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How to eat to help manage anxiety

Anxiety is a state of being stuck in the hypervigilance of the high alert, stress response that uses up nutrients at a rate of knots. We are creating and using up energy very fast in survival mode and this can raise appetite in an attempt to take on more of the carbohydrates we need for energy, the fats we need for brain function and the protein we need for brain chemicals (neurotransmitters).

These processes rely on receiving nutrients such as B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and vitamin C, ideally from food in its most natural forms for most dense nutritional value; as high-quality protein and fats (in nuts, seeds, beans, meat, fish, eggs), with plenty of vegetables and fruit.

But in stressed or anxious states, our appetite signals to ‘fuel up’ in the quickest way possible - generally as sugar or caffeine. The stress ‘fight-flight’ response creates highs and lows of blood sugar, energy and mood so we can be at the whim of craving these just to keep us going.

Starting the day with a protein and healthy fat rich breakfast - such as yoghurt, nuts and berries; spinach omelette or smoked mackerel and avocado on rye – can set us up for more stress-coping and less sugar-craving throughout the day. A few key nutritional changes can also help:

  • Magnesium is a calming mineral and deficiency is common as it is depleted by stress. Low levels are seen with anxiety and related symptoms such as insomnia, headaches, muscle cramps, panic attacks and IBS. It tends to be poorly ingested in the modern diet, as is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. You can also supplement 300-600mg magnesium citrate split over breakfast and dinner to help reduce tendencies to anxiety.

  • Omega 3 oils are needed for brain function and mood regulation. If you are not getting these from direct sources as fish, you may need a supplement as a DHA algae form (vegan) as we do not convert plant sources well.

  • Drinking camomile tea or sleep teas including this herb, has an accumulative effect when camomile is regularly ingested, reducing anxiety overall, not just after drinking it.

  • Celery and lettuce contain the soothing chemical apigenin, so load them up in salads.

Author bio

Charlotte Watts is a nutritional therapist and yoga teacher, and winner of the 2012 CAM Award for Outstanding Practice. She writes regularly for the national press, and is the author of Good Mood Food: Unlock the power of diet to think and feel well, published by Nourish in December.

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