Stress and anxiety diet

The E-CENT Stress and Anxiety Diet

By Dr Jim Byrne © 2011-2017

Introduction

Dr-Jim-Self-AcceptanceThis document is intended for educational purposes only, and does not pretend to be medical advice.  Bear in mind that each individual body is probably pretty unique, because of its unique nutritional journey through life.  We are changed by the foods we eat, and some experts would say we ‘are what we eat’.

Furthermore, there are many expert nutritionists available today, at reasonable fees; and you would be well advised to see a nutritionist, or other medical practitioner if you are concerned there might be a link between your current emotional state and your diet.

As far as I can tell, there is no universal agreement about the precise kind of diet which will promote or reduce stress, although we have some pretty good ideas of some of the major culprits, and some of the main forms of ‘best practice’.

As with other forms of healthy eating, it is advisable to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.  (Many experts recommend the ‘Mediterranean diet’).

Eating organic foods is one way of minimizing the chemical pollutants that get into our bodies and impair our ability to function healthily in the face of the pressures and strains of daily life, according to Bart Cunningham, PhD.[1]   There is also recent research which suggests a link between trans-fats (including hydrogenated fats in processed foods) and aggression, irritability and impatience.[2]

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Chill Out: How to control your stress level, and have a happier life

Dr Jim Byrne

If you want to be successful and happy, then you have to know how to switch off your “fight or flight response” when it is triggered inappropriately.  (You cannot run away from a work or relationship challenge.  And you cannot fight a traffic jam or justified bill for house repairs).  If you want to avoid failure and unhappiness, you must learn how to avoid freezing when social pressures build up.  To summarise these statements, we can say: You must know how to manage your stress level, if you want to be happy and successful, at home and at work.

This book presents a comprehensive, multi-modal approach to stress management, which takes account of mental stress, physical stress, and environmental stressors.

For more about this book, please go to Chill Out: How to control your stress level, and have a happier life.***

~~~

The Stress Management Society gives the following advice: “If you want a strong nervous system, boost your intake of vitamins B, C and E, together with minerals magnesium and zinc. The best source of these nutrients is from food, rather than supplements. So eat a balanced diet of meat, nuts, seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables and oily fish. If you need to snack during the day, try pumpkin or sunflower seeds and fruit, particularly bananas. Fresh organic food is the best source. If you can’t get fresh, frozen vegetables are a reasonable alternative as much of their nutritional content is retained.” [3]

We suggest you follow most of this advice, except for the supplementation of vitamins and minerals.  Unless you are on a wholly organic diet, your food will be largely denatured and devoid of much nutritional value; therefore you need to use vitamin and mineral supplements of a good, natural-source quality.

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The Stress Management Society also rightly emphasizes the importance of drinking lots of water over the course of the day: “If you want to deal with stress, drink water. It hydrates every part of the body and brain and helps you to better cope with stressful situations. A good rule is to take a few sips every 15 minutes. The best source is room-temperature still water bought in glass bottles (some plastic bottles can leach chemicals into the water inside) or use a jug filter system that you fill from the tap.” (Stress Management Society, 2012/2016)

There is a lot of emphasis today on having five portions per day of fruit and vegetables.  Before that particular campaign began, the Department of Health (in Britain), was recommending that about fifty to seventy percent of our daily intake of food should come from complex carbohydrate, such as brown rice, pasta, wholemeal bread, millet, potatoes, and so on.  About twenty-five percent should be unsaturated fats, from sources like oily fish, nuts, seeds, cold-pressed oils, like olive oil, flaxseed oil, and so on.  And ideally you need about fifteen percent of your food intake to be in the form of protein sources such as meat, especially liver, fish (especially oily varieties, though some white fish is very good for the brain), and eggs (preferably organic free range).

Chill Out: How to control your stress level, and have a happier life

Dr Jim Byrne

If you want to be successful and happy, then you have to know how to switch off your “fight or flight response” when it is triggered inappropriately.  (You cannot run away from a work or relationship challenge.  And you cannot fight a traffic jam or justified bill for house repairs).  If you want to avoid failure and unhappiness, you must learn how to avoid freezing when social pressures build up.  To summarise these statements, we can say: You must know how to manage your stress level, if you want to be happy and successful, at home and at work.

This book presents a comprehensive, multi-modal approach to stress management, which takes account of mental stress, physical stress, and environmental stressors.

For more about this book, please go to Chill Out: How to control your stress level, and have a happier life.***

~~~

Some theorists believe that combining complex carbohydrates with a protein can reduce stress and provide a solid fuel for daily energy requirements. This, however, contradicts the Hay Diet, which recommends keeping carbohydrates and proteins separate, in meals separated by at least four hours!  Others argue that too much carbohydrate, especially refined forms, could cause stress.  On the other hand, oily fish, like salmon, mackerel and sardines, with green vegetables and complex carbohydrate are believed to be particularly beneficial.

