When talking about anxiety, we are not talking about a rare disorder, but something that affects 85% of the world population, according to recent studies by Psychiatrist Augusto Cury.
Anxiety is a biological characteristic of human beings, which precedes moments of real or imagined danger. In this context, many unpleasant symptoms appear, such as:
- Fainting sensation
- Chest pain and palpitations
- Dry mouth
- Muscle tension and pain
- Sensation of having a “knot” in the throat
- Mental confusion
- Feeling of helplessness
These symptoms are not rare, a large part of the population has suffered from anxiety. And most people have difficulties following simple advice on this matter. However, a large part of this difficulty is linked to the lifestyle we lead, especially when it comes to food.
Cortisol is your stress hormone; the same that triggers anxiety. This hormone needs to be in balance with serotonin, which is responsible for happiness. The ingested food plays a fundamental role in the amount of these hormones circulating in the bloodstream.
Our nutritional patterns has undergone many changes over the last few decades. Many are claiming lack of time as the main reason. Commuting time has increased, which forces many to leave their homes without having the first and most important meal of the day: breakfast. Many meals have been taken outside the home, forcing people to eat what they find and not what they often want.
Commitments beyond work have also increased, and often due to the difficulty of planning and managing time, the last meal is eaten late at night. The body is forced to work to complete digestion when it should be involved in regeneration processes. It is during the first sleep period that your body works to reduce cortisol. A late night meal rich in protein and fatty foods interferes with cortisol control. And, the only certainty we have is that the next day our anxiety level will be higher.
Our evening meal should be as close to sunset as possible, remembering that during summer the sunset is later and the last meal should be taken at least two hours before bedtime. At the last meal, we should prioritize the consumption of foods rich in carbohydrates, for example, fruits, oats or granola, toast and soups made from tubers or roots. Also be careful with the quantity.
Serotonin, the hormone that controls cortisol and consequently controls anxiety, is produced in the morning until 9 am. It is essential to eat foods that are rich in tryptophan at breakfast, as this is the raw material used by the body to produce this happiness hormone.
Include some of the following foods in your breakfast:
- Oats or granola
- Chickpeas, can be in the form of hummus
- Soybeans in the form of milk or tofu (can be grilled or as a spread)
- Peanuts (in natura, as milk or peanut butter)
- Cashew nut
- Brazil nuts
- Almonds (to be eaten fresh, as milk or as ricotta)
- Brown rice (can be in the form of sweet rice)
Of those foods above, include two to three sources. Never eat more than one source of nuts at a meal so that there is no excess fat.
The inclusion of these foods will give the body the opportunity to produce serotonin, but it is essential to exclude foods that increase cortisol from the menu, or all the effort will be in vain.
Stop consuming the following foods, that include stimulants:
- Coffee (even the decaf)
- Green, black, red, yellow and white teas as well as mate tea (these are obtained from two plants called: Ilex paraguariensis and Camellia sinensis.)
- Alcoholic beverages
- Cola soft drinks
These stimulants impair serotonin production and increase anxiety. Some may say that when they make use of these they feel better. Beware, this is a warning sign, as you may already be suffering from an addiction.
Some important considerations about serotonin production:
- The intestine is the production site of serotonin, so it is important that it is working properly. Consume whole foods, fruits and vegetables. Increase your water intake. Remove refined foods from your table.
- Sunbathing in the morning increases the stimulus for serotonin production, 20 minutes would be enough to bring this benefit.
- The practice of physical exercise improves bowel function and even promotes greater production of serotonin when performed in the morning. Put on some sneakers and go out for a walk early in the morning. You will find that your day will be different.
- A good night’s sleep helps control cortisol levels and prevents it from damaging the production of serotonin. Your efficiency will be better if you can sleep before 9:30 pm.
These recommendations are not intended to replace the use of medications or a consultation with a specialist, but they will help you to better deal with anxiety and the doctor will be responsible for reducing your medication or even taking you off, if he sees fit.
Food can have a powerful influence on our minds. Getting at least 15 minutes of exercise in the sun during the morning hours, going to bed early and adapting to the correct diet can help a lot in controlling anxiety. Help your brain and make the needed lifestyle changes today!
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Ricardo Vargas de Andrade is a Nutritionist specialized in Emotional Management. He is an international speaker, and has already produced several programs for the Novo Tempo TV Channel.