMMUS is a handy way to sneak some in.
8. When you’re looking for that caffeine ‘hit’ ditch the coffee and try GREEN TEA- think of it as an anti-Red Bull super hit! The reason is green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes calming relaxing alpha waves in our brains. The magic is this not only makes us feel relaxed, but also gently aids concentration, but without the Red Bull jitters. Whilst it does contain some caffeine, the theanine calms the effect.
Black tea also contains theanine, but be warned, when you add milk as us Brits love to do, compounds in the milk interfere with your body’s ability to absorb it, negating the beneficial effects.
9. Now for a super food that’s been used for centuries to increase stamina and endurance ….MACA. Maca root contains a phytonutrient that helps lift mood, but it’s most famous as a natural energizer, both mentally and physically and for raising libido in both men and women! It is also a powerful adaptogen, which means that is helps the body’s various systems to stabilize and balance during periods of stress.
Maca root powder can be made into hot malty drink or sprinkled over other foods. You can also throw half a teaspoon into smoothies. You can find it at most health shops.
10. Finally you may not know the amazing properties of LIQUORICE. Liquorice’s key therapeutic compound, glycyrrhizin (which is 50X sweeter than sugar) has numerous beneficial effects on the body. Here it’s on my top 10 list because it has been proven to prolong the life of cortisol in your body, the main hormone that is released when you’re stressed. Forget Liquorice All Sorts which are full of sugar and nasties (colours 110, 102, 129, 133, 151 anyone?) and choose instead natural, unprocessed natural liquorice. In preventing the breakdown of cortisol, glycyrrhizin helps to increase energy, ease stress and reduce the symptoms of ailments sensitive to cortisol levels, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromylagia.
Another added bonus for this time of year with the round of Christmas parties about to begin, licorice both protects and promotes healing in the liver. It’s anti-inflammatory properties help calm liver inflammation and provides valuable antioxidant compounds that help maintain the overall health of the liver. *One thing it’s important to mention is liquorice should not be taken by anyone with high blood pressure or heart problems.
Lastly, not on the official list, but vitally important to mention nonetheless. (As Nigel Tufnell might say in Spinal Tap, this one goes up to 11).
11. Did you know that even mild dehydration can influence mood, energy levels and the ability to think clearly? Yes, number 11 is WATER. We often think when we’re thirsty it’s as an indicator that’s its time to drink something, but experts say this is too late to avoid many of the detrimental effects of dehydration. In fact in order to stay hydrated, we need to pre-empt thirst and it’s recommended we drink around 2 litres of water a day – more if exercising. You’ll know if you’re getting it right as your urine should be a pale yellow colour. If it’s dark yellow or tan, it indicated dehydration.
You can check your hydration status by monitoring the color of your urine. It should be a very pale yellow if you are properly hydrated. Dark yellow and you need to drink more water.
I hope you find this helpful, it’s so easy to incorporate these foods regularly and you’ll feel better for it. Guaranteed…..
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