And there are earlier scientific studies to support the claim that oily fish can be helpful in the reduction of panic attacks (which are anxiety, about anxiety, about anxiety). (See Perretta, 2001, page 90)[4].

And Cunningham (2001) maintains that fast foods, which are normally high in fats and sugars “…are stressful to our systems”. (Page 201).  So eliminating fast foods would seem like a sensible precaution as part of a stress management programme.  And getting rid of sugar and salt in general from our diets is sometimes said to be a good idea, though some theorists think a small amount of salt is needed by the body to function normally.  In general, however, western diets are overloaded with salt and sugar, and a vast reduction seems to be called for, as high blood sugar levels are bad for stress levels, and high salt levels are implicated in heart attacks and strokes.

The Ph Diet is an interesting one, which emphasizes the general guideline that about 75% of the content of each main meal should comprise vegetables.  Pasta, rice and potatoes should never be taken as more than a small side dish!  (and the Paleo diet now recommends the elimination of all grains and dairy products from the diet – as these are seen as sources of inflammation, which seems to underlie all forms of physical disease, and perhaps some elements of emotional disturbance also). Avoid pizzas, burgers and other processed foods.  Additionally, as Nicki Woodward writes: “Acidifying foods should be reduced in the diet as much as possible. According to C Vasey, author of The Acid-Alkaline Diet,… these foods are primarily rich in proteins, carbohydrates and/or fats. Cheese, vegetable oils, hard animal fats, bread, pasta, white sugar and coffee fall into this category”. Source: http://www.positivehealth.com/article/cellular-chemistry/stress-diet-and-body-acidification.

Chill Out: How to control your stress level, and have a happier life

Dr Jim Byrne

If you want to be successful and happy, then you have to know how to switch off your “fight or flight response” when it is triggered inappropriately.  (You cannot run away from a work or relationship challenge.  And you cannot fight a traffic jam or justified bill for house repairs).  If you want to avoid failure and unhappiness, you must learn how to avoid freezing when social pressures build up.  To summarise these statements, we can say: You must know how to manage your stress level, if you want to be happy and successful, at home and at work.

This book presents a comprehensive, multi-modal approach to stress management, which takes account of mental stress, physical stress, and environmental stressors.

For more about this book, please go to Chill Out: How to control your stress level, and have a happier life.***

~~~

As a general rule, we can definitely say that you could benefit from minimizing your consumption of caffeine (coffee, tea, cocoa, cola drinks); sugar; processed foods (especially pastries, pastas and white bread); salt; and saturated dietary fat.  Reduce or eliminate smoking; alcohol consumption; and breathing polluted air. (Cunningham, 2001).  Butter is probably quite bad for you, and margarine is even worse, so small amounts of extra virgin olive oil dribbled on your bread might be better, but keep the quantity to about one teaspoon per day, as processing fats uses up your body’s water content, which results in dehydration.  It is important to drink at least six or eight glasses of water per day, preferably mineral water, or a combination of mineral water and filtered water.

Don’t skip your breakfast, no matter how late or busy you might be, as you need a solid supply of glucose, burning slowly throughout the morning to keep your blood sugar level at a suitable and fairly constant level.  Porridge or cooked fish make a good, slow-burning breakfast; or wholemeal brown toast and eggs.  Make sure you eat at least three nutritious meals every day; and have a light snack mid-morning and mid afternoon, to keep your blood sugar level up.  Always eat in a relaxing environment.  And avoid simple sugars, as they are seen to over-boost blood sugar levels, precipitating insulin release, and a quick fall back in blood sugar levels, thus reducing energy, concentration, and potentially boosting stress levels via the release of adrenalin.

The worst kind of breakfast is no breakfast at all!

The next worse kind of breakfasts is one of refined carbohydrate and simple sugars, such as white toast, or any kind of bread made from refined flour; sugary cereals; jams and marmalades; and so on.

The best kind of breakfast consists of complex carbohydrate, such as porridge or muesli, combined with a couple of pieces of fresh fruit, such as apples or bananas.  (However, watch out for gluten intolerance in yourself – and if necessary, use gluten-free breakfast cereals.  Also watch out for food intolerances – allergic reactions – and eliminate those foods to which you are currently allergic).  A couple of times per week, a protein breakfast would be good, such as grilled mackerel, kippers, or traditional bacon and egg, etc.  It is best to eat like a “king/queen” at breakfast, to fuel your morning’s work.  Then have a reasonable lunch, to carry you through the afternoon.  And finally, have a light meal in the evening.

Mid morning and mid afternoon, it is important to have both (small) snacks and (10 minute) naps.  The best forms of snacks are probably a handful of nuts or seeds, and a piece of fruit, with a bottle of mineral water or a herbal tea.   Brazil nuts are particularly high in selenium and magnesium, which are both calming.  Dr John Briffa believes that just three or four Brazil nuts per day can stabilize the moods of anxious individuals.[4]  If you prefer to take a magnesium supplement, then 400 milligrams per day is probably a good level to take.  Some theorists believe milk is particularly helpful, because its calcium content is calming. However, it also contains lactose, which is a form of sugar, so watch the consumption level.  Raw food is very important, as much cooked food is very low in nutrition, and especially enzymes, which are essential for digestion: so one salad meal per day would seem to be sensible.

Chill Out: How to control your stress level, and have a happier life

Dr Jim Byrne

If you want to be successful and happy, then you have to know how to switch off your “fight or flight response” when it is triggered inappropriately.  (You cannot run away from a work or relationship challenge.  And you cannot fight a traffic jam or justified bill for house repairs).  If you want to avoid failure and unhappiness, you must learn how to avoid freezing when social pressures build up.  To summarise these statements, we can say: You must know how to manage your stress level, if you want to be happy and successful, at home and at work.

This book presents a comprehensive, multi-modal approach to stress management, which takes account of mental stress, physical stress, and environmental stressors.

For more about this book, please go to Chill Out: How to control your stress level, and have a happier life.***

