Did you know that 18.1 million American adults are currently diagnosed with a form of anxiety disorder? And what’s worse, this is only the number of known cases. Estimates put this number at around 30 million people. Most people who suffer from an anxiety disorder never seek help or are even aware that they have a problem. Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. about $42 billion a year of the total $148 billion for mental healthcare.
Types of anxiety disorders
First, it should be mentioned that it is quite normal to feel some anxiety in stressful situations. Anxiety can be beneficial because it makes people think harder and reevaluate before they spring into action. However, when it becomes a chronic problem, it may be advisable to find help. Some types of anxiety disorder include panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, phobic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), separation anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is the most commonly diagnosed disorder in the United States and it affects mostly women.
Anxiety and physical illness
Anxiety often causes a range of other illnesses and disorders such as gastrointestinal disorders and respiratory problems, and it is a major contributor in driving people to substance abuse. Many will reach for drugs or alcohol to number their feelings in hopes of somehow making it through the day. Anxiety can also be hereditary, and many people will find that it runs in their family. People as young as 11 years old have been diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder.
Anxiety and diet
There are a number of ways to treat anxiety disorders. The most common is therapy with a certified counselor, figuring out coping strategies either on your own or with the help of a loved one, and mindfulness work like yoga, meditation or acupuncture. What is often overlooked, however, is a person’s diet. Just like a balanced diet made of whole foods contributes to great health, other foods may actually increase the symptoms of anxiety disorders. Read on for a list of foods that could be making your anxiety worse.
It’s no surprise that sugar tops our list of anxiety producing foods. Sugar is prevalent in most processed foods, as well as in alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. It has the ability to raise blood glucose, and this, in turn, makes the brain not work optimally. Diets high in sugar have been linked to anxiety and even depression. There is also an increased for diabetes and dementia. Of course, sugar also is addictive as it initially makes you feel good then leaves you wanting more.
How relieved were you when you found a guilt-free alternative to your sugar? Unfortunately, all those calorie free sweeteners are actually terrible for your health and in particular for your mental health as they block the production of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter. Moodiness, headaches and insomnia can be the result as well as, you guessed it, anxiety.
Once again, it’s not a real surprise that alcohol made the list. Alcohol is a depressant of the central nervous system. The central nervous system controls the processing of emotions. And when it is depressed, we become anxious and/or depressed right along with it. So limit your alcohol intake, especially if you are aware of an anxiety disorder or if you just have a sad day.
It’s quick, convenient and so cheap. Plus, fast food restaurants are quite literally located at just about every street corner. And since we are usually on the run, picking up or dropping off little ones, working many hours and without much time to cook fancy meals, we’re all guilty of eating fast food.
Now, the occasional splurge is certainly not an issue. But fast food belongs to the so-called hyper-palatable foods. The combination of ingredients and additives make it so easy to want more and to eat it all. Numerous studies confirm that fast food is linked to anxiety and depression. As a matter of fact, it seems like there is a bit of a vicious cycle happening. Eating fast food can contribute to anxiety, and anxiety leads to more cravings for fast food. Break the cycle and start eating well!
Speaking of fast food, trans fats still are used in many fast foods and you’ll also find them in just about all processed foods you can buy in the store. Think margarine and donuts. Remember how you’ve grown up with the belief that fats cause clogged arteries? This is partially true. And trans fats can do this, so sticking with olive oil, avocado oil, butter or coconut oil is probably a better idea.
We know it’s touted as a health food and recommended in a healthy diet. But, wheat bran is full of phytic acid and anti-nutrients that bind to minerals in the gut. Especially zinc is an important mood mineral and a deficiency can contribute to anxiety. This is true for other foods as well, such as beans and almonds. Soaking and sprouting them can decrease the amount of phytic acid in these foods. So, if you don’t mind going through the trouble of doing this, you’ll likely be better able to digest them and not lose those all important minerals.
We can’t even begin to tell you how awful canned soup is for your mood. They’re usually extremely high in sodium, the cans are lined with Bisphenol A (BPA) and both are linked to anxiety. BPA, in particular, can mess with those mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters. Yes, they are convenient, but if you do a little food prep, you can cook a whole batch of soup on the weekend and freeze or refrigerate it in portion sizes for your convenience. You’ll know exactly what’s in it and avoid all the nasty ingredients and chemicals.
Healthy food, healthy gut, healthy brain
It’s abundantly clear that the foods above can contribute to anxiety. On the other hand, diets consisting of whole foods that are properly prepared will contribute to gut health, brain health and therefore lead to a healthier you. There is evidence that people following a Mediterranean or Paleo diet enjoy better health and a decreased risk for anxiety and depression. In some cases, a gut healing protocol may be in order. An alternative healthcare practitioner or holistic nutritionist may be able to help you achieve these goals.
— Ute Mitchell