In our fast paced, digitized world where most of us are constantly on the go and on high alert, nutrition is a tool we can use to feel more balanced and calm. Some foods can cause physiological and psychological stress, but there are many foods that can provide us with sustained energy and enhance our capacity to deal with stress.
Many mental health disorders like depression or anxiety have been linked to a poor diet. For example, an unhealthy diet has been shown to influence the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that mediates happiness, satisfaction, calmness, and helps stabilize one’s mood. When serotonin is low, we can feel stressed, unhappy and even anxious.
Alcohol and caffeine are often overlooked triggers of anxiety due to the fact that they have become so normalized by society. These two factors not only influence how we feel, but the health of our adrenal glands, which directly impacts our energy and stress levels. Coffee not only spikes cortisol production, but it can be acidic to your gut and digestive system, and even irritate the gut lining. In turn, this can impact the gut microbiome and therefore, the production of certain mood-related neurotransmitters. Although alcohol can leave you feeling anxious or jittery, it is actually a depressant, so when attempting to balance your mood and work on mindfulness, it’s best to avoid.
There are many different foods and herbal supplements that can help promote feelings of calmness. Ashwagandha is one of the most popular adaptogens on the market today that is used for mediating stress and promoting feelings of calmness. It can be taken in capsule form, powder form, or can even be found in various drinks and juices. This can be taken during the day or before bedtime to encourage a better night’s sleep.
Foods that are rich in magnesium such as mushrooms, spinach, nuts, seeds, and cacao are also helpful for promoting a sense of calm. Magnesium is a mineral that is involved in numerous enzymatic reactions in the body and it helps regulate blood pressure, support immune function and nerve function.
Prebiotics such as fermentable fibers, and probiotic rich-foods such as sauerkraut, are important contributors to mental health due to the fact that they support the gut microbiome. Research has found that both of these can help to reduce anxiety and depression through stabilizing the levels of healthy bacteria within the gut.
Although overstated, increasing your water intake not only helps to support your overall health, but can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that those who drink more water have a lower risk of anxiety and depression than those who drink less. Every system in the body requires water to function, so naturally when we are dehydrated this can have an affect on our well-being and sense of clarity, balance and stability.
Among the many benefits of cruciferous vegetables, it is worth highlighting the fact that they are a rich source of GABA, a neurotransmitter that is known for producing a calming effect. GABA slows down the brain by blocking specific signals within the central nervous system and is thought to play a major role in controlling nerve cell hyperactivity associated with anxiety.
Lastly, eating high quality, animal based foods can have an enormous impact on your mental health. Animal based foods are a rich source of various amino acids that are precursors to many mood-boosting neurotransmitters. For example, aromatic amino acids (e.g. tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine) are precursors for the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, and they can be found in steak.
Overall, reducing anxiety, increasing your stress tolerance, and supporting feelings of calmness takes a multifaceted approach, but when it comes to nutrition, the best place to start is by consuming a well-balanced diet filled with an abundance of whole foods. A diet free from artificial and processed foods helps support the balance and flow of efficient digestion, hormone production, mood stability, and mental health.