40% of the UK population are either anxious or depressed… 40%!!
Now there are obviously lots of different reasons why someone can become anxious but could what you are eating really impact anxiety levels too??
If we take a deeper look at sugar and its effects on our body I would say it is pretty reasonable to suggest that certain types of foods can impact anxiety. In particular I want to talk about glycemic balance.
The Glycemic index (GI) of a food is the measurement of the rate that that food creates blood glucose. Glycemic load (GL) reflects both the GI of a food along with the total amount of carbohydrates present.
When we eat foods with a high GI or a high GL we cause an increase in our blood sugar levels. This increase in blood sugar levels is often seen when we eat foods like refined carbs (hello bread, biscuits and cake!) but also when we drink things like sweetened drinks (holla coke and caramel lattes!).
Although eating high GI foods are fine in moderation, there has been some research that suggests that ongoing consumption of these foods can increase the odds of developing anxiety and depression symptoms (1,2). One potential reason for this is that when our blood sugar levels spike, we naturally release insulin to remove this sugar from our blood stream (to reduce the inflammation this causes) which moves the sugar into cells to be either used or stored.
Although really helpful, the issue with insulin is that it is often so efficient that it can sometimes lead to low levels of blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). This roller coaster of blood sugar levels and hypoglycemia in particular has been found to increase adrenaline (3). This ‘fight or flight’ hormone can contribute to symptoms of anxiety (4) and other symptoms associated with anxiety such as shakiness, sweating, and heart palpitations.
Although anxiety disorders are not likely to be caused by diet alone, it is believed that a poor diet can trigger or make anxiety symptoms worse by adding to the bodies stress responses and making it harder for the mind to cope.
When I am working with clients with anxiety, it is therefore really important for me to look at supporting their blood sugar levels so we can get out of this rollercoaster ride of stressful ‘highs’ and ‘lows’.
My tops tips to do this can often be made really simple by some quick changes to the way we eat:
1) Look to increase your protein intake
Protein is a fantastic way to balance blood sugar and support good glucose control. One thing I always look to implement therefore is a good protein rich breakfast and high protein snacks throughout the day. This could include:
- Greek yogurt
2) Add more fibre into the diet
Fibre has the ability to slow down the absorption of sugarmeaning we are less likely to have the high blood sugar ‘peaks’ that often lead to us coming crashing back down.
On top of that, studies have also shown that those with a fibre rich (from fruit and vegetables) seem to have a lower risk for depression (2). Oh yer and of course these fibre rich powerhouses often bring other nutrients to the party (like folate, zinc, and magnesium) that can further support mental health.
To increase your fibre look to:
- Aim to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day (ideally more!)
- When eating carbohydrates look for the higher fibre alternatives like brown rice and wholemeal bread
- Add things like linseeds and chia seeds to smoothies and porridge
- See whether you can make some simple swaps to lower your sugar intake
3) Choose some simple lower sugar alternatives
- Reduce your carbohydrate intake by swapping your midday sandwich to a protein rich salad
- Swap your sweetened coffee to a herbal tea or even just ask for less syrup/ sugar!
- Snack on things like hummous and carrots or nuts when you are hungry rather than being pulled in by the lure of the office biscuit tin!
Making really small steps can often make huge improvements when it comes to nutrition and when it comes to your mental health, some of these changes really can be lifechanging.
If you want more information on how you can support your anxiety through dietary changes or even get additional advice on supplements that can also help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch either through firstname.lastname@example.org or by messaging me for a free information call .
I would love to give you all the support you need to create your healthy and happy future.
- Gangswisch J. E., Hale L., Garcia L., et al. High glycemic index diet as a risk factor for depression: analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015;102(2):454–463. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
- Haghighatdoost F., Azadbakht L., Keshteli A. H., et al. Glycemic index, glycemic load, and common psychological disorders. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016;103(1):201–209. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.105445. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]
- Sejling A.-S., Kjær T. W., Pedersen-Bjergaard U., et al. Hypoglycemia-associated changes in the electroencephalogram in patients with type 1 diabetes and normal hypoglycemia awareness or unawareness. Diabetes. 2015;64(5):1760–1769. doi: 10.2337/db14-1359. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]
- Paine N. J., Watkins L. L., Blumenthal J. A., Kuhn C. M., Sherwood A. Association of depressive and anxiety symptoms with 24-hour urinary catecholamines in individuals with untreated high blood pressure. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2015;77(2):136–144. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000144. [PMC free article][PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]