7 mood boosting foods to help anxiety
It’s January and along with many of us, you might be feeling a little low after the Christmas period. Fortunately, alongside regular exercise and getting outdoors during the day to soak up some natural light, you can also take simple steps to include some mood boosting foods into your routine.
Did you know that about 95% of your body’s serotonin receptors (the happy hormone) are found in your gut? It’s no wonder then that what we eat can have a big impact on our mood, and vice versa, feeling stressed, anxious or low can lead to digestive issues.
Think about the last time you had sweaty palms before a big presentation or went to a nerve wracking interview. Those butterflies in your stomach are a little reminder of the innate connection between your brain and your gut, or what’s known as the gut-brain axis. It’s also why the gut is known as our “second brain.”
The importance of the gut-brain axis and the health of the microbiome to our mindset has long been appreciated, and we are now starting to understand how we can influence mood with the right foods, alongside other healthy practices.
Pop a couple of these foods into your shop this week, and notice how they make you feel.
Feel good foods to try this week
1. Dark chocolate
Kicking off with a personal favourite, raw cacao is a superfood due to its high antioxidant and nutrient content. Of particular note, cacao contains high amounts of tryptophan which is a precursor to serotonin (it is suspected this is a reason chocolate actually does have a calming effect on some people). It’s also high in the mineral magnesium, which researchers have shown may be a potent treatment for symptoms of anxiety.
Stick to dark chocolate that is 70% cacao or above (ideally raw chocolate if you can stretch to it as the minimal processing retains its nutritional value), enjoying a small amount every now and again. This will keep the amount of added sugar low and avoid giving you blood sugar spikes which can lead to anxiety and tension.
The mighty avocado has gained near celebrity status in recent years in coffee shops and health food stores across the UK. They’re not only delicious, but rich in stress-reducing B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, which are fantastic for you and can also relieve symptoms of anxiety.
Some supermarkets like Morrisons offer wonky veg, so you can pick up more… characterful avocados for a lower price (still delicious and nutritious!) – keeping the wallet happy until the long awaited January payday.
If you have histamine intolerance like me, unfortunately avocado could trigger symptoms as they have a high histamine content. Add into your diet in small amounts and slowly, so you can keep an eye for symptoms.
3. Yoghurt and fermented foods
The trillions of bacteria that live in our gut and on our body are pretty amazing, and how well balanced they are determines a huge amount about our health, from how well our immune system functions to our digestion, mood and resilience to stress.
Feeding your gut bacteria with probiotic and fermented foods like yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles, can help encourage the colonies of “good bacteria” to multiply, killing off the imbalance of bad bugs and keeping your microbiome in a healthy balance. Imbalance in gut bacteria is linked with chronic inflammation and low mood and anxiety.
Fermented foods can cause some digestive symptoms like bloating and gas initially, as your gut bacteria balance changes, so include small amounts to start with and build up. Fermented foods are also high in histamine and likely to trigger symptoms in those with histamine intolerance. If this is you, you may want to avoid them until your symptoms are well controlled.
Blueberries are packed with vitamin C and other antioxidants, such as flavonoids, which can benefit the brain by aiding cognitive function. Vitamin C and other antioxidants have also been shown to be helpful in reducing and preventing anxiety. On top of that, blueberries won’t spike your blood sugar level, meaning you’ll experience less peaks and dips that could impact your mood.
A cheaper way to include blueberries in your diet is to buy frozen. The freezing process helps to retain most of the nutrient content which means you can still enjoy the benefits of blueberries for half the cost.
A handful of almonds can have up to 19% of your daily recommended value of anxiety relieving magnesium. They also provide a high amount of Vitamin E, which has been studied for its part in anxiety prevention, as it increases production of the feel good chemical dopamine.
Try almond butter and banana on whole wheat toast for breakfast, or a handful of almonds late afternoon to replace a sugary snack.
Fatty fish, like salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines have high levels of mood regulating omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon also contains high levels of vitamin D, which is useful over the winter months when getting adequate vitamin D from being in the great outdoors can be a challenge.
Several studies on vitamin D have shown positive effects on depression and highlighted how it can improve mood. Try one to two servings of fatty fish a week.
I essentially lived off egg sandwiches as a student in London, so eating them now still makes me smile. Little did I know back then that egg yolks are another fantastic source of vitamin D and that eggs contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps create mood enhancing serotonin.
If you’re trying to reduce meat consumption after the Christmas period, try a vegetable omelette for dinner one night this week. It’s one of my favourite quick and cost effective dinners. Try adding roughly chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, peppers, a sprinkle of oregano, a pinch of salt and pepper, and your choice of steamed green vegetable as a side to the omelette.
Small changes add up over time
Try adding in one or two new foods this week, and notice how you feel. You can gradually introduce more over time, but the best way to sustainable change is slow and steady.
As well as trying out some of these mood boosting foods, remember that dehydration can trigger anxiety (and is just as important in the cold months) so keep hydrated by drinking 6 or 7 glasses of water throughout your day.
Keeping your blood sugar levels steady by not skipping meals, and by choosing whole grain options, instead of simple carbohydrates (white bread, pasta and rice break down quickly and can cause blood sugar spikes) will also make a difference.
Of course, if anxiety or low mood is seriously impacting you, seek help from your GP and talk to friends and family. If you are on medication, are pregnant or have a medical condition, do consult with your doctor before adding in new foods to your diet.