One way to nourish the body AND mind is through food. I think it’s safe to say it’s becoming more and more difficult to avoid stress and anxiety-provoking events going on in the world. As a naturopathic doctor, my goal is to equip your body and mind with what it needs to better manage the stressors and mental challenges.
The first step to providing your body and mind with the nourishment it needs is by choosing nutrient-dense, whole foods. This means choosing REAL foods instead of packaged (hint: stick to the outside perimeter of the grocery store). Real foods are naturally packed with vitamins and minerals that your brain and cells need to function optimally.
Everyone’s body is slightly different in their nutrient needs, but as a rough guide aim for:
7-10 servings per day of veggies and fruit
Healthy sources of fats, proteins, and whole grains
Keeping sugar and simple carbohydrates to a minimum (more on this below!)
Avoid the 3 Aggravators
Excessive coffee or caffeine: caffeine activates the stress response resulting in an increase in our body’s main stress hormone, cortisol. Even in those who habitually drink coffee this cortisol response may mimic the body undergoing a stressor (1). Coffee in moderation (1-2 cups per day) may be ok for some people, but others may find additional benefit from eliminating it completely.
Alcohol: alcohol mainly acts as a central nervous system depressant. When the effects of alcohol wear off, this may contribute to rebound anxiety-like feelings. Have you ever felt more anxious the day after drinking?
Sugar: stress loves sugar. First you get that “sugar-high” followed by a crash in blood sugar, which for some people may trigger a reactive hypoglycaemic state a few hours after a sugar binge. This can lead to symptoms of increased heart rate, shaking, sweating, irritability (think “hangry”).
Blood sugar stabilization
For the above reasons, stabilizing blood sugar can be a powerful tool for managing fluctuations in the stress response. The main ways to stabilize blood sugar are by increasing protein and healthy fats and decreasing sugar and simple carbohydrates. It’s also important to be eating regularly and not skipping meals if you’re someone who is prone to getting “hangry”.
Food sources of protein & healthy fats: nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds), lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish), beans, tofu, legumes (lentils, chickpeas), avocado.
Ingesting nutrients through food is ideal, but may be difficult to attain quickly or at therapeutic doses, so nutritional supplements may be helpful in some cases. Talk to your naturopathic doctor before starting any nutritional supplements to ensure you’re choosing a safe dose that is right for you.
Curious about other naturopathic tools for anxiety? Learn more here.
Lovallo, W., Whitsett, T., al'Absi, M., Sung, B., Vincent, A., Wilson, M. (2005). Caffeine stimulation of cortisol secretion across the waking hours in relation to caffeine intake levels. Psychosomatic Medicine, 67(5), 734-739.