Eat Yourself Calm: 10 Foods That Fight Anxiety
Anxiety can be caused by several internal and external factors, but there’s a natural way to manage it that many people don’t yet know about.
The nutritional strategy known as blood sugar balance is a straightforward technique that involves eating fats and proteins at every meal and snack and avoiding sugar and stimulants as much as possible.
It is that simple. And it’s also the only effective way to sustainably lose weight without making yourself crazy.
What does blood sugar have to do with anxiety?
One of the reasons the food you eat determines your mood is because having too much or too little sugar in your blood can be stressful for your brain.
From an evolutionary point of view, both are perceived as a threat to your survival. Too much sugar happens when you eat a high-carb meal or snack (fruit juice, a bowl of cereal, a doughnut, a "health" bar), which is broken down rapidly into glucose and increases the amount of sugar in your blood.
A steep rise in blood sugar makes you feel mentally good (sugar high) but persistent high blood sugar can be dangerous and lead to complications like hyperglycemia, which is why the body has a fast and effective way of bringing blood sugar back down, using insulin.
Insulin takes sugar out of your blood into your liver and muscles for temporary safe storage. The resulting sudden dip in blood sugar is what makes you feel lethargic and foggy-brained (hi, afternoon slump), which is when your adrenals have to kick in and secrete fight-or-flight hormones that quicken your breathing, make your heart race, and rev up your anxiety.
This is usually when you reach for one or all of the following: chocolate, more coffee, a salty carb snack, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes.
It’s got very little to do with self-control. When you’re up against low blood sugar and an exhausted brain, the odds are against you.
This roller-coaster adrenal trip is exhausting for your brain and messes with your hormones. For most people, the Ping-Pong of extremes continues throughout their life until they eventually tire out their pancreas (diabetes), their adrenals (adrenal fatigue), and their brain (Alzheimer’s disease).
The good news is you can prevent these diseases and take better care of your brain by making healthier choices.
Here are 10 foods to eat yourself calm:
1. Complex carbs
Nature’s nutritious "fast food"—sweet potatoes, yams, plantains, brown rice, quinoa, beans, lentils—are high in fiber and slow carbs that your body recognizes and knows how to metabolize.
Being unprocessed, these carbs are naturally packed with minerals and nutrients like B vitamins that help your body break down and USE the energy contained in these foods.
Remember to combine them with some protein and fats for extra credit (i.e., mental focus).
Eggs are not only a convenient source of complete protein, they also contain lecithin and choline needed for proper methylation and nervous system function.
Choline is a nutrient that forms a key part of the abundant neurotransmitter acetylcholine—used all the time for motor and memory functions in the nervous system.
One of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease is a marked decrease in acetylcholine concentrations.
3. Walnuts and flaxseeds
L-theanine in tea is a stress-relieving compound that binds to GABA receptors and induces changes in brain waves indicative of relaxation.
Sub your midday coffee—a stimulant that interferes with blood sugar and spikes your stress hormones—for naturally calming rooibos, chamomile, or green tea, all of which have been studied for their anxiolytic properties.
5. Bone broth
Unless you’ve been asleep under a rock for a few years, you’ve heard of the gut-brain-axis and how intestinal disorders usually coincide with depression and anxiety. Getting a healthy gut is a big, multi-approach endeavor but one of my favorite gut-healing foods to recommend to clients is a grass-fed bone broth, which is high in glycine, an amino acid with calming properties.
Zinc plays a big role in the both the immune and nervous system. People with anxiety have significantly lower plasma levels of zinc and higher levels of copper.
Stress and anxiety tend to deplete zinc, so add oysters, sesame seeds (e.g. tahini), lentils, beef, and lamb to your list of stress-fighting foods.
Or vitamin B12, is another killer calming nutrient that plays a big role in methylation, neurotransmitter synthesis, and nerve function. Decreased brain levels of vitamin B12 has been shown to contribute to neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders.
For vegetarians, getting enough B12 can be a challenge because food sources tend to be animal products—fish, shellfish, lamb, beef, beef liver, eggs, and raw milk (hey, kefir). It might be worth considering a high-quality supplement.
8. Green leafy vegetables
Your body uses magnesium in over 300 different biochemical reactions, including neurotransmitter release and nervous function. Magnesium deficiency has been shown to induce anxiety.
Eat more greens, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocados, and...dark chocolate! Also: Soak in an Epsom salt bath regularly.
9. Oat bran
Turkey and bananas aren’t the only foods that contain tryptophan (the precursor to serotonin and melatonin). Oats are up there and have the added benefit of being full of B-vitamins and a lot of fiber, too.
Remember to top your oats creations with all kinds of good fats and protein like sliced almonds, walnuts, almond butter, chia seeds, flaxseeds, for added blood-sugar stabilization.
10. Coconut oil and grass-fed ghee
Your brain is made of fats, so are the myelin sheaths lining all of your neurons. Give your brain and nerves the building blocks they’re made of!
The MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) found in coconut oil have been shown to improve cognitive functioning.
Ghee has been studied for it’s anti-inflammatory, gut healing, brain-boosting properties, mostly thanks to the butyrate (found in both butter and ghee), which is a short-chain saturated fat that feeds and rejuvenates the cells lining your gut.
As mentioned at the start of this post, eating fats is also part of the blood-stabilization strategy to manage mood and appetite, so for the best brain-body results, eat lots of good fats at every meal.
Test-drive this kind of balanced diet for a week or two and see if your anxiety evens out. My educated guess is it will, and you won’t want to look back.