Can the foods you eat help with low mood and anxiety?

  • 04/03/2019
healthy foods
Healthy fats, B vitamins and serotonin boosting foods are key, says clinical nutritionist Ben Warren. Photo credit: Getty.

Ben Warren is a leading Clinical Nutritionist and Clinical Director of scientific, holistic health company, BePure.

This article has been shortened from its original post.

Have you ever experienced a total sense of insidious flatness deep in your core  no drive to do anything, indifference to life, struggling to get out of bed because what's the point in doing so?

Or maybe you've been overwhelmed by racing thoughts examining every single thing that could possibly go wrong around you?

Perhaps a combination of these.

Ben Warren gardening
Warren says the micronutrients in the food we eat are the building blocks of our neurotransmitters. Photo credit: Supplied

If you haven't had an experience with anxiety or low mood/depression, chances are someone you know has struggled, or is currently dealing with the weight of anxiety and/or depression. You might not even know it's happening.

The rise of anxiety and low mood in the modern world is alarming. With the number of people increasingly being medicated for such disorders, it would make sense that the amount of people suffering would improve and as a population we were more content and happier. This is not the case. We need to look deeper into the root cause of these illnesses.

Our body is one system. Our brains and our bodies are connected. The food that creates health or illness in our bodies, similarly plays a role in creating health or illness in our brains.

What is anxiety and low mood? 

Anxiety and low mood isn't as simple as black and white  there is a spectrum and two people experiencing anxiety or low mood could be on completely different ends of the spectrum.

There is also a difference between feeling depressed and having depression, just the same as there's a difference between having anxious thoughts and having anxiety. Having a diagnosed condition is often debilitating, getting in the way of regular, everyday life. However, don't let perceived severity or lack of, stop you from seeking help. Stress is common; this doesn't mean it needs to be normal.

If you're struggling with anxiety or low mood in any capacity, it is a good idea to seek support. Stress that isn't dealt with has the potential to become pathological. Nip it in the bud.

Can nutrient deficiencies make you anxious?

While it's hard to know for sure what is really driving anxiety and low mood, there is mounting research to suggest there may be nutrient deficiencies playing a significant role.

We need to address the underlying dysfunctions of the system as a whole, this is, mind and body, that give rise to conditions like anxiety and low mood.

Micronutrients are the building blocks of our neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that tell the cells in your body what to do. Serotonin, dopamine and GABA  known as our 'happy hormones'  are neurotransmitters that play a big role in our mood, lighting up areas in our brain. So, when you have nutritional deficiencies, you can see how our brains are having a harder time generating the ingredients needed for creating and sending the messages.

  • Zinc and Magnesium - essential components that help make neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, our happy hormones!
  • Vitamin D - Lowered levels are associated with lowered mood  Seasonal Affective Disorder is more common in places which have significantly shorter days in Winter such as Iceland.
  • Omega 3's  - Studies have found high intake of omega 3s can reduce depression.
  • B vitamins - An essential component to help make neurotransmitters.
  • Selenium - An essential mineral for the thyroid gland. New Zealand soils are significantly deficient.

Which foods can help anxiety and low mood?

As mentioned earlier, the foods we eat affect how we feel. This means eating food rich in macro and micronutrients, not only nourishes your body, but also your mind. Let's take a closer look at foods you can add into your diet that may help combat anxiety and low mood.

  • Oily fish -Rich in vitamin D and omega 3's, such as salmon and sardines
  • Green leafy vegetables - Rich in B9 and magnesium
  • Brazil nuts are loaded with selenium. Eating just 2 - 3 a day provides you with your recommended daily intake.
  • Oysters and pumpkin seeds both are rich in zinc.
  • Buckwheat is a great gluten-free alternative and is rich in B vitamins and magnesium.
  • Turmeric - has strong anti-inflammatory properties like cucurmin.
  • Fermented foods feed the good bacteria in our gut, the health of our gut is directly related to the health of our brain.
  • Chicken and fish are rich in vitamin B6
  • Turkey for tryptophan is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps you to feel calm. Tryptophan in the form of meat, has been shown to reduce anxiety disorders.
  • Red meat - specifically grass-fed organic red meat is rich in iron and B12.

Seeking help

Please see your GP if you have concerns regarding your mood and anxiety.

If your situation is an emergency, or if you or someone is at risk, call 111.

For support, you can contact: 1737, Need to Talk? Free call or text anytime for support from a trained counsellor.

Lifeline 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Ben Warren's new tour 'Food, Mood and Anxiety' will be travelling to 18 locations around the country in the coming months. More information can be found here. Newshub readers can use the code NEWSHUB for $10 off seminar tickets anywhere around NZ.