Are you eating the worst foods for anxiety without knowing it? And what about the best foods?
What is often considered a 'healthy' diet in the west today isn't an ideal diet when you're tackling anxiety issues. Anxious people often feel ungrounded, cold, have poor digestion and poor appetite so light, cold and unsatisfying foods such as cold salads, raw vegetables, or low carb diets can tend to aggravate your symptoms. But these aren't as problematic as ....
The main culprits are the foods that will unsettle your nervous system and so of course will tend to make you feel more agitated and therefore more anxious. If you want to avoid the very worst foods for anxiety, watch out for:
• hot chillis
• other caffeine containing foods and drinks (i.e. cola drinks, energy drinks, strong tea and very dark chocolate),
• large amounts of sugary foods and drinks
• highly processed foods especially with lots of 'numbers' in their ingredients list.
All of these stimulate the body and nervous system and this is of course the exact opposite of what you want. In the case of alcohol and sugar, you may experience an initial lessening of anxiety or feel a little 'high' for a while, but it will be followed by a dive, leaving you worse off than before.
Whilst you’re recovering you would be better off eliminating these problem foods and drinks altogether. But don’t freak out if you slip up now and then, sometimes you also have to feed the soul. If you’re desperate for some chocolate or a coffee for instance, try to limit the amount and keep it to early in the day if you can, when your body is better able to deal with the effects.
We are lucky to have access to a fantastic health philosophy, Ayurveda, which has known for countless centuries just exactly the foods that will help the anxious person and those that will aggravate their anxiety state.
Ayurveda takes into account the fact that when anxiety is very intense, appetite can fade, digestion can become difficult and that even swallowing may be uncomfortable with an anxious, dry mouth.
For others, eating may be a way of masking anxiety (see Diet and Anxiety - is there a connection?).
When you’re feeling anxious, it can be difficult making even simple decisions, including what to eat. Ayurveda makes it easy to work out a diet that’s going to support your recovery rather than slow it down.
Try to cut down on light, dry or cold foods and drinks. Anxious people tend to already feel unsettled and ungrounded, experience a dry mouth and skin, and feel the cold. So, you want your food to counteract those qualities if possible with a diet that is warming, grounding, satisfying, easy to swallow and easy to digest. This will help you to work on your anxiety state from the inside out.
Ayurveda considers all pungent, bitter and astringent tasting foods to be the tastes that will aggravate an anxiety imbalance.
The following foods are those that have these light, dry, cold, bitter, astringent or pungent qualities and are therefore best to have only in small quantities :
Grains: Large amounts of barley, corn, millet, buckwheat, dry oats (these are the lighter grains).
Fruits: Apple, cranberries, pears, pomegranate – these tend to be drying (all OK cooked and sweetened), dried fruit.
Vegetables: Peas, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mushrooms, potato, raw vegetables, most sprouted legumes/seeds/beans. (All vegetables are acceptable if well-cooked with a little oil except cabbage and sprouts which will still tend to produce gas.)
Spices: Horseradish, chilli, turmeric, mustard (all stimulating) no spice in large amounts.
Nuts: Walnuts (if they are bitter)
Beans: All beans except split mung dal, tofu, chickpeas, adzuki beans, urad lentils (red kidney, cannellini and butter beans are sometimes OK for those that normally have a strong digestion – if they give you wind, avoid them).
Beverages: Iced drinks, carbonated drinks, thick milkshakes, coffee, black tea, caffeinated drinks, alcohol.
Animal food for non-vegetarians: Pork, beef, lamb
Your own experience will be your best guide. For example:
Remember though, Ayurveda is all about balance and the idea is not to completely eliminate all these foods. You will still need to include a little of them in your diet – simply be aware that, over time, they tend to have an unsettling effect on the nervous system and eat less of them than perhaps you normally would.
The 'Very Worst Foods for Anxiety' you can safely cut out altogether! - or at least limit to only every now and then. (Make sure you also check out the general tips for eating and diet and supplements for anxiety to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need.)
Again Ayurveda comes to the rescue with very clear guidelines, not only about which foods will help to settle your nervous system over time, but how to maximise that effect.
It's important to take on board that this is not a time to think about starting stringent food regimes or becoming model thin - it's a time to nurture and be kind to yourself.
Ayurveda considers sweet, sour and salty tastes to be the best foods for anxiety – a simple way of monitoring which foods will be best for you. These foods tend to satisfy and be comforting.
Is it a co-incidence that as anxiety problems have become more widespread than ever before that there has been a corresponding increase in people's desire for salty, sour and sweet foods? Think pizza - oily, salty and sour tastes (cheese & tomato = sour). Our increased intake of sugar is worrying health authorities in the west and it's also a common additive in many savoury processed and packaged foods.
Remember, we can eat sweet, sour and salty and still keep it healthy.
The following foods are those that have these sweet, sour, salty, heavier and oilier qualities:
Dairy: All dairy products
Sweeteners: Raw sugar, raw honey (unheated), molasses, maple syrup
Oils: All oils, especially sesame
Grains: Rice, wheat, rye, oats (cooked, not dry)
Beans: Split mung dal, tofu, chickpeas, adzuki beans, urad lentils
Fruits: Grapes, cherries, peaches, melons, avocado, coconut, banana, orange, pineapple, plums, berries, mango, papaya, olives, lemon, lime, apricots, dates, figs, nectarine; stewed fruit; all sweet ripe fruit.
Vegetables: Beets, carrots, asparagus, cucumber, sweet potato, avocado, squash, zucchini, young eggplant, artichoke, tomato, peppers, green beans, onions, garlic (not raw), turnip, celery, spinach in small amounts. Any vegetables that are well cooked with a little oil.
Spices: Asafoetida (hing), basil, black pepper, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, cumin, ginger, most spices in small amounts aid Vata digestion, poppyseed, salt, sweet, heating herbs and spices, allspice, anise, bayleaf, cilantro (coriander), fennel, juniper, liquorice root, mace, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, sage, tarragon, thyme.
Nuts: Any (except walnuts which tend to be bitter), skinned (blanched) almonds are best.
Beverages: Room temperature water, fruit and vegetable juices, warm milk, herbal teas.
Animal food for non-vegetarians: Chicken, turkey, seafood – these are easier to digest than red or fatty meats.
If you are not eating well or have a low appetite it’s especially important to make sure you get your vitamins and minerals as a supplement. Getting enough Vitamin B complex in particular can make a big difference to your anxiety levels (see supplements for anxiety).
The idea behind some anti-anxiety drugs is to increase serotonin in the brain.
Chickpeas contain high levels of tryptophan, which is a building block for serotonin - but will this help?
Check out important general tips for eating and diet here.