With children comes the juggle and, before we moms know it, our anxiety can get the best of us. But are stress, depression, panic attacks and other mood problems treatable with food? Breezy Mama turned to expert Trudy Scott, who literally wrote the book on it: The Antianxiety Food Solution: How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings to get her answers on how certain foods can affect your moods. Plus! The secret snack that will improve your mood and help you sleep!
What are the common foods that trigger anxiety?
Processed foods, sugary foods and drinks, gluten, caffeine.
Why do they trigger it?
Processed foods, sugary foods and drinks – they deplete key nutrients and we fill up on them and eat less nutrient-dense foods. Sugar also causes blood sugar swings which can look just like anxiety. Processed foods also often contain wheat (see gluten below) and trans-fats which research now shows has a detrimental effect on mood. Caffeine – there are a subset of people who are more prone to the anxiety-provoking effects of caffeine. This could be from coffee, sodas, caffeine in meds and even chocolate.
Most moms are generally on the “go” and preparing a fresh food meal can be tricky. Are there quick fix meals that reduce panic attacks and anxiety?
There aren’t really any short-cuts. For me, these are some quick fix meals: (1) roast a whole chicken and sweet potatoes and steam fresh green beans, broccoli and cauliflower (they are quick to wash and easy to chop) and throw a whole chicken in the oven and let it roast (2) use a slow-cooker or soup to cook beef stew and veggies. Both of these can be reheated (on the stove, not microwave) or eaten cold for lunch the next day, or even dinner-for-breakfast. For busy moms, get the kids involved. One of my clients has a 3 year old and she picked out purple cauliflower because it’s her favorite color, “helped” preparation and then ate some for dinner.
Can going gluten free help eliminate anxiety? Why does gluten contribute to anxiety?
Yes, going gluten free may help eliminate anxiety, panic attacks, social phobia, depression and mood swings if you are sensitive to gluten or if you have celiac disease.
Why does gluten contribute to anxiety?
If there is damage to the gut lining from gluten, there may be nutritional deficiencies. A common deficiency is tryptophan, which is needed to make serotonin – which helps improve mood and reduce anxiety (the kind of anxiety that results in ruminating thoughts and worry in the head). Zinc and iron may also be low and both of these minerals are needed to make serotonin and the calming neurotransmitter GABA.
The effects of gluten can be so varied – some people will have only digestive issues and some will also have mood issues – anxiety, depression, social phobia and bipolar disorder. Gluten is also implicated in many other conditions, too (arthritis, psoriasis, thyroid, etc.).
My favorite 3 nutrients for women are zinc, vitamin B6 and evening primrose oil. They help PMS symptoms, improve sleep, improve mood and reduce anxiety. They are also particularly helpful with a type of social anxiety called pyroluria.
When the food changes are not enough, short-term supplementation with the amazing amino acids tryptophan or GABA can be very helpful. They provide instant relief and a total reduction of carb cravings. Tryptophan is for low serotonin and the type of anxiety that occurs in the head: worry, ruminating thoughts and obsessing. GABA helps with physical, stiff-and-tense-shoulders type anxiety.
Do you feel medication can be wrongfully prescribed for anxiety when a simple diet change can help put an end to attacks?
Yes, I find that many women are prescribed medications for anxiety and don’t find relief. When they start to address dietary factors, nutritional deficiencies and possible food intolerances, they are getting to the root cause of their anxiety.
What are some common questions or misconceptions you receive about food and its effect on moods and how do you respond?
So many people don’t realize that food affects their mood. I recently had a facebook friend say this:
“For 40 years I have thought of food in only two ways: Food that makes you fat…and food that doesn’t make you fat. After reading your posts and following your FB updates this past year I have finally begun to see the profound effect that food has on your emotions and over all happiness. This shouldn’t shock me…but it does. And for the first time I am realizing that is what’s most important! I am finally starting to think about how food ‘makes me feel’ rather than how food ‘makes me look’. Keep doing what you do – I appreciate it.” Lisa McDonell www.thebrainygal.com (she did give me permission to share this)
Anything else you’d like to share on food and anxiety?
We are all biochemically unique so there is no one-size fits all.
Grass-fed red meat is ok! There is an association between quality grass-fed red meat as part of a real whole foods diet, and a reduced risk of anxiety and depression in women. Grass-fed red contains amino acids, zinc, iron and good levels of omega-3s – all of which are so crucial for improving both anxiety and depression.
My favorite snack is roasted pumpkin seeds. Research has actually shown that a medical or functional food made with pumpkin seeds improved sleep, due to the good sources of tryptophan and zinc. In another study this same functional food was also shown to reduce anxiety and social phobia.
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About Trudy Scott
I am a Food-Mood expert and nutritionist. I educate women about real whole food and finding natural solutions for anxiety and stress, depression and other mood problems. I am so am passionate about what I do because I used to suffer terribly from anxiety, unexplained fears, waking with a sense of doom and even panic attacks – and I have used gluten elimination, and the amazing healing powers of foods and nutrients to completely heal. I am author of The Antianxiety Food Solution – How the Foods You Eat Can Help you Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood and End Cravings (June 2011, New Harbinger). I am immediate past president of National Association of Nutrition Professionals and now Special Advisor to the board of directors. I also present nationally to mental health practitioners on food and mood, sharing all the recent research and how-to steps for implementing changes. You can find out more about me and my book here: www.everywomanover29.com and www.antianxietyfoodsolution.com