There are several aspects of your diet that may affect your anxiety. A high-fat diet or a high carbohydrate diet can lead to an unbalanced gut microbiome and mineral deficiencies. Because there is a vital connection between our gut and brain, food plays a substantial role in your mental health (1). A healthy gut equals a happy mind.
High-fat diets can worsen anxiety
One study showed that 16 weeks of a high-fat diet contributed to anxiety. The results show disruption of the brain’s ability to adapt, respond to insulin, and maintain sugar balance. There was also increased inflammation in the brains of participants (2).
Too much fat, or the wrong type of fats, can be a problem.
Fats to avoid:
These are the least healthy form of fat. Hydrogenation is the process that artificially produces trans fats. This process turns liquid oil into a solid, such as converting sunflower oil into margarine. These create inflammation in your body, which is linked to heart disease, strokes, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
PUFA and MUFA
PUFA’s are also liquid at room temperature and can have inflammatory effects on the body. They can be highly unstable and even more prone to oxidation because they contain more than one double bond. Oxidation creates “free radicals” that cause damage to our bodies. Thus, it’s preferable to get PUFA’s and MUFA’s from whole foods, rather than as processed oils.
Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature. They are more stable and are amongst the safest for cooking purposes. Excessive intake of saturated fats increases the amount of insulin your body produces, so limit the amount you consume.
Foods to avoid:
These foods are sources of bad fats that increase inflammation in your body and brain, contributing to anxiety and depression.
- Processed meats such as sausages, bacon, burgers, salami, pepperoni,
- High-fat dairy products: butter, cheese, cream,
- High-fat sweets: cakes, cookies, pastries,
- Others: mayonnaise, pizza, fast food.
While too much can be damaging to your body, not all fats are bad. For a long time, we believed all fats were terrible. We now know that some are good for your body and brain and vital to your health.
Avoid bad fats, but seek out healthy ones!
Essential fatty acids are healthy fats that we have to get from our diet because our bodies can’t make them. These are also called Omega 3 and Omega 6. They help perform many functions, they:
- Build a durable cell membrane (the outer layer for each of your cells)
- Build healthy sheath surrounding your nerves
- Assist in maintaining healthy blood clotting
- Aid in controlling inflammation
- Absorb specific vitamins such as A, D, E, and K, and minerals like calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, and zinc
- Promote weight-loss
- Assist with blood sugar stability
- Are a critical factor in achieving hormonal balance
- Play a crucial role in brain function, memory, and attention span
- Have a direct impact on the quality of hair, skin, and nails
Feed a healthy brain and mood with these foods:
- Fish. Eating fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines 2-3 times per week supplies the healthy Omega 3 fats that help to reduce inflammation and nourish a healthy brain.
- Whole eggs
- Raw nuts
- Fresh cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
- Coconut & coconut oil
High Carbohydrate Diets Can Worsen Anxiety
Higher carb intake disrupts the balance of good bacteria in your gut, which leads to more inflammation in your stomach and brain. High carb diets are also associated with moderate obesity.
In this study (3), mice fed high carb diets reached unhealthy weights. These mice then developed anxiety and depressive behaviours when exposed to stress. The mechanisms responsible for such effects are not fully understood. We know that obesity links with inflammation. And inflammation in the brain links to anxiety.
How does your gut affect anxiety?
In simple terms, the bacteria in your gut influence your moods and vice versa. Scientists continue to study this connection and are learning more about the importance of the gut-brain-axis relationship.
Did you know that you make more serotonin in your gut than you do in your brain? Serotonin is your “feel good” neurotransmitter. Increasing it is the target of anti-anxiety medications. A better option may be to correct your gut bacteria so that you can make more naturally.
A healthy gut equals a healthy mind
Diet is an essential regulator of your gut lining. A healthy relationship between your diet, your immune system, and your gut bacteria is crucial for absorbing nutrients and maintaining gut balance (4).
