The food that we eat each day has a direct effect on the way we feel. After all, we’ve all heard the old adage “you are what you eat!” Whether it’s a sugar rush or an energy crash, everything we eat is digested and affects our body along the way. This reaction also makes its way up to the brain. This is why diet can actually have a huge effect on mental health and we have found foods that combat anxiety. Studies have shown that the gut actually acts as a sort of “second brain” by producing around 95 percent of the total serotonin (the “happiness” neurotransmitter) that our bodies use each day.
Therefore, you can see how it important it is to feed our bodies and our brains with natural, healthy foods. We are harmed by overly-processed or genetically-modified foods. Not only can a healthy diet make you feel better physically, but it can also work wonders on your mental health. This is because a nutrient-rich diet can improve overall brain function. It works by eliminating damaging free radicals that impede the brain’s ability to adapt to stressful situations. The nutrients found in certain whole foods can actually decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression by keeping our brains fully-functioning.
What Does Stress Look Like?
Stress can look different in each person, but it usually affects mental, emotional, and physical health all at once. This can manifest in a variety of different symptoms. These include sore muscles, neck stiffness, headaches, inability to sleep, and lack of motivation. With nearly 18% of Americans affected by anxiety every day, this is clearly a serious issue that is impacting our day-to-day lives.
In particular, our digestive tract is susceptible to issues related to stress and anxiety. The Institute of Stress even reported that 34 percent of people who experience daily stress say it has caused negative effects on their stomachs. When the body perceives stress or danger, it releases a craving for fatty and sugary foods. These foods can be quickly digested for an energy boost. However, consuming large quantities of these unhealthy foods actually ends up damaging the gut’s lining. This perceived sense of danger doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, unfortunately. That’s why eating healthy is one of the things we can do to prevent gut damage and improve mental health.
How the Brain and Gut are Connected
As mentioned above, the brain and gut are directly connected. This means that a diet heavy in fats and sugars will not only inflame the gut but will inflame the brain as well. Inflammation in the brain can cause mood swings, anger, and irritability. These symptoms are made even worse when combined with digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Exercising regularly, removing stressors, and improving diet are the best ways to improve the gut microbiome. Therefore, they also help our mental health get back under control. A diet focusing on micronutrients can help the body function better and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. While it’s always important to discuss with your doctor regarding your personal health history, a whole foods-based diet is an excellent way to start on your own.
Below are 13 foods that when eaten regularly, can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Another great food to combat anxiety are avocados. Avocados are chock-full of healthy fats, which have been a trendy nutrition topic in recent years. This is for good reason. Monounsaturated fats contain plenty of omega-3 fatty acids which help decrease inflammation throughout the body. In fact, 60 percent of our brains are made up of fat, so having a diet rich in healthy fats allows the brain to perform optimally and reaction to stress in a healthy way.
Many foods can be fermented, but some of the most common today are sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt, The bacteria in fermented foods help the body efficiently break down food and absorb nutrients. Adding them to meals on a daily basis can help decrease bloating and improve digestion.
Although green tea does contain small amounts of caffeine, an anxiety-causing substance, it is also high in L-theanine. This has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone, so consuming L-theanine reduces the body’s typical response to stressors.
There is no more important factor in improving mental health than getting enough sleep. Kale contains glycine, which is an amino acid that calms the nervous system. This means that it can actually help improve sleep patterns. It also works to lower the body’s temperature at bedtime, thereby signaling the time for a resting period.
Certain types of seafood, including wild-caught salmon, are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These work to balance out adrenaline spikes caused by panic attacks or stressors. Omega-3 also helps to decrease brain cell dysfunction that can manifest in those with anxiety disorders.
For a complete list of foods that combat anxiety, along with recommendations for when to eat them, take a look at the graphic below from the nutrition experts at Snap Kitchen.
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