Is your diet affecting your anxiety levels?

Is your diet affecting your anxiety levels?

foods that feed your anxiety

Foods that feed your anxiety

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 264 million people live with anxiety disorders. In South Africa, it’s around 1 768 851, or 3.4% of the population. While modern lifestyles and stress can play a crucial role in the development and onset of such disorders, doctors are starting to recognise the importance diet plays in mental health and how certain nutrients, or lack thereof, affect the brain.

The brain requires a constant source of energy and has specific nutrient needs to function optimally. Modern diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can play havoc on brain chemistry, affecting its function and altering your
mood. Nutritional scientist Heidi du Preez says, ‘Processed food and stimulants are not only devoid of essential nutrients to support brain health, they actually rob your body of the nutrients you need to balance your mood.’ She says the methylation pathway – the biochemical pathways that control many aspects of your body’s functions and systems – is important in regulating mood and response to stress. Methylation controls the production and
break down of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in your brain and nervous system.

‘The key nutrients supporting this pathway are essential sulphur-containing amino acids, mainly derived from animal protein, folate, vitamins B12, B2, B6 and B3, magnesium, zinc and potassium. Chromium also plays an important role in blood sugar balance and your mood,’ says Heidi.

Why that glass of wine might be adding to your anxiety

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says 20% of people with social anxiety disorder (SAD)
also suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. Alcohol is a depressant and can worsen anxiety symptoms. Research has found that people with SAD were 4.5 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence.

Gut dysbiosis

‘Microorganisms release biotoxins that can contribute to or cause anxiety by altering hormonal and neurotransmitter
communication and/or directly interfering with the neurons and brain regions and pathways that mediate behavioural
expression,’ says Heidi. Because they’re mostly found in the gut, they can act as an immunosuppressive agent, causing your immune system to go into overdrive.

‘It’s key to address gut dysbiosis as an underlying cause of mood disorders,’ advises Heidi.

Balancing your gut and microbiome can help reduce inflammation and boost hormones, such as serotonin, which is mainly manufactured in your gut.


Feeding the fire

So, which foods can play havoc on your mood and increase your levels of anxiety, especially if you have
a diagnosed disorder?

‘Sugar is definitely the main culprit,’ says Heidi. ‘Make sure you try to avoid all forms of refined sugar in your diet, as well as junk food and processed food.’

She recommends following these dietary steps to reduce your anxiety levels:

  • Start the day with a substantial breakfast, containing a good source of protein.
  • Quit all forms of refined sugar.
  • Eat three meals a day plus two healthy snacks to keep sugar levels balanced for brain activity
    – don’t skip on meals as this will make you more likely to crave sugar-loaded carbs or easy-to-grab
    processed foods.
  • Quit caffeine and other stimulants, such as recreational drugs, alcohol and smoking.
  • Make sure food intolerances are not playing a role – gluten is usually one of the main culprits.
  • Avoid all processed and junk food and follow a balanced, wholefood diet.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough quality protein in your diet. Animal protein remains the best source of all the essential amino acids you need for healthy brain chemistry.
  • It’s also vitally important to stay properly hydrated. More than 70% of the brain is water! ‘You
    should consume 300ml purified water per 10kg body weight daily,’ says Heidi.
  • Make sure you get adequate sleep and work a balanced exercise regime into your schedule, including calming practices such as yoga, chi gong (similar to tai chi) and pilates.



Joni van der Merwe

About Joni van der Merwe

Your Family’s Digital editor. Avid retweeter. When I’m not scrolling Instagram you’ll find me in my garden. Keen on DIY and I don’t believe there’s anything that can’t be fixed with some chalk paint.


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