Anxiety has been an unwanted companion of mine since childhood. From anxiety-induced stomach aches before school swimming lessons, to panic attacks while out shopping; anxiety has a big impact on my life experiences.
Over the years I’ve learned to take a two-pronged approach to anxiety. To manage it I use:
Speedy remedies like chewing on lemon balm leaves, drinking valerian tea, dosing up on Bach Rescue Remedy, and using Ashwagandha tincture each day whenever I’m in a particularly stressful phase.
Long term nutrition support: foods that supply the vitamins and minerals my nervous system needs to manage anxiety and mental wellbeing.
This 5-minute video covers 5 of my favourite foods for nervous system support. Each one is easy to find and easy to prep – no weird ingredients or lengthy recipes here. I recommend including these on a regular basis alongside the other suggestions outlined below, and noticing how you feel. All of these foods can be safely consumed alongside anxiety medications.
More Good Foods for Managing Anxiety
Fermented foods: let’s not forget the gut microbiome! Our gut flora produce important molecules that influence the nervous system and the production of mood chemicals. One of these molecules is GABA (gamma amino-butyric acid), an inhibitory neurotransmitter that calms the nervous system. Fermented foods contain both the probiotic bacteria that produce GABA, and fibre to nourish other gut bacteria: in turn, this helps continue the production of GABA.
Including a serving of fermented foods each day is a great way to ‘top up’ and ‘fertilise’ your microbiome. Choose from:
Sauerkraut: available from healthfood stores and some supermarkets (avoid the pasteurised versions as the bacteria die off during pasteurisation) or make your own
Kefir: milk kefir, water kefir, coconut water kefir – there’s plenty of different varieties. Again, you can make this at home with some starter granules
Plain live natural yoghurt
Keen to try home fermenting? I can heartily recommend this book for it’s easy-to-follow instructions!
Quick and easy to make, a warm mug of tea is a soul-soother in itself. Though for anxious people, it does need to be caffeine free – there’s no wriggle room on that! Even decaffeinated versions of tea can contain enough caffeine to stimulate the stress response and aggravate anxiety.
Herbs offer some wonderful infusions for anxiety. Try these teas either as single-herb teas or combinations:
As a Coeliac, Abby knows only too well the unappealing taste of many gluten-free breads. These seeded bread rolls are packed with fibre, vitamins, and minerals, and can be batch cooked and frozen. Simply reheat in a warm oven – perfect for when you really need a bread bun with your lunchtime soup!
1 cup quinoa flakes
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
3 tbsp psyllium husks – this is the vital ingredient for making the dough sticky and held together
2 tbsp mixed herbs
2 tbsp whole chia seeds
2 tbsp whole flax seeds
2 tbsp salt
600ml fresh water
Put the quinoa flakes and 1 cup of the pumpkin seeds in a food processed and blend into a fine flour. Add all of the dry ingredients into a bowl with the flour and combine well. Stir in the water, and mix everything together well. Let the mixture sit for an hour to absorb the water.
Preheat the oven to 180 c fan and line a baking tray (or two) with some greaseproof paper. Take a fist full of the dough and shape into a bread roll before placing it on the baking tray.
Bake the rolls for around 45 minutes until golden and crispy on the outside.
The rolls are best eaten when warm. You can store in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days, or in the freezer for a couple of months. Simply place the roll in the oven to heat through.
For more recipes from Abby and to find out about her 1-1 consultation services and online packages go to www.afnutrition.co.uk
April is the ideal month for gathering fresh new nettles. It’s early May as I write this, but I still managed to find some tender young plants to gather the top few leaves from.
The combination of nettles + leeks + baby spinach delivers a light creamy flavoured soup, packed with magnesium, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, beta carotene, vitamin K, folate, quercetin and more. All Good Things for energy, levels, mental wellbeing, and coping with stress.
