On Your Health

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Diet Recommendations That Can Help Relieve Anxiety

Welcome to Ask the Expert, a new regular feature on I On Your Health. We’ll check in with non-M.D. INTEGRIS Health clinicians on a variety of health and wellness topics of interest to our readers. (For M.D. questions, we are still publishing Ask the Doctor blog posts regularly). This month we're featuring Ask the Dietitian, in honor of National Nutrition Month.

For National Nutrition Month 2017, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics urges everyone to start small — one forkful at a time. The theme for the month is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” If you start small you’ll find it easier to sustain the change over the long haul.

A Registered Dietitian from the INTEGRIS Weight Loss Center has received your nutrition questions on social media and will answer a question every Tuesday this month. Here's her first question.

I’ve read recently about correlations between anxiety and diet.  Is there anything you can tell me about this?

Nutritional neuroscience research does suggest dietary factors can influence human cognition, behavior and emotions. That being said, I am a dietitian, not a therapist, so I want to caution that anxiety often requires psychotherapy, medication and other treatment.

But there are some dietary recommendations I can make that might positively influence anxiety symptoms.

Eat more protein with your meals and snacks to help stabilize your blood sugar. Try incorporating nuts like cashews, which are a good source of zinc. Low levels of zinc have been linked to both anxiety and depression. But make sure to watch your portion control since they are high in calories. For seafood fans, oysters are also particularly high in zinc.

Focus on complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are metabolized more slowly than simple carbohydrates and can help maintain a more even blood sugar level, which creates a calmer feeling. Some studies show complex carbohydrates also cause your brain to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has a profound effect on mood as well as beneficial antioxidant properties. Some examples of complex carbohydrates include whole grain breads and pastas, beans, sweet potatoes and oatmeal.

Drink enough water. Even mild dehydration can affect your mood.

Monitor your caffeine intake. Excessive caffeine intake can cause insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, upset stomach, fast heartbeat and muscle tremors.

Don’t skip meals. Doing so may result in a drop in blood sugar that can cause a jittery feeling which may worsen the underlying anxiety.

Limit refined sugar intake. Refined sugars have been shown to promote inflammation and a thing called oxidative stress. Studies have shown a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and worsening symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.

Eat avocados, because they are rich in glutathione, a substance that blocks intestinal absorption of certain fats that cause oxidative damage. Avocados also contain lutein, beta-carotene, vitamin E, several B vitamins and folate.

Drink chamomile tea. A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that chamomile supplements given to participants with generalized anxiety disorder for eight weeks led to a drop in anxiety symptoms.

In closing, just a reminder that changes in your diet may make some difference to your general mood or stress level, but it is not a complete substitute for treatment of anxiety. It is best to consult with your doctor if you have anxiety.