A study of mice with different gut bacterial compositions found that imbalances in these caused changes in the stress gland communication system (the HPA axis). These changes may then affect the hormone-producing system in the brain, resulting in anxiety-like behaviour. (5)
Another study on supplementing with probiotics (good bacteria), found a significant increase in the concentration of the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin in the blood and a decreased level of its building block tryptophan (6).
How to create a healthy gut microbiome
As it turns out, all of the things that we know are good for us are good for our gut bacteria.
- Eat fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and natural yogurt (kefir) to restore the balance of good bacteria.
- Eat foods high in fibre to fuel your good bacteria. Prebiotic fibre, such as inulin (found in chicory root and asparagus), cultivates good bacteria, particularly Bifidobacteria, that keep your colon healthy. Soluble fibre found in oats feeds good bacteria to fuel a healthy gut lining.
- Avoid refined carbs and sugar. These cultivate the unruly bugs in your gut.
- Exercise daily.
- Sleep 7-8 hours per night.
- Eat a high fibre, low sugar, whole foods diet.
Diet and anxiety takeaways
- Avoid consuming either a high carb or a high-fat diet
- Incorporate healthy fats from fish, avocado, raw nuts and seeds, eggs, and fresh, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
- Eat lots of fiber from unprocessed grains like whole oats, and vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and asparagus
- Include fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir
Recommended for You
Anxiety and Neurotransmitter Balance
By Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), Naturopathic Doctor
Dr. Pamela has practiced as a naturopathic doctor in Toronto since 1999. She has received numerous “Best Naturopath in Toronto” awards. She is registered with the College of Naturopaths of Ontario.
Dr. Pamela Frank uses a natural treatment approach that may include acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, diet, vitamins, supplements, and other natural remedies to restore balance and provide long-term resolution to almost any health problem.
- Ruth Ann Luna, Jane A Foster, Gut-Brain Axis: Diet Microbiota Interactions and Implications for Modulation of Anxiety and Depression, Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2015 Apr;32:35-41. doi: 10.1016/j.copbio.2014.10.007. Epub 2014 Nov 21.
- Sophie Dutheil, Kristie T Ota, Eric S Wohleb, Kurt Rasmussen, Ronald S Duman. High-Fat Diet Induced Anxiety and Anhedonia: Impact on Brain Homeostasis and Inflammation. Neuropsychopharmacology. Tyuog 2016 Jun;41(7):1874-87. doi: 10.1038/npp.2015.357. Epub 2015 Dec 14
- Carla J Santos, Adaliene V M Ferreira, Ana L Oliveira, Marina C Oliveira, Julia S Gomes, Daniele C Aguiar. Carbohydrate-enriched Diet Predispose to Anxiety and Depression-Like Behavior After Stress in Mice. Nutr Neurosci. 2018 Jan;21(1):33-39. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2016.1213529. Epub 2016 Jul 29.
- Ricard Farré, Marcello Fiorani, Saeed Abdu Rahiman, Gianluca Matteoli. Intestinal Permeability, Inflammation and the Role of Nutrients. Nutrients. 2020 Apr 23;12(4):1185. doi: 10.3390/nu12041185.
- M Vodička, P Ergang, T Hrnčíř, A Mikulecká, P Kvapilová, K Vagnerová, B Šestáková, A Fajstová, P Hermanová, T Hudcovic, H Kozáková, J Pácha. Microbiota Affects the Expression of Genes Involved in HPA Axis Regulation and Local Metabolism of Glucocorticoids in Chronic Psychosocial Stress. Brain Behav Immun. 2018 Oct;73:615-624. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2018.07.007. Epub 2018 Jul 7.
- H X Chong, N A A Yusoff, Y-Y Hor, L-C Lew, M H Jaafar, S-B Choi, M S B Yusoff, N Wahid, M F I L Abdullah, N Zakaria, K-L Ong, Y-H Park, M-T Liong. Lactobacillus plantarum DR7 Alleviates Stress and Anxiety in Adults: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Benef Microbes. 2019 Apr 19;10(4):355-373. doi: 10.3920/BM2018.0135. Epub 2019 Mar 18.