With the level of uncertainty in the world, many of us are feeling extremely anxious at the moment.
That feeling of discomfort that sits with us all the time – unsettled sleep, low mood, an inability to concentrate and a lack of routine – drives feelings of insecurity and agitation as we try to make sense of the world we are living in.
While generalised anxiety disorder is a clinical condition requiring diagnosis, and one that will affect up to one in seven Australians at any one time, feeling generally anxious has been a commonly reported experience during the pandemic.
While there is not one single food or diet that will fix anxiety, there is a growing body of research to show that particular eating patterns are associated with an improvement in the common signs and symptoms of anxiety.
So if you have not been feeling your best in recent months, here are some key foods to build your diet around – foods that are proven to affect our mood and experience of daily stress as we attempt to self-soothe during this challenging time.
With some of the highest amounts of omega 3 fats of any fresh food, salmon is a must if your goal is to optimise mood. There are a number of studies that show people who consume high amounts of the special fats (DHA and EPA) found in oily fish are less likely to suffer from mood disturbance, as these fats are known to help the neurotransmitters that regulate mood. Salmon is also a rich natural source of vitamin D, which plays a role in the regulation of mood. To get enough of these important fats, aim to include a 100g serve of salmon in your diet at least every second day.
As we learn more about the relationship of gut health to our mental well-being, we are finding that the brain and the gastrointestinal tract are intricately connected. In other words, keeping our gut healthy is a significant part of managing mood and the symptoms of anxiety. One of the most powerful ways we can keep our gut health on track is to feed it right, such as with natural yoghurts that contain probiotics, the good bacteria that are involved in regulating mood, immune function and inflammation in the body. Plain, natural yoghurts also help to ensure the added sugar in your diet is kept to a minimum, as flavoured yoghurts can be a significant source of added sugars.
Black and green tea are two of the few foods that contain the amino acid L-theanine, which has clinical evidence to support its use in reducing some of the symptoms of anxiety. Specifically, it has been shown that L-theanine promotes calmness after consumption without causing drowsiness. While a number of the studies examining the role of L-theanine have been completed using supplementary forms, we do get reasonable amounts from black tea in particular. The only downside is that tea does contain moderate amounts of caffeine, and for those who are sensitive it may be worth seeking out the caffeine-free varieties of green and black tea to reap the benefits of L-theanine minus the stimulatory effects of caffeine.
Chocolate is frequently associated with an improvement in mood but it has not been determined if this is due to the nutritional profile of dark chocolate or the pleasure it brings. From a nutritional perspective, dark chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants as well as tryptophan, the amino acid directly involved in the production of serotonin, the feel-good hormone. Whatever the reason that dark chocolate makes us feel good, keep in mind that it is high in energy and does contain some caffeine, so keep an eye on your portion and aim for at most 40g each day to reap any mood-related benefits.
Many of us enjoy bread on a daily basis but far fewer of us invest in a bread that offers superior health benefits. While fresh wholegrain sourdough loaves are more expensive than regular sliced bread, the benefit of eating wholegrain or rye sourdough is that you are not only helping to nourish your gut with more dietary fibre and wholegrains, but you are also adding extra nutrients known to support gut health.
Nature's natural energy foods, bananas are especially rich in vitamin B6, with a single banana offering almost one-third of your entire daily recommended intake. Vitamin B6 plays a key role in energy production in the body. It helps to regulate blood glucose levels and is also involved in immune function. Most importantly from a mental health perspective, green, unripened bananas offer a large amount of prebiotic fibres, the fibres that help feed our gut bacteria and keep our gut health in check. Give yourself a boost of these powerful fibres by using green bananas in baking and smoothies, or opt for a banana as a nourishing, sweet snack to help reduce your intake of processed snack foods.