Lately, I have been hearing from many of my clients about how stressed out, anxious and overwhelmed they are feeling. It seems that no matter what side of the political divide you live on, the contentious nature of our politics and the 24 hour news cycle has everyone feeling a little overwhelmed. I like to help clients look for natural ways to reduce their anxiety and stress and food can be a big part of that picture. Below are some ideas of foods to add to your diet to alleviate some of these anxious feelings.
Tryptophan Rich Foods: Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, is an important precursor for the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is considered a “feel good” chemical, promoting feelings of sleepiness, relaxation and calm. It is also the precursor for melatonin, another chemical important for sleep. Recent studies have shown that eating tryptophan rich foods by themselves may have a negative impact on the amount of tryptophan reaching the brain. This decrease occurs because tryptophan, the least abundant amino acids in food, must fight with other amino acids to cross the blood-brain barrier. Unfortunately, it is often crowded out by more plentiful amino acids. However, combining protein rich food with some carbohydrates will help aid absorption of tryptophan. Tryptophan rich foods include turkey, oats, bananas, chicken, cheese, nuts, sesame seeds, peanut butter and milk.
Protein: Eating 3-4 oz of good quality protein (about a palm sized serving or three eggs) at each meal is important for blood sugar control and reducing anxiety. Protein contains the amino acids necessary for your body to produce the neurotransmitters which directly impact mood and anxiety. If you can afford pasture raised, organic meat and eggs these are your best choices. If that is too expensive, try to buy your meat free from antibiotics and hormones. Try combining protein rich food with some carbohydrates to help aid absorption of tryptophan.
Seafood: Omega three rich fatty fish such as salmon, herring, trout, sardines and tuna can be helpful in the reduction of anxiety. Also oysters, mussels, crab and clams have high levels of zinc, an important mineral in the reduction of anxiety. Wild seafood is the best choice and the Monterey Bay Aquarium ranks seafood choices on safety and its impact on the environment.
Asparagus: Asparagus is high in folate, a b-vitamin complex known to help fight anxiety. Folate is important in the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Folate is also important for the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter important for sleep and stress reduction.
Avocado: Avocado can be helpful in reducing anxiety due to its high levels of folate and other B-vitamins. It also contains potassium which naturally lowers blood pressure. They are also a significant source of anti-oxidants like lutein and beta carotene which help fight oxidative stress in the body. Finally, avocados are a significant source of Vitamin E. Deficiencies of vitamin E have been linked to increased anxiety symptoms.
Leafy greens: Leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard, spinach are excellent sources of b-vitamins and magnesium. Magnesium is considered a calming mineral that is necessary for hundreds of chemical reactions in the body.
Lentils and other beans: Lentils, garbanzo beans, navy beans, kidney and pinto beans are all excellent sources of folate.
Whole grain foods: Whole grains contain valuable b vitamins and magnesium. Whole grains can also be a rich source of tryptophan, an amino acid that forms the basis of serotonin. Brown rice, amaranth, teff, oats, millet, quinoa and barley are all excellent sources for whole grains.
L-Theanine: L-Theanine is an amino acid that helps form the neurotransmitter GABA. It is also important in the regulation of dopamine and serotonin. It can be taken in a supplement form but is also found in green tea. Do not take theanine if you are on medication for high blood pressure.
Adaptagenic Herbs: Cortisol, a hormone released during periods of stress, can cause serotonin receptors in the brain to become less responsive. Adaptagenic herbs like reishi, ashwagandha, holy basil and rhodiola help improve the health of your adrenal system, the system that’s in charge of managing your body’s hormonal response to stress. This improved adrenal response helps your body cope with anxiety.
Chamomile: Drinking chamomile tea or taking chamomile supplements may help reduce anxiety due to the presence of chemicals that bind to the same brain receptors as Valium. There is no standard dose of chamomile. However, a recent study used 220 mgs daily in capsule form to significantly reduce anxiety symptoms. You can also drink between 1-4 cups of chamomile tea daily to enjoy some these anxiety reducing benefits.
Passionflower: Passionflower is a sedative herb that can be helpful in the reduction of anxiety and sleeplessness. It should not be taken with other sedative herbs or drugs, with blood thinner drugs or MAOI drugs or taken for more than 1 month at a time. To take: drink 1 tsp of herb steeped for 10 minutes in 1 cup of water 3-4 times a day or take a tincture