When it comes to stress, anxiety, or depression, medication seems to be at the forefront as a treatment. But what if you're wanting to take a more holistic approach?
It has been well established that physical activity plays a significant role in reducing stress and depression, practicing meditation, and breathing techniques, and even regularly exposing your body to hot and cold temperatures (saunas/ice baths). However, one of the largest components you may be missing is YOUR DIET.
Are you familiar with your "second brain"? Interestingly enough, it is located in your stomach! Yes, your gut which contains trillions of different bacteria can directly influence your mood and stress levels. Here, we take a look at the relationship between your stress levels and the foods that can affect your overall wellness.
Want to know more about what can affect your well-being? Find out more with our Certified Wellness Coach course!
Go With Your Gut
With emerging research on the gut-brain axis, it has been found that there is a bidirectional link between the nervous system and gut-microbiome which influence more than just mood. Signals sent between your brain and stomach also play major roles in your immune and hormonal systems. However, it has been established that "dysbiosis" or an unhealthy gut is commonly seen in many central nervous system disorders like anxiety-depressive behaviors (1).
Therefore, what you eat can impact how you feel. However, stress can also play a major role in your ability to properly absorb proper nutrients. Stress releases a chemical called cortisol, and high levels of cortisol can send signals to the gut that cause issues such as delayed gastric emptying and poor absorption (1).
Regarding the interaction between the gut and mental health, it has been established that the underlying cause of too many issues is inflammation. In one study, they compared the Western diet to a Mediterranean diet and found that people who mainly consumed a Western diet, which is very high in fat and processed foods, had much more inflammation and dysbiosis (2).
Underlying point… what you eat can have major impacts on your emotional well-being!
Top 5 Foods to Limit Anxiety & Boost Wellness
First, let's identify some major players involved in depression and anxiety and how diet can influence their presence.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in mood and cognition, and low levels have been seen in individuals who suffer from anxiety and depression. 90% of serotonin levels are produced in the gastrointestinal system! Serotonin is synthesized from an amino acid called tryptophan. Where can you find tryptophan? Animal meats, nuts, seeds, and milk.
Using this information, it would be advisable to consume a diet that helps fight inflammation but also contains rich levels of tryptophan to help fight off anxiety-depressive-like symptoms.
So, what five foods make the list?
Salmon is rich in omega 3's, an essential fatty acid responsible for decreasing inflammation, and tryptophan. Newer studies looking at the association between omega 3 intake and mental health have found that higher intakes of omega 3 correlate with lower anxiety levels (5). Another systematic review and meta-analysis of 19 clinical trials from 11 countries found improved anxiety symptoms with omega-3 fatty acid treatment compared to control groups (6).
Remember the gut-brain connection mentioned earlier? Fermented foods are rich in probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms that help improve the "good" bacteria in your gut. Fermented foods rich in probiotics include miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and tempeh. Other foods rich in probiotics include yogurt, kefir, and some cheeses.
Legumes include nutrient-dense plants such as lentils, beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and peas. Legumes are particularly rich in magnesium. One study found that lower magnesium levels in mice were associated with increased anxiety-related behaviors. Newer research also indicates that magnesium may help regulate neurotransmitters involved in sleep. Therefore, increasing magnesium intake can potentially improve sleep onset and/or quality… which is especially important when trying to decrease overall stress levels.
Eggs are considered the highest quality protein. They are rich in many essential vitamins and minerals, especially tryptophan and B6! Low levels of B6 are speculated to be a major cause of depression since B6 is a cofactor in the tryptophan-serotonin pathway. One study involving 140 individuals found that those identified with depression had significantly lower vitamin B6 plasma levels (7).
Fresh Antioxidant-Rich Fruits
It is hard to select the best fruits for anti-inflammatory properties. Fruits like oranges and pineapple are rich in Vitamin C, a major antioxidant. Berries, cherries, and pomegranates are rich in polyphenols, which help fight inflammation. Bananas are rich in B6. B6 is an important cofactor in the synthesis of tryptophan which is involved in serotonin production.
For a better look at how food and wellness are linked together, look into our Certified Wellness Coach course.
Whole Foods and Good Sleep: Additional Tips to Limit Stress
Incorporation of a fresh, whole-food diet as much as possible will help boost essential vitamin and mineral intake and fight off inflammation. However, it is also advisable to take extra steps to limit stress, and anxiety, and boost wellness. Take these extra precautions to boost your overall health!
Also, aim to achieve quality sleep. Poor sleep is one of the biggest factors to affect mood. Individuals with insomnia have a ten-fold higher risk of developing depression than individuals who get quality sleep (8). Sleep is also the time when the body gets to recover! More sleep is also correlated with lower levels of stress.
Avoid alcohol and other inflammatory foods. Alcohol is a depressant, depletes your body of essential vitamins and minerals, and induces whole-body inflammation. Fast/fried foods, highly processed, and sugary items can also induce a lot of inflammation. Limiting the intake of these items can help boost health and wellness.
What you eat matters! The quality of your food can directly impact your mood. Therefore, it is important to choose feel-good foods as much as possible. If you're looking to reduce stress and boost wellness, choose foods rich in vitamins such as B6, magnesium, and omega 3's, consume a diet rich in protein, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid sugar, alcohol, and fried foods as much as possible.