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The Anxiety-Diet Link: Foods to Protect and Heal our Mental Health

March 15, 2018

By Sarah Syer 

If you are reading this now, you have probably, at some point in your life, experienced feelings of anxiety. Anxiety is defined as feelings of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an upcoming event or uncertain outcome (think: a big meeting with your boss, solo presentation to your peers or professors, purchasing your first house, etc.). If you’ve experienced anxiety, you are not alone! Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in Canada: one in four Canadians experience at least one anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Anxiety disorders can range from general anxiety and phobias, to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However big or small, these feelings can interfere significantly with your quality of life and your ability to function in academic, occupational and social settings. 

You might be thinking, why is there a blog about anxiety for NRC’s ‘Unlock the Potential of Food’ campaign? Here’s your answer! There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating the association between good nutrition and short- and long-term mental health. Food plays a vital role in the development, management and prevention of various mental health problems. Although we tend to think about how a balanced diet impacts our physical health, it is important to remember that our food choices also have proven potential to protect our mental health and wellbeing, and to heal our mood.

The next time you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or have a big deadline on the horizon, try to incorporate the following (healthy!) foods into your diet:

1. Avocado

Feelings of anxiety may be associated with a deficiency in vitamin B as we need B vitamins for healthy nerves and brain cells. Avocados are rich in stress-relieving B vitamins, so try avocado on your toast in the morning or toss it in a smoothie.

2. Blueberries and Oranges

Our bodies need vitamin C and antioxidants to protect and repair our cells from stress-induced damage. Vitamin C is also known to lower blood pressure and cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’). Blueberries are antioxidant-rich, while whole oranges are vitamin C-rich, making both of these fruits perfect options for your afternoon snack.

3. Turkey and Salmon

Turkey contains the ever-famous tryptophan, which not only promotes tiredness, but also signals the release of serotonin. Serotonin is known for its calming and mood stabilizing benefits. Salmon is rich in omega-3s, which help to keep cortisol and adrenaline from spiking when we are feeling stressed. For the best results, incorporate turkey or salmon as your main protein source at dinnertime.

By incorporating the above food and nutrition tips into your diet, you can regain power over your mental health…and find comfort in knowing that your healthy food choices will help keep you calm.

Sarah is a Master of Science graduate from the University of Guelph. Sarah studied Nutrition and Nutraceutical Sciences and Nutritional Epidemiology. Sarah has a passion for health, wellness, and nutrition, and she aspires to fuel this passion through health promotion, nutrition education, and nutrition/food blogging.

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