Anxiety is rampant these days. It’s an epidemic, and even if you recognize that your anxious feelings are irrational and unproductive, they can still be hard to shake. If you’re plagued by those Sunday scaries or have a nagging feeling that just won’t go away, it might be worth taking a look at your diet for an answer.
Promising studies suggest that your gut flora, that is, the microorganisms living in your digestive tract, has a strong influence over your emotions. This implies that a happy tummy can lead to a happy mind (and vice versa). So how do you create and maintain a healthy gut flora? A few simple tips:
Decrease inflammation: Inflammation is both a symptom and a cause of poor gut health. To combat this, you should not only eat anti-inflammatory foods, but also limit consumption of pro-inflammatory foods.
Balancing your omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acid ratio is a great start. That means eating more omega 3-rich foods (salmon, eggs, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds) and less omega 6’s (vegetable oils). We need both, but Western diets tend to be heavier on the 6 and lighter on the 3, so just try to balance it out.
You can also flavor your meals with anti-inflammatory spices, like ginger, turmeric, cayenne and cinnamon, and cook with coconut oil instead of processed vegetable oil.
Incorporate probiotics into your diet: Good and bad bacterial both play a role in gut health, but it’s all about ratio and you want more of the good than the bad. Probiotics are essentially the good guys. Some probiotic-rich foods include pickles, yogurt, kombucha, dark chocolate (yes!) and miso.
Ditch refined sugar and processed foods: Sugar is food for the bad bacteria, and processed foods are hard to digest, which causes inflammation and throws off this whole ecosystem of gut health. Cutting out processed foods will automatically lower your sugar and omega 6 fatty acid intakes.
Craving a cookie? There are good options out there with unrefined sugars. Check out my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.
Be mindful of alcohol consumption: Alcohol is processed in the liver. Your body likes to get rid of it fast, so alcohol gets prioritized and cuts in front of all the other foods your liver has to process. This can cause some digestive dysfunction and—you guessed it—inflammation.
Before you panic, the operative word here is mindful. A glass or two here or there might not throw you off, but 10 drinks on Saturday night could be the cause of your Sunday anxiety. Listen to your body. Also, when you drink too much, you run the risk of doing or saying stupid s***, which certainly doesn’t help. It’s okay though: we’ve all been there.
Avoid foods you cannot digest: Food intolerances wreak havoc on your digestive system and can cause anxious feelings. We are all different, so taking the time to learn more about your unique and amazing body can help and empower you to make the better food choices.
The good news is that you have nothing to lose by trying one or all of these tips, because they not only help with anxiety but overall wellbeing in general. There are other ways to mitigate anxiety as well: yoga, exercise, meditation, massage, taking a bath, hanging out with friends and family. Pair your healthy diet with some of these activities and you could be anxiety-free in no time.