How your diet could be causing anxiety

Irregular heartbeat. Breathlessness. Nausea. Maybe panic attacks? If you have felt any of these symptoms, there is a chance that you may have experienced anxiety. I know the impact that this can have as I have struggled with anxiety in the past. It can be severely disruptive to your mental health and can prevent you from doing things that others find straightforward.

Anxiety is the most commonly diagnosed mental health issue today with over eight million sufferers in the UK.

Mental health charity Mind, has some great resources on their website to help you manage the symptoms of anxiety. One area that is often neglected is our diet. Believe it or not, your diet throughout your lifetime has a huge impact on how likely you might be to experience anxiety.

A study in 2017 found that diets higher in sugar, processed foods, alcohol and fats increase a person’s risk of experiencing anxiety by 60%. Yes, 60%! Diets that are higher in vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and whole grains had far better mental health outcomes.

Today’s society encourages personal responsibility when choosing our diet and lifestyle choices, and rightly so. We are fortunate that we have the choice to pick a diet that works for us and makes us feel good. Yet, there is one clear issue here. The nutritional messages that the general public receives are often inconsistent, misleading or incomplete. Trying to lead a ‘healthy’ lifestyle can actually lead to feelings of anxiousness.

As companies try to sell us expensive supplements and ‘superfoods’ that report to improve our mental health, the evidence supports that simply getting the basics right will be most beneficial. Creating a strong foundation for health with a balanced and varied diet is where the majority of the benefits can be found.

I will always argue that any food can fit into a healthy diet. No food should be vilified or demonised. However, the majority of your diet should consist of mostly unprocessed foods.

Dietary changes to reduce anxiety:

- Eat a varied diet containing a wide range of vitamins and minerals. Mix up your vegetable sources by making your meals as colourful as possible; snack on fruit rather than processed products. A multivitamin may help to supplement your micronutrient intake.

- Limit processed and packaged foods wherever possible and focus on ‘real’ or whole ingredients.

- Studies have shown that the symptoms of anxiety can improve with weight loss. If you are overweight and feeling anxious, you would greatly benefit from lowering your body fat.

- Ensure you are eating foods rich in omega-3 oils. Three servings of fish a week or 2.5 grams of omega-3 oil from supplements have been proven to have a positive effect.

- Low levels of Vitamin D have been associated with anxiety. There is a slight chicken and egg situation here. It is unclear whether this is due to anxiety causing people to stay indoors, therefore not being exposed to sunlight (the main source of Vitamin D). Nevertheless, you may find that taking Vitamin D3 helps.

I would like to stress that if you are struggling with anxiety then please talk to someone about it. Speak to a medical professional or confide in a family member or friend. You don’t have to struggle on your own.

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