2020 has been a remarkable year and as we continue to live in these uncertain times it is natural to feel a certain amount of anxiety. Living with lockdown and social distancing measures has been unsettling for everyone and has undoubtedly affected mental health, especially in vulnerable groups such as new mums and women affected by post-natal illness. During moments like this it is human nature to reach for familiar comfort foods and drinks. However, be mindful as they might not necessarily be the most helpful or healthful foods to support anxiety. In fact, many foods and drinks can make us more anxious, especially if processed or full of added sugars, such as soft drinks and processed snacks.
Too much sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and ultra-processed foods over-excites our nervous system and may increase feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress. So, comfort foods are perhaps not as comforting as they seem. By contrast, natural ingredients such as fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, dairy and protein foods all provide more beneficial nutrients. These wholefoods help our biological response to stress and anxiety by balancing our body’s natural communication systems of hormones and neurotransmitters. Stocking the fridge with plenty of fresh produce is a great way to ensure you have a range of nutritious foods available for mealtimes and snacks. Including plenty of colourful foods provides a good mix of nutrients such as vitamins A-C-E and minerals zinc, magnesium, iron, and potassium to help support our immune system as we head towards winter. Vitamin D, from exposure to sunlight, or from foods such as oily fish and eggs, has also been shown to support immunity so combining a daily walk with good diet are two ways to help you stay balanced. Fresh air, exercise, and time spent in nature have all been shown to positively boost mood.
Whilst we all have a unique relationship with food, and may eat different things, the nutrients in food effect our body’s natural responses and wellbeing. Favouring fresh ingredients over ultra-processed foods, creating family mealtimes and shared occasions, and aiming to eat well, will all help support wellbeing and reduce anxiety.
Stay safe and well.
By Claire Sambolino, Communications Manager for the British Association of Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and Registered BANT Nutritionist ®