The Coronavirus pandemic is causing a lot of anxiety these days, and it’s important to do all you can to remain calm and relieve stress. This can include meditation, prayer, exercise, deep breathing or just being able to talk with friends or family to express your fears or concerns. One of the areas few of us think about though, is that what we eat can contribute to feelings of calm or anxiety.
The gut-brain axis is the direct connection between the gut and the brain via the biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. A healthy gut is critical for proper functioning of your immune system and the signals that get sent to the brain, so you need to make sure that what you eat is promoting the health of your gut. Additionally, serotonin is a chemical that, among other functions, is a natural mood stabilizer. About 95% of serotonin receptors are found in the lining of the gut and research is ongoing in examining the use of probiotics for treating anxiety and depression by boosting the good bacteria in the gut.
There are also specific nutrients that have been shown to have anxiety reducing properties:
Magnesium-rich foods help lessen anxiety and promote calm. These include nuts, legumes, whole grains and dark leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard. Whole grains are also rich in tryptophan, which helps regulate mood and reduce anxiety.
Zinc plays a key role in the functioning of the central nervous system and lowering anxiety. It can be found in oysters, cashews, liver, beef and egg yolks.
Omega-3 fatty acids help regulate dopamine and serotonin, both of which have calming and relaxing properties. They also help reduce inflammation, which is important for brain health. They can be found in fatty fish like wild-caught salmon or chia seeds and walnuts.
Probiotics for gut health are in fermented foods like pickles, kefir, yogurt and sauerkraut.
Dark chocolate can improve your mood and reduce the stress hormone cortisol.
Asparagus is rich in potassium, fiber, vitamins and chromium and has been shown to have anxiety-reducing properties.
Antioxidants are important for reducing inflammation and promoting brain health and they also help lessen feelings of anxiety. The wide range of antioxidant-rich foods include berries, apples, prunes, cherries, walnuts, pecans, artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli, turmeric and ginger.
Keep in mind also that certain foods can trigger anxiety so you should limit or eliminate simple sugars (sweetened beverages, cookies, cakes, candies and processed grains), fried foods, alcohol or caffeine.
Understand that stress itself can lead to illness and it’s important to do what you can to reduce it. Whether it’s listening to music, taking a walk, unplugging from media for periods of time, or any other method that works for you, also remember to eat the foods that will help you alleviate whatever anxiety you may be experiencing.