Why we get anxious and how good food choices can help
“Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere......”
Old English proverb.
Daily anxiety affects practically everyone on some level – a fact that's increasingly being spoken about candidly by celebrities such as Emma Stone, Tom Hardy and Adele. And with more than three million people suffering from the condition of General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in the UK, experts agree that the fast-pace of modern life and social media has created the perfect psychological fuel to stoke the flames of an anxious brain. The advice to stay calm and not worry is great – but it's often too idealistic, with our brains wired to react to life with flight-or-fight hormones. Simply breathing seems to cause anxiety! Persistent anxiety and panic attacks need taking serious and it's advisable to seek professional help, but common daily angst can be helped with a number of lifestyle hacks – such as exercise, meditation, journaling, optimal sleep and a healthy diet. Because of the impact of food on biochemistry and the brain, choosing the right snacks offers some research-proven benefits for easing anxiety and promoting calmness.
Why do we get anxious – Chilling-out is easier said than done...
Brain scans have enlightened scientists' understanding of what an anxious brain looks like, with high levels of activation in the amygdala and hippocampus – and increases in the stress hormones, norepinephrine and cortisol . Amygdala activity signifies the sense of danger and threat, while the hippocampus relates to the encoding of the brain with traumatic events. The problem for most people, is that over-thinking creates anxiety, with one's brain finding problems and fears that 'might happen' in the future – whether that's when you meet your boss in 20 minutes, thinking about Monday morning, socialising, going shopping, or some random fear about your life in 2022. And over time, your brain can become wired for anxiety – you can end-up living in 24/7 state of anxiety for no apparent reason.
It's something explicitly seen in many victims of severe trauma (such as PTSD), who display reduced hippocampus volume, which is linked to flashbacks, blurred memories and on-going anxiety. Once the brain is flooded with negative hormones and neurochemicals have lit-up certain areas of the brain – your whole day can be experienced with anxiety. This includes the cycle of waking and sleeping with anxiety, which is a vicious circle, but something that can be eased with a good morning routine and evening routine.
1 BANANA & WALNUT BREAD
Bananas and walnuts have long been considered beneficial foods for a sound, calm mind – something seemingly backed-up by research published in the journal, Nutrients, in 2016. Scientists gave a group of young adults 3 slices of freshly baked banana bread (either with or without walnuts) per day over an eight week period. The study found positive improvements in mood when eating banana bread with walnuts, possibly due to rich levels of vitamin E, folate, melatonin, anti-oxidative polyphenols and omega-3 oils.
Healthy banana bread
The study used
three slices of banana bread with 20g of walnuts per serving, for eight weeks. 2 medium bananas, mashed 2 scoops protein powder 170g whole wheat flour 2 tsp baking powder 2 egg whites 10g splenda (or stevia) 1 tsp cinnamon 150ml water Pinch of salt Walnuts
“Scientists gave a group of young adults 3 slices of freshly baked banana and walnut bread over an eight week period and found positive improvements in mood....”
Optimising your intake of omega-3 fatty acids is a proven way to help ease anxiety, making mackerel an excellent mood supporting food. The fish is also rich in creatine, a substance that has been shown to improve brain performance. To benefit from mackerel and other oily fish, it's important to have a serving at least 2-3 times a week. Alternatively, take a high-quality omega-3 supplement such as Krill – The Journal of Brain Behaviour and Immunity found that taking omega-3 supplements led to a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms in medical students, during periods of exam stress.
3 DARK CHOCOLATE
A handful of cashew nuts, dark chocolate and blueberries makes a tasty and nutritious snack – with each food having benefits for a calmer mind. Dark chocolate is a nutrient receiving a lot of scientific support as a legitimate health food, with a study in the Journal of Proteome Research finding that consuming 40g of dark chocolate a day, for two weeks, reduced self-reported stress levels in people with daily anxiety – something supported by a reduction in the excretion of cortisol stress hormones. Adding some cashews to your snack will increase the intake of the brain chemical, tryptophan, while blueberries are proven to boost mood.
Herbs and plants are a simple way to consume nutrients that are proven to help ease anxiety and enhance mood. One of the easiest and most research proven plant-derived ingredients is Turmeric, which is great in home-made curries and fragrant dishes. The aromatic compounds in Turmeric have been found to support brain neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, both of which help to regulate mood. The downside to getting the reearch proven benefits, is the amount of powdered turmeric needed, quality and the need to consume it daily. Brain supplements such as Neubria Shine solve this problem and also contain a blend of other research proven ingredients, including Cognizin®, Rhodiola Rosea and Saffron. “The aromatic compounds in Turmeric have been found to support brain neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, both of which help to regulate mood....”
5 KOMBUCHA TEA
The link between balanced gut microbiota and mood is something being well documented by clinical research, with both probiotic supplements and traditionally fermented foods gaining support for their effects on issues such as anxiety. Kombucha, a fermented tea made from a unique bacterial yeast, cab be safely made at home or bought in an increasing number of health shops, cafes and supermarkets, and is a refreshing way to support a healthy gut-brain connection.
There's no one-stop way to prevent anxiety and instantly stop it, but regularly consuming healthy whole foods with neuro-supportive benefits, is an effective tool to help you tackle life.
The combination of daily stresses and hectic lifestyles mean that problems such as low mood, depression and anxiety are increasingly common among people of all ages in the UK.
Kiecolt-Glaser, J. et al., 2011. Omega-3 Supplementation Lowers Inflammation and Anxiety in Medical Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Published in: Brain Behav Immun.
Martin, F, et al., 2009. Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects. Published in: J Proteome Res.
Ng. et al., 2017. Clinical Use of Curcumin in Depression: A Meta-Analysis. Published in: J Am Med Dir Assoc
Pirbaglou, M. et al., 2016. Probiotic supplementation can positively affect anxiety and depressive symptoms: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Published in: Nutr Res.
Pribis, P. 2016. Effects of Walnut Consumption on Mood in Young Adults—A Randomized Controlled Trial. Published in:Nutrients.
Rae, C. et al., 2003. Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. Published in: Proc Biol Sci.
Sundus, K, et al., 2017. Effects of Acute Blueberry Flavonoids on Mood in Children and Young Adults. Published in: Nutrients.