18 Mar Feeling anxious? 10 foods to eat to support your nervous system
According to Beyond Blue, it’s estimated that 45% of Australians will experience mental illness firsthand, and in any one year, over 2 million of us in this country will suffer from anxiety. That’s huge.
Although it’s a complex issue, what you eat can go a long way to improving your mental health. The mind and nervous system require a complex mix of nutrients to stay healthy, while the gut is central to emotional wellbeing, being responsible for the production of neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers in the brain.
It’s simple – poor gut health and poor diet can affect our moods, our emotions, and our response to stress. A healthier gut = a healthier mind. And it all comes back to the food we put in our bodies.
The great news is that you don’t need any fancy (or expensive!) superfood concoctions to get started. Here are 10 everyday foods you can eat to help reduce anxiety and promote healthy brain function.
Oily fish contains Omega-3 essentially fatty acids, which have an anti-inflammatory effect that counterbalances the effects of stress hormones. This helps reduce anxiety symptoms and the body’s stress reaction by reducing cortisol levels. Choose sustainable or wild caught fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines for the highest nutrient content, and be mindful to avoid fish that are known to be high in mercury, like tuna.
Gone are the days when egg yolks were banished from omelettes. They are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins including B2, B12, and Zinc which promotes feelings of wellbeing in general. Zinc assists neurotransmitter function, and deficiency can lead to anxiety and irritability. Choose eggs from pasture-raised, free range hens for the highest quality nutrient profile.
Kale and Leafy Greens
Mineral deficiencies may affect brain function, so keeping a wide range of minerals in your diet is super important. Dark leafy greens such as the kale varieties include a range of anxiety-reducing nutrients, including Vitamins B, D, E, and K, plus magnesium. Vitamins D, B1 and B6 help produce serotonin and norepinephrine, which are essential for mood regulation.
Great news for chocolate lovers! Cacao has very high levels of the amino acid l-theanine and magnesium, which are both natural relaxants for the body and mind. You can choose 70% or even 90% dark chocolate for the highest levels, or use raw unprocessed cacao nibs and powder in your smoothies and raw treats, as they are even higher in these precious nutrients.
One of the best foods for relieving anxiety is the humble avocado. These vegetable-fruits are high in fibre and rich in potassium which helps lower blood pressure, anti-inflammatory antioxidants such as Vitamin E and C, as well as folate and other B vitamins that increase brain function. The monounsaturated fats also help keep blood sugar stable and promote healthy cognitive function.
These delicious green spears are high in folate, which increases production of the famous pleasure-centre neurotransmitter, dopamine. Asparagus is also rich in Vitamin C, which can help to reduce cortisol levels and prevent adrenal fatigue.
One of the original superfoods, almonds are rich in nutrients for the nervous system, including B vitamins and magnesium. Magnesium helps protect the brain against stress, anxiety, irritability, and insomnia, as well as premenstrual symptoms. To increase your absorption of magnesium, soak your almonds in water for 8 hours before eating.
Yoghurt contains probiotics and good bacteria which are essential for gut health. The naturally occurring lactic acid and lactobacillus bacterias aid the yoghurt-making process. These aren’t just found in dairy products; you can consume these friendly bacteria in any yoghurt, including coconut yoghurts.
For an anxiety-fighting boost to salads, smoothies, and snacks, add sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds—also known as pepitas—which are high in tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin. These tiny powerhouses also contain B6 which also helps convert tryptophan to niacin, and magnesium. Raw seeds also contain Omega-3 fatty acids.
White poultry such as turkey and chicken contain tryptophan, which is a precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin, the amino acid that increases our feelings of bliss and contentment. Turkey is very high in tryptophan, as well as vitamin B12, which makes it a great option for those who suffer from anxiety and depression.
Eating a nourishing diet can be empowering when you feel unwell. But while food is a great place to start, if you’re suffering from ongoing anxiety or depression it’s also important to speak to your health professional. You may need some extra testing or treatment (whether you choose natural or otherwise), so if you’re going through a rough patch, please don’t suffer alone. If you need immediate assistance, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or check out Beyond Blue at http://beyondblue.org.au. Or click here to book a 1-on-1 naturopathic consultation.