Anxiety is known to many of us. In fact, here in Australia 1 in 4 Australian adults will experience anxiety during their lifetime with more than 2 million of us succumbing to it in any one year. With all that is going on at the moment with job insecurity, pay-cuts, job losses, stay-at-home policies and social distancing I cannot help but wonder if there will be a dramatic increase in these figures.

Scarily, 50% of all lifetime mood and mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, begin before 14 years of age and 75% by the age of 25. I also question the impact of the current pandemic on the mental health of our children and adolescents. Over the last few weeks, the vast majority have had no alternative but to study online from home with little social interaction with their peers beyond their devices.

Often, we can end up feeling that life is out of our control. One aspect of supporting mental health that is frequently overlooked and that we can control, is eating a healthier diet. It’s so tempting when we’re feeling stuck or low to reach for the refined carbs, the chips or cookies or even a wine or beer, but their “lift” is usually short-lived and may result in a worsening of anxiety or other symptoms. Research has shown that eating a nutrient-dense diet can help a host of mood disorders like anxiety and panic.

Variety is key with a selection of colourful veggies, a good serve of protein and a plentiful dose of healthy fats. The foods that we eat provide the foundations for many of our brain chemicals and the enzymes needed for optimal functioning of our nervous system. Thus there is a definite link between anxiety and food.

Quality protein breaks down in to the amino acids that make many brain-friendly compounds such as the calming GABA, happy-hormone serotonin and pleasurable dopamine.  Organic or grass-fed meats, eggs, poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds and legumes (if you can tolerate them) are all good protein sources.

Fatty acids are essential for the formation of cell membranes including the neurons which transport our brain messages. They help lessen inflammation and enhance the brain’s integrity and ability to perform.  Coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds, ghee and avocados are all good as well as omega-3 rich foods such as sardines, salmon, and mackerel.

Fruit and veggies are packed full of the micro-nutrients that help make these brain-friendly compounds as well as being involved in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body. Think B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Zinc and Magnesium for starters. Eating a rainbow of colourful fresh produce, preferably organic, at each meal is the best way to ensure that you are getting a good mix of nutrients. You can find out which fruits and veggies have the least amounts of pesticide residues, such as avocado and cauliflower here.  And the ones with the highest residues, which includes strawberries and spinach can be found here.

For my lunch today, I’ve combined tinned wild salmon, avocado and walnuts with a salad dished up on a serve of leftover brown rice, topped with alfalfa and bean sprouts. Nourishing, and satisfying my protein and fat needs to help my brain function optimally.

To get the most out of the food that you eat it is imperative that your digestive system is working well otherwise you can eat the best diet in the world but without getting the nutritious benefit. This is where targetted supplementation may help.