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How food can help with anxiety

The mind-gut connection is real, and in these anxious times, it's important to eat right for better physical as well as mental health

Choose a millet salad for a light evening snack
Choose a millet salad for a light evening snack (iStock)

If you are feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed, you are not alone. We are in a bad-mood epidemic, which is as large as the Covid epidemic itself. Much of our increasing stress comes a dysfunctional gut-brain connection, nutritional needs that are not met, or our own compromised ability to absorb what we are eating due to poor gut health.

Your brain sends you clues when it’s not functioning at its optimum. Not sleeping well, losing the ability to be enthusiastic about stuff, craving sugar, dependence on intoxicants, feeling overwhelmed—these are all signs of stress. A large part of how happy you are is related to levels of the neurotransmitter or hormone serotonin, which also helps with sleeping, digestion, eating. There are many reasons for low serotonin levels including a genetic predisposition, and diet plays a big role in it too, especially foods that deplete serotonin, like caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar, and artificial sweeteners, which have ingredients that interfere with serotonin production.

While you should seek help from a psychiatrist or therapist if you experience prolonged depression, what you eat can affect your mood as well.

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Here are a few major food groups that you should include in your diet every day for a healthy gut and mind:

1.Complex carbohydrates are a good source of sugars and fibre, and promote smooth functioning of the digestive tract. I cannot over-emphasize the necessity of including whole grains such as brown/red rice and millets in the daily diet.

2. Good quality protein helps you stay satiated and keeps blood sugars stable. This means lean protein if you are non-vegetarians, and aged cheese, cottage cheese and plant-based protein if you are a vegetarian. Eat 20-30 grams of protein per meal.

3. Vegetables, especially coloured vegetables that have plenty of beta carotene that converts to Vitamin A to repair skin and the gut lining, as well as leafy greens and green vegetables.

4.Fermented foods are a crucial part of any diet plan. Foods like sauerkraut, quick pickles, non-dairy kefir, kimchee are highly recommended as they feed the gut bacteria, help assimilate food and also aid the gut to secrete serotonin. They help produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter responsible for conducting nerve impulses, calming the parasympathetic nervous system.

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5. Nuts and seeds bring in the trace minerals, good fats – especially omega-3 fats (increases dopamine), also found in oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds and cold-pressed oils.

6. Fruits, which provide a plethora of vitamins and antioxidants to help the gut repair itself. Fruits are rich in B6, the vitamin that your brain must have in order to make serotonin. They also protect the brain cell membrane, promoting all neurotransmitter activity. Vitamin C is a stress fighting vitamin found in most fruits.

Shonali Sabherwal is a macrobiotic nutritionist/chef and the author of three books, The Beauty Diet, The Detox Diet, and The Love Diet

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