Seven superfoods to help ease anxiety, from oily fish to maca

Oily fish can help ease anxiety [Photo: Getty]

Just. So. Stressed? We feel ya.

Recent statistics have revealed that one in four people in the UK get diagnosed with some kind of mental health condition every year and according to the World Health Organisation there are 300 million people worldwide living with depression.

While you might assume the only way to treat mental illness, like anxiety, might be therapy and/or medication, your diet can actually have a really big impact on your mental wellbeing.

And though it’s tempting to reach for the sweet treats when you’re feeling anxious, sugary foods cause your blood sugar to spike, impairing the ability of your adrenal glands to control stress.

According to Dr Marilyn Glenville, Leading UK Nutritionist and Author of The Natural Health Bible for Women it is all about keeping your adrenals healthy.

“It is important to get your blood sugar in balance because you will automatically prevent the release of some unnecessary adrenaline,” she says.

“Balancing blood sugar is essential in lowering stress because the crashes in sugar levels which happen through the day (due to go long periods without food and not eating the right foods) stimulates more adrenaline and cortisol to be released.

“This is because these stress hormone, apart from helping us to run away from a dangerous situation, can also mobilise our glucose (which has been stored as glycogen in the liver) back into the blood stream. This is why we can feel more jittery, irritable etc when blood sugar plummets.”

As well as eating a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water and trying to keep alcohol and caffeine on the down-low, here are seven brilliant mood foods that can really help ease anxiety.

Your diet can play a huge role in balancing your mental wellbeing [Photo: Getty]

Oily fish

“We’ve all heard of fish being great ‘brain food’ and there is a reason for this,” explains Dr Glenville. Almost 60% of our brains are made up of fat, and about half of that fat is DHA omega 3 fatty acids which really can only be found in fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna.

“Omega 3 are known as ‘essential’ fats (essential because we cannot make them in the body and therefore need to get through eating oily fish and taking a good high strength supplement) are needed for the brain cells to actually ‘pick up’ our neurotransmitters (i.e. serotonin) so they can be utilised by the brain cells more efficiently.”

Turkey

Lean turkey, alongside soya beans, sunflower seeds and mushrooms are all foods high in B vitamins.

“B vitamins, particularly B6 is essential for depression as it is involved with the production of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which control mood and behaviour,” explains Dr Glenville.

“It is required as a co-enzyme in the production of dopamine, tryptophan and serotonin. Many anti-depressants are formulated to keep serotonin in the brain for longer so if we have more of this brain chemical to start with we have more chance of a better mental state,” she continues.

Dr Glenville says that vitamin B5 is particularly supportive of adrenal function and the adrenals are involved with stress. “The more stressed we are the more depressed we can become so it is important to tackle our mental state not just from the brain but also our adrenal glands. The B vitamins also promote healthy liver function as a ‘congested’ liver can be associated with low mood and hormone imbalance.”

 

Starting your day with a Maca smoothie could give your mood a lift [Photo: Getty]

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Maca 

Not just Instagram friendly, maca is mood-friendly too. “Maca is a plant that grows at high altitudes in the Peruvian Andes,” says Dr Glenville. There are different varieties of maca and these can be black, red or yellow. Although Maca is stone shaped, it can be dried and ground into a powder and has been used traditionally for energy, endurance and hormone balance.

According to Dr Glenville, Maca has good levels of amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and phytonutrients. “Research has looked at the effects of maca on libido, women’s reproductive function, memory, depression, anxiety, osteoporosis, blood sugar balance, sperm health and energy. It has an adaptogenic (balancing) effect on the body and is useful for reducing the effects of stress and helping with adrenal function.”

Bonus tip: Buy a maca powder and include a scoop in your morning smoothie to easily incorporate it your everyday diet!

Eggs

To help blanace our mood, we need to make sure that our levels of serotonin (the ‘feel good’ hormone) remain high and a simple change of diet can work wonders!

“The body makes serotonin from tryptophan, which occurs naturally in foods such as dairy products, eggs, fish, bananas, dried dates, soya, almonds and peanuts,” says Dr Glenville.

“The manufacture of serotonin depends on how much tryptophan is transported into your brain. Combining the foods mentioned above with unrefined carbohydrates, such as brown rice, wholemeal bread or oats, helps the body to release insulin to help tryptophan uptake to the brain. A good example would be to kick start your day with eggs and wholemeal toast for breakfast.”

“Eggs are also great source of protein, which when broken down in the body will make amino acids and these are then used to make neurotransmitters to help keep our mood balanced,” says Shona Wilkinson, Nutritionist at www.superfooduk.com.

 

Both eggs and avocado could help ease anxiety [Photo: Getty]

Avocados

Your smashed avo on toast won’t just look good on your feed, it could also give your mood a boost. Avocados contain potassium, which help naturally lower blood pressure. They are also rich in beneficial B vitamins and monounsaturated fats that are vital for neurotransmitter and brain health.

Oats

Last year we revealed why you should have porridge for breakfast every day, but the health benefits of the oaty stuff don’t stop at boosting immunity and reducing cholesterol. Thanks to the vitamin B12 contained in oats, your mental wellbeing could see an improvement too.

“Vitamin B12 and other B vitamins are known to play a role in producing and stabilising mood boosting brain chemicals. An adequate intake is vital for that feel good factor,” advises Lily Soutter, Nutritionist and weight loss expert at www.lilysoutternutrition.com.

A bowl of porridge a day keeps anxiety at bay? [Photo: Getty]

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Asparagus

Asparagus is a great veggie choice, not only for the precious sulphur they offer, but also for the specifically beneficial B vitamin, folic acid.

When our levels of folic acid are low, this is linked to neurotransmitter impairment, which in turn can lead to anxiety. Asparagus also contains moderate amounts of potassium, which can help lower blood pressure.

Dr Glenville’s tips for using food to help control your mood:-

  • Eat every 3 hours
  • Include some protein every time you eat, i.e. some lean organic meat, fish, eggs, quinoa, tofu, beans, nuts and seeds and natural bio yogurt. This slows down the release of sugar and thus keeps levels more stable
  • Limit caffeine to one cup or avoid if you can and never drink caffeine on an empty stomach because it is a stimulant and gets straight into the bloodstream and triggers cortisol release
  • Eat a serving of dark green leafy vegetables/salad daily
  • Snack on dried fruit (organic) and unsalted nuts and seeds
  • Replace white rice and bread with brown and wholemeal for fibre content and B vitamins”

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