These ingredients made 4 servings of soup:
25g butter (or a dessertspoon of coconut oil if avoidng dairy)
1 medium leek, sliced
1 white onion, chopped
1 teaspoon of minced garlic / 1-2 cloves chopped
2 medium white potatoes cut into cubes
Roughly 80g baby spinach
A bowlful of thoroughly washed nettle tops (the first 4-6 leaves from the top of the stem) – this was about a cereal bowl sized bowl-full
1- 1.5 litre vegetable stock (depending on if you like your soup thick or runny)
Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the onion, leek and garlic and sweat them over a low heat for 5-6mins. Add the spinach, nettles, potato, and stock and simmer for 10mins until the potatoes are soft. Blend, and serve topped with toasted pumpkin seeds or pine nuts.
This winter’s flu season has taken a dramatic turn with the arrival and rapid spread of the Covid-19 corona virus. A few weeks ago I highlighted some of the key nutrients we need for all-round immune support. These nutrients are essential in the fight against flu. But is there any evidence to say nutrition can help fight coronaviruses?
The short answer to this question is yes! In a fascinating paper from the US, researchers explore the interactions between compounds in foods and the way our immune system deals with RNA viruses – including coronaviruses.
The compounds in question include:
– Ferulic acid: an antioxidant found in many different plants
– Phase 2 inducers like sulforaphane (Phase 2 is one of the detoxification pathways in the liver; it requires plenty of glutathione, one of our most important antioxidant nutrients)
– The minerals zinc and selenium
– Anthocyanin compounds in Elderberry
– Phycocyanobilin in Spirulina: a type of cyanobacteria grown on freshwater lakes and sold as powder, tablets, or capsules
These compounds have multiple benefits for our immune defences, mainly through their modulating effects on immune cells and signalling molecules, and by providing powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant protection in the lungs and airways.
Nutrition and the elderly
A key observation of this paper is the way in which zinc and n-acetyl cysteine have been shown to support older peoples’ immune systems against ‘flu. In a small-scale 6mth controlled trial involving 262 elderly people, those receiving 600mg of n-acetyl cysteine twice a day* experienced significantly fewer days of ‘flu and spent much less time confined to their beds, compared to those taking a placebo.
And, although the rate of infection was comparable between the two groups only 25% of the virus-infected subjects in the NAC group developed symptoms, compared to 79% of those in the placebo group.
*(This is quite a high dose, and not recommended unless advised by a nutrition practitioner).
The benefits of zinc supplementation for the elderly were spotted as a by-product of another trial – the AREDS1 trial for eye health – that used a vitamin and mineral supplement with zinc in. As the authors note: “…This effect might be pertinent to the significant 27% reduction in total mortality observed in elderly subjects who received high-dose zinc in the AREDS1 multicenter trial”. It seems a supplement trial for healthy vision had an unexpected and positive effect on flu deaths!
Many older people take PPI (proton-pump inhibitor) medications like Omperazole, Lansoprazole, and Nexium, to manage acid reflux and heartburn. These drugs suppress the production of stomach acid; this can bring short-term relief from heartburn and reflux but it has a knock-on effect on nutrient absorption. Long term use of these meds can significantly impact zinc levels – and as a result, immune function. If you or someone you know has been taking PPI meds for more than 3 months, it’s a good idea to have your zinc levels assessed either with a GP or via a nutrition practitioner.
So the big question now is where to find these amazing nutrients? Here we go…
Zinc: poultry, shellfish (especially oysters – if you can stomach them!), red meat, pumpkin seeds, nuts
Selenium: Brazil nuts, shellfish, liver
Spirulina: use capsules or tablets, or add the powder to smoothies, pesto, and dark chocolate bark (this has to be the easiest and most enticing way of taking spirulina ever known)
Elderberry: keen foragers can make their own syrups. The rest of us can find it in supplements such as ‘Sambucol‘ and Pukka Herb’s Elderberry Syrup
Sulforaphane: found in cruciferous veggies like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower
Ferulic acid: widespread in foods including oats, rice, pineapple, nuts, bananas, spinach, beetroot
Keep your diet as varied and interesting as possible and if you feel the need for more personalised advice, get in touch with your local Registered Nutritional Therapist. York-people, you can find yours here!
Reference: M.F. McCarty and J.J. DiNicolantonio, 2020. Nutraceuticals have potential for boosting the type 1 interferon response to RNA viruses including including influenza and coronavirus Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2020.02.007