(upbeat music) – Hey, munchies, welcome to the channel. If you’re new or if you’re not, I’m Alyssia, and I am stoked you’re here either way. Today, we are talking about mental health and if the food we eat impacts our mental health. Spoiler, it does. Anxiety is on the rise in the U.
S., and it doesn’t have to be classified as a mental condition for you to feel anxiety. It’s a disorder characterized by persistent worry and nervousness. And there is a spectrum, so you can feel different levels of anxiety at different times, and different circumstances may need different approaches for treatment and healing. I am a huge fan of therapy and ensuring that we prioritize our mental health as much as physical.
So for sure, consult a professional if you think you need one.
I am not here to diagnose or prescribe any foods or diet for anxiety treatment, but rather to help bring awareness to some of the foods that may be contributing to anxiety from what research is showing us, as well as which foods may help. If you are taking medication, or if you think you need medication, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional before making any changes. Okay, there is your disclaimer. Now let’s get into the science just a little bit.
So in many cases, anxiety, as well as depression, are conditions associated with poor brain health. This can be due to neurotransmitters not functioning properly, overstimulation of the limbic system in the brain, chronic inflammation, or oxidative stress, which can affect brain function. New research has also shown that our gut health is linked to brain health through the gut-brain axis.
A lot of people don’t realize that the majority of serotonin receptors are actually in the gut, and about 1/2 of the body’s dopamine is synthesized in the gut, which is why many people are now referring to the gut as the second brain. So it’s becoming clear through science now that what we eat not only affects our gut, but also our brains.
In terms of treatment and lowering the severity of the symptoms, we can address some of the possible causes. So we can eat foods that combat inflammation and oxidative stress. We can provide nutrients that may be lacking for neurotransmitter production. We can keep blood sugar balanced, and we can heal the gut.
We can also avoid foods that contribute to those factors.
So there are studies now that have shown that a change in diet can affect depression, anxiety, and mood disorder symptoms. So what does this look like? I am going to show you today, and I have a free PDF with these lists. So you don’t need to take any notes, just watch and pay attention, and you can download your free PDF in the description. Let’s start with foods that you may want to limit or avoid.
So if any of these are in your regular diet, it may be worth taking a look at.
First, alcohol. Research links alcohol with mental health problems and with triggering or worsening depression and anxiety. It is a depressant, after all. So it affects the nervous system.
It interferes with sleep. Alcohol promotes inflammation, which we discussed earlier, and blood sugar irregularity. It can also bring down your mood because it reduces serotonin. What is recommended as moderation is one to two drinks per week, but many brain health experts, like Dr. Amen, actually say alcohol does not do anything good for us, so we should really avoid it as much as possible.
Caffeine. Moderate intake of caffeine can benefit depression and reduce anxiety or boost mood because it does have a stimulant effect. That’s one cup of coffee that’s been associated with the prevention of cognitive decline, but some research suggests that caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression if consumed in excess. This leads to more jittery feelings, worse sleep, and it can impact hormones and neurotransmitter functioning, like we discussed earlier, as one of the contributors to poor brain health.
Research has shown that the effects of coffee really vary depending on the person and their tolerance.
Refined sugar and added sugar. Sugar impacts mood, period, Blood sugar levels rising and crashing can make us irritable. And we know that sugar promotes inflammation, which also affects our ability to manage stress. A study showed that people with high sugar intake, it was over 65 grams in this study, were 23% more likely to develop depression or anxiety over five years than those who logged under 40 grams.
Refined grains, white breads and processed or enriched foods offer little to no actual nutrients and really affect our blood sugar negatively.
They also rob you of B vitamins during digestion, which will affect your ability to absorb nutrients, and that can lead to deficiencies ultimately caused by chronic stress. Keep in mind that we do want complex carbs, like whole grains. When I say refined grains, I’m talking white breads, crackers, short grain rice, the kind where the part of the grain has been removed or overly processed. Complex carbs are metabolized more slowly, which helps to maintain even blood sugar levels and stabilize moods. Avoiding skipping meals can also help to maintain even blood sugar.
Processed foods and fast foods also provide little to no nutrients with a lot of calories, not to mention trans fats, which are correlated with depression, anxiety, aggression, and other mental illnesses. Refined oils are next. They are really high in omega-6s, so they’re highly inflammatory, which can mess with your mood and brain function.
Processed deli meats like hot dogs, bologna, deli turkey or chicken, they often have a lot of fillers and preservatives, which have been associated with migraines, mood swings, and inflammation. Artificial sweeteners and food additives, and there are a lot of them, have been associated with headaches, mood disorders, dizziness, and migraines.
People can often have food sensitivities to artificial stuff without knowing it, and it makes sense. I mean, our bodies don’t know how to process something artificial, so it could be subtly rejecting it without you knowing. Okay, so take note if any of these are in your diet, and keep in mind, this is if they are regularly included. This is not me saying never have alcohol or sugar or processed foods, although some people may say that and may choose to do that. But I’m suggesting that if you eat these regularly and you’re struggling with anxiety, this could be a good place to start.
