I wrote recently about gratitude, after fracturing my skull and realising how lucky I was to be alive. But as I convalesced, other less positive thoughts also swam around my head. In particular, I began thinking about people who live with fear. Why? Because I too had suddenly become fearful: What caused my collapse? Would it happen again? How could I prevent myself falling if my head spun constantly?
Many people live with fear of a more life-threatening sort. But there are also thousands of people who live with varying levels of anxiety every day. One could argue this becomes normalised as we learn to accommodate fear into our everyday lives. But after my (relatively mild) experience, I’m not so sure. It seems to me that continuous anxiety is debilitating and exhausting, sapping confidence, energy and purpose.
So can diet make any difference? It appears so. Researchers recently studied the effect of Omega-3 fatty acids on substance abusers who were suffering huge anxiety as they tried to give up drugs. They found that large doses of Omega-3 (2+ grams a day) reduced anxiety symptoms and improved mood. A 2011 study of medical students found the same results. Foods rich in Omega-3 include mackerel, which I’ve used in the recipe below, and salmon which we’re big fans of (try one of our favourite salmon dishes).
But the latest research focuses on the gut, where 90% of our serotonin is produced (serotonin is the chemical thought to maintain our mood balance). Research published last month from the University of Virginia found that a strain of probiotic called Lactobacillus and commonly found in yogurt, if eaten regularly, could reverse ‘depression symptoms’ in mice. Read more at https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170308114709.htm
The researchers are hopeful the same effects can be found in humans. Indeed, research done in 2013 using women, brain scans and twice daily portions of yogurt, found that yogurt eaters were calmer than non-yogurt eaters. There’s a brilliant article on the brain-gut-anxiety link here: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/06/gut-bacteria-on-the-brain/395918/. We’ve written about prebiotics and probiotic-rich food here.
Fluctuating blood sugar levels can also contribute to anxiety. So if you’re someone who feels constantly anxious, try and eat nutrient-rich foods with sufficient complex carbohydrates, protein and fat to prevent falling blood sugar levels.
Other studies have found certain other foods to have a role in reducing anxiety. Mice eating low-magnesium diets showed increased anxiety (magnesium-rich foods include leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains). Foods rich in zinc (oysters, prawns, liver, beef, and egg yolks) have also been linked to lowered anxiety. As have foods rich in anti-oxidants. We’ve written about ‘mood’ food and anxiety here.
The recipe below makes the perfect, five-minute, mid-week supper and includes all of the above. Eat and be calm!
SMOKED MACKEREL AND BEETROOT BRUSCHETTA (serves 4)
- 80g full fat yogurt (I like sheep milk yogurt)
- 80 g crème fraiche
- Zest of 1 lemon and a squeeze of juice
- 3 tsp horseradish sauce
- 3 smoked mackerel fillets, skin removed
- 4 slices sourdough bread
- 4 peeled, cooked beetroot
- Dill sprigs
Mix the yogurt, crème fraiche, zest, juice and horseradish. Flake in the mackerel.
Slice the beetroot.
Toast the bread and drizzle with olive oil.
Arrange the beetroot slices on the toast, top with the yogurt/mackerel mixture and sprinkle over chopped dill. Serve with a leafy green salad.