Bid goodbye to feelings of worry in just one day with this stress-busting meal plan that helps keep you calm from breakfast until dinner
Anxiety among workers in the UK is at a record high, having risen by nearly a third in the last four years, according to figures from the UK Council for Psychotherapy. Their research shows that rates of moderate to extreme anxiety among employees has soared by 30.5 percent since records began in 2013. So, what can we do about it? While anxiety is a mental condition that can feel difficult to escape, you can take back some control of your emotions with what you put on your plate. “To get yourself feeling calmer, start by keeping your blood sugar levels balanced, as low levels can leave you feeling irritable and unable to concentrate properly, making anxiety even worse,” advises Rob Hobson, head of nutrition at Healthspan (healthspan.co.uk). “Sugar can also impact on blood sugar levels so should be avoided to help you stay calm when anxiety hits. Instead, try making meals from a good source of fibre (oats, brown rice and quinoa) and lean protein. Ensure you get plenty of tryptophan in your diet, too, as this is essential for the production of serotonin (the feel-good hormone) in your brain. Foods rich in tryptophan include meat, poultry, tofu, dairy foods, and fruits such as bananas. Tryptophan concentration is lowest amongst all the amino acids and, as such, it has a lot of competition to cross the blood brain barrier. To help with the uptake of tryptophan, you should try eating an evening meal that contains carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta, rice and potatoes. Once eaten, these foods encourage the release of insulin that reduces the concentration of larger amino acids, lessening the competition and allowing tryptophan to cross more freely into your brain. Another way to eat your way to feeling calmer is to keep your intake of magnesium topped up. This mineral is abundant in the body and has a relaxing effect on the muscles and the mind, while low levels can result in anxiety. Boost your levels of magnesium by eating foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts (especially cashews), raw cacao and dried fruit.” Want to put these tips into action? Here is a meal plan that combines all of the nutrients needed for a menu of anxiety-easing foods.
“The best breakfast to soothe anxiety should contain oats,” advises clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer (nutritionlifestyle.co.uk). “This can be in the form of porridge, or overnight oats soaked in a little apple juice and yoghurt.” Suzie explains that oats are a great source of tryptophan and a lack of which can cause anxiety and low mood. “Oats are also a great source of B vitamins which are needed to balance the nervous system,” she adds. “Indeed, stress tends to burn up B vitamins, and they’re water-soluble so they need to be eaten daily. If you sprinkle your oaty breakfast with some pumpkin seeds, you’ll be eating a good amount of magnesium, which is known as nature’s tranquiliser. You could also add some cinnamon into your oat breakfast to help balance blood sugar levels.”
Keep feelings of worry at bay throughout the afternoon with a light lunch. Try a kale and egg salad with apple cider vinegar and olive oil dressing. “Kale is a superfood that’s rich in fibre, protein, vitamins and iron, while apple cider vinegar is a fermented food and helps keep good bacteria strong. It also kills off any bad bugs in the digestive colony,” says Ali Mortimer (heal-yourself-happy.com), health and happiness coach. “Mix with two parts of olive oil, as this will provide good fats to support brain function, and mix into the kale leaves. Top with either a poached or boiled egg for a protein hit that will keep you full for hours. If you dislike the taste of eggs, chicken is another great source of protein – try it with lentils and vegetables. “Chicken helps your body increase its intake of tryptophan,” says Joanna Shurety (shuretycoaching.com), nutritional therapist. “Lentils are a complex carbohydrate and also help your body to produce serotonin, as well as being high in folate. Deficiencies in folate have been linked to anxiety, making it important to ensure you are eating enough of this nutrient. Finally, vegetables – ideally, leafy green ones such as kale or broccoli – are a vital component of a calming lunch, as they contain the essential vitamin B. Lack of vitamin B has been linked to depression, as insufficient levels can hinder serotonin production.”
“The Mediterranean diet has been proven to assist with alleviating mild depression and anxiety, so aim for a meal that includes oily fish, olive oils, colourful veggies and wholegrains,” suggests Ali. A good example of a dinner that satisfies this criteria is wild salmon, herby quinoa and roasted vegetables. Salmon contains omega 3s, which have brain-boosting properties and help fight depression, while wholegrains ease anxious feelings as they help your body release serotonin. Suzie agrees, stressing the importance of getting enough zinc at dinnertime: “Seafood and fish are an excellent source of the mineral zinc which helps to encourage the production of GABA, one of the brain’s relaxing neurotransmitters. Zinc is also essential for metabolising other key mood-balancing neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Great food choices would be grilled prawns in garlic (also high in zinc), mussels, tuna or salmon.” Then, make sure that you complete your dinner with a generous portion of vegetables. “Add your choice of salad veggies to include colour – peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, grated beetroot – for maximum polyphenol fix,” Ali says.
“Try to drink three cups of green tea throughout the day, which is rich in theanine, an amino acid that helps promote the release of GABA,” says Suzie. “Plus, chamomile and lemon balm tea are equally calming. Great snacks include live yoghurt as fermented foods help increase the body’s natural production of GABA. Additionally, almonds are full of zinc and magnesium, pistachios are rich in vitamin B1, and oat cakes contain all the benefits of oats. They’re great with hummus or nut butters.” For anyone with a sweet tooth, you’ll be pleased to know that chocolate is also on the menu. “Dark chocolate, as well as being indulgent, helps your brain release endorphins and boosts serotonin levels,” says Joanna. Aim for a chocolate bar that is 70 percent cocoa or more.
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