We can also add certain things into our diet to help, and I think focusing on more of the good with any kind of dietary change is going to resonate with people more than less of the bad. It’s mentally easier to grasp more good. So first, let’s get in more fatty fish. Wow, if you take anything from this video, and what I really learned and I’m trying to incorporate myself is eat more fatty fish. Omega-3s are where it’s at.
Omega-3s are really the building blocks of the brain. The brain is actually composed of 60% fat, so it needs fat for fuel. Omega-3s reduce inflammation. Surprisingly, or it was surprising to me, one of the most common nutritional deficiencies seen in people with mental disorders is omega-3s. The best omega-3s and amino acids are in wild-caught salmon, which also contains vitamin D, vitamin B6, B12, and selenium, all of which contribute to brain health.
And it’s one of the best-studied foods in terms of depression and anxiety. Sardines, tuna, and mackerel are other good sources. Research suggests that adequate omega-3 intake, whether it’s from fish or a supplement, can reduce the risk of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Walnuts also offer plant-based omega-3s, which aren’t as great, but still worth having, for sure. This was so cool, actually.
Walnuts specifically were studied and shown to have a positive impact on mood, anxiety, and depression. People that ate 1/4 cup of walnuts per day showed to have 26% lower depression scores, and it led to greater optimism, energy, hope, and concentration.
26%! Other nuts and seeds, like pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and flax, are also good sources, but walnuts are tops. Meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and soy are also good sources of amino acids to get your complete proteins.
This doesn’t mean you need to eat meat all day, every day, but it does point to some of the benefits of having some animal protein in your diet, Turkey and chicken were the ones that really stood out because apparently tryptophan and tyrosine, which are amino acids that both turkey and chicken contain, have been studied and associated with reduced anxiety. Probiotic and fermented foods are another. Probiotics are associated with positive mental health, specifically improving mood, anxiety, and depression, and they’re found in yogurt, as well as fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir. Fermented foods specifically have been studied showing to help heal the gut. Last year, I went on a gut healing mission, and I ate a lot of fermented foods, but they’ve also shown to be neuroprotective and mood-balancing.
The gut-brain connection is real, I’m telling you.
Next, veggies. We could not escape from talking about the wonder of veggies. Dark leafy greens are some of the most nutrient-dense foods you can take in, and foods like shiitake mushrooms are prebiotics that promote healthy gut bacteria. Fruits are also great, all berries.
Blueberries have been considered a depression food, I mean an anti-depression food, I guess, and have been shown to be helpful with symptoms. Strawberries have a lot of vitamin C, and avocado has a lot of monounsaturated fats. Other notable items are green tea, chamomile extract, and dark chocolate. They all have specific nutrients and antioxidants that have been associated with anxiety reduction. As you’ve seen, really eating a consistent healthy diet is key.
I wouldn’t get too caught up in this many grams of this berry versus that. It’s not one for one, this heals that. It’s an overall balance. The truth is this kind of whole foods approach is also what is going to keep our hearts healthy and our weight under control.
I mean, nothing that I shared here is blowing your mind in terms of being a healthy food.
It’s very simple. More whole foods, lots of plants, and less processed foods. Those are the three dietary tenets that I would give you to overall health and well-being, both mental and physical. So the point is, if you’re struggling with anxiety or mental health and think that your diet could be contributing, making some dietary changes for mental health will also improve your physical health, and this is really what a holistic approach is, where we look at the mind and body as one connected, and that the foods we take in and the choices we make affect our bodies and our minds and our emotional selves too.
Again, don’t become dogmatic about it, or it won’t be sustainable.
So what can you take from this? Make an effort to eat a little less of those foods that may contribute negatively and an effort to eat a little more of the foods that help. Baby steps will get you there. In an email that I sent out awhile ago, I told a story of a health study. I shared it on Instagram too, I think, but it feels relevant here, so I’m gonna spend 30 seconds sharing it.
This study has been reproduced many times all over the world. Essentially, they take two groups of people, and they give one group all of the health tools that they could need for free.
So they give ’em free gym shoes and free gym memberships and access to information or whatever, and they tell them, “Go, go, and get healthy.” Then the other group, they give them nothing, nothing for free, but they tell them, “Climb one set of stairs today, and tomorrow, just add on one step, okay? And every day, just add on one more step.
” that’s it.
That’s all they tell ’em. Then they come back years later, so two years later, five years later, and which group do you think has established healthier habits sustainably? The second group that took one step per day and got nothing for free. So you don’t need free stuff.
You don’t need any more information. You know everything you need to know. More whole foods, more plants, less processed. That’s it. All you really need to do is embrace the idea of baby steps rather than trying to change it all at once.
That is the magic formula. I swear. Okay, I know this video didn’t go exactly where any of us thought it would, but I hope you found it helpful. If you do want the PDF with these lists for your reference, I’ve also linked to some of the studies that I referenced in there too. You can download it in the description.
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I will be back next week with a brand new episode, and remember, it’s all a matter of mind over munch.