How Food Affects Stress & Anxiety
Have you ever noticed a shift in your mood when you’ve changed your eating habits? Maybe a week of eating whole foods has your bouncing off the walls and smiling ear-to-ear while a few days of processed snacks has you feeling not-so-great? Personally, I have felt first-hand the effects that diet and nutrition can have on mental health when I started eating a whole food diet and my attitude and mindset completely switched.
We often associate our diet with physical health, however, research has shown that what we put into our body also has a dramatic effect on our levels of stress and anxiety. So, how does this happen exactly and what modifications can we make to improve our overall feelings of wellbeing?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (known as the happiness chemical) that promotes healthy sleep and stabilises the mood. Around 90% of the bodies serotonin is actually found in the gut so it’s no surprise that what we eat affects our serotonin levels. Toxins, hormone changes and some prescription drugs can all have a negative effect on your serotonin levels.
Try: Eating foods high in tryptophan as this increases the level of serotonin production within the body. Dark green leafy vegetables, bananas, soy products, nuts and seeds all contain high amounts of tryptophan. Although animal products contain high levels of tryptophan, the body cannot convert it to serotonin as it doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier.
Recent studies have shown that your gut-brain axis connects the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. This means that the diversity of your gut bacteria or microbiome can have a powerful effect on your mental health. Highly processed foods tend to throw off
the bacteria in the gut which as a result, may increase levels of anxiety.
Try: Upping your consumption of probiotic foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha as well as eating an abundance prebiotic fibre found in foods such as garlic, onions and bananas can help maintain healthy and diverse gut flora.
When you overstimulate your body you activate the sympathetic nervous system (also knows as fight-or-flight mode) which can increase feelings of stress and anxiety. Foods such as sugar, highly processed carbohydrates, alcohol and excess caffeine can all cause this stress response to occur.
Try Foods high in magnesium such as dark chocolate or a high-quality magnesium supplement which can help to regulate your neurotransmitters and in turn calm the nervous system.
Mental health issues are on the rise, with almost half of all Australians suffering from a mental illness within their lifetime, it’s becoming more and more important to talk about what we can do to reduce this problem.
Unfortunately, daily stress and anxiety is becoming the norm. Although there are many different factors that influence our mental health, implementing small changes in the diet can be a great place to start.
Written by Stevie Scott (@wellnessbystevie)