~~~

However there really is no alternative to experimenting with these ideas, and trying to map the effects of particular kinds of food on your energy level and your mood.  We do know from scientific studies that caffeine and alcohol are particular causes of concern, in that they stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, causing irritability and anger, anxiety, panic attacks, depression and insomnia. (Perretta, 2001, page 88).  Smoking also tends to increase stress levels, and some recreational drugs are also stressors.  Therefore, many practitioners advocate restricting your intake of caffeine to two cups of coffee per day, or four cups of tea.  Dr John Briffa recommends complete elimination of caffeine for individuals who are “on the anxious side”.[5]  Most practitioners recommend consuming less than two units of alcohol every other day, maximum; and slowly getting off tobacco completely.  Marijuana has also been implicated in the causation of panic attacks and paranoia.

Because modern methods of agriculture have resulted in reduced levels of nutrition in our foods, and many of these foods are further denatured by the food processing industry, you are strongly advised to take a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement, plus a full spectrum B-complex, including B9 (folate); magnesium and calcium.  You will also benefit from extra vitamin C (at least one gram per day, and perhaps more). Perretta (2001) recommends the following foods in particular: avocado; mushrooms; spring greens and spinach; liver; millet; guava and papaya.  Green vegetables are recommended by many nutritionists.  And don’t forget the oily fish!  It aids all brain functions, including managing stress.  (Best oily fish: Wild Alaskan salmon, which is available in tins at Marks and Spencer; tinned sardines, which can be with tomato sauce for taste purposes; grilled fresh mackerel; or trout).

See also my ‘More on Diet and Brain Functioning’ page, at: The Way-Back Machine.***

And also: Patrick Holford’s description of the effects of a change of diet on violent prisoners in Aylesbury, Bucks, UK: http://diet-and-crime.blogspot.com/

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Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2011-2017

[1] Cunningham, J. Barton (2001) The Stress Management Sourcebook.  Second edition.  Los Angeles: Lowell House.

[2]Perretta, L. (2001) Brain Food: the essential guide to boosting brain power.  London: Hamlyn.

[3] Cunningham, J. Barton (2001) The Stress Management Sourcebook.  Second edition.  Los Angeles: Lowell House.

[4]Dr John Briffa, ‘High Anxiety’, Observer Magazine, 19th June 2005, page 61.

[5]Dr John Briffa, ‘High Anxiety’, Observer Magazine, 19th June 2005, page 61

Chill Out: How to control your stress level, and have a happier life

Dr Jim Byrne

If you want to be successful and happy, then you have to know how to switch off your “fight or flight response” when it is triggered inappropriately.  (You cannot run away from a work or relationship challenge.  And you cannot fight a traffic jam or justified bill for house repairs).  If you want to avoid failure and unhappiness, you must learn how to avoid freezing when social pressures build up.  To summarise these statements, we can say: You must know how to manage your stress level, if you want to be happy and successful, at home and at work.

This book presents a comprehensive, multi-modal approach to stress management, which takes account of mental stress, physical stress, and environmental stressors.

For more about this book, please go to Chill Out: How to control your stress level, and have a happier life.***

~~~

[1] Cunningham, J. B. (2001) The Stress Management Sourcebook.  Second edition.  Los Angeles: Lowell House.

[2] Winnie Yu (2012) High trans-fat diet predicts aggression: People who eat more hydrogenated oils are more aggressive.  Scientific American Mind, July 2012. Available online: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/high-trans-fat-diet-predicts-aggresion/

[3] Stress Management Society (2012/2016) Nutritional stress and health: The “Think ‘nervous'” box. Available online: http://www.stress.org.uk/Diet-and-nutrition.aspx

[4] Perretta, L. (2001) Brain Food: the essential guide to boosting brain power.  London: Hamlyn.

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