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Anxiety, Stress, Depression & Nutrition – the Food/Fear Connection

Much of what I write about comes from experience relative to my own personal life, as well as to those whom I’ve helped in the past. The topics of anxiety, panic, stress and depression are not ones which I’ve written much about yet, but are ones that I have researched quite thoroughly – for the purposes of self-help as much as for anything. These problems, at their most basic level, can be a “bear” to deal with. I know, because they’ve been a very real part of my life for as long as I can remember.

With that in mind, there are some very key nutritional guidelines that one can implement to help alleviate or at least minimize symptoms of such issues. If you are one who is struggling with anxiety, depression, high stress, panic disorder or even OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), here are some basic dietary recommendations that I believe may help you better cope –

  1. Stay away from Splenda (sucralose), Nutrasweet (aspartame), Sweet & Low (saccharine). Also, beware of generic brands of the same. There is a lot of information out there about the dangerous neurological effects and symptoms of these artificial sweeteners. They are known for their ability to either cause or increase anxiety symptoms. I’ve experienced this personally. You can find out more about it by doing a simple search on the internet or you can read more about them in Mercola’s book, Sweet Deception: Why Splenda, NutraSweet, and the FDA May Be Hazardous to Your Health. Personally, I used to use a lot of Splenda, but found that it was followed by extreme moments of anxiety, along with it’s related symptoms of dizziness and a spacey or disconnected feeling in my head. If I ingest these chemicals now, I can almost immediately feel the same effects after using them. Keep in mind that many, many foods use these artificial sweeteners, including most chewing gum brands. If you want your head to stay clear and feel normal, stay away from them. This includes ALL DIET SODAS.
  2. Avoid MSG (monosodium glutamate) like the plague. MSG is a taste “enhancer” that increases the sensitivity of your taste buds so that foods taste better and thus, are more addicting. Unfortunately, nowadays MSG is in virtually every kind of processed food out there. Even more unfortunate is that much of the time, MSG is hidden in the ingredients label of foods – masked by one of its forty or so “other” names. Again, you can easily find a list of these names by internet search. Don Colbert also has an informative writeup on MSG in his book, The Seven Pillars of Health, which I highly recommend. Monosodium glutamate is known to cause a variety of adverse reactions, some of which are depression and anxiety/panic attacks, as well as a host of other anxiety related symptoms. It’s not an easy task, but avoiding this harmful “FDA approved” chemical has shown to greatly relieve anxiety, panic and depression for many people.
  3. Control your caffeine intake. I love coffee, tea and chocolate as much as anybody. But, too much caffeine is not good, at least not with regards to those who are prone to anxiety, depression, panic and high stress. Personally, the first cup of coffee or two enhances my mood, increases my productivity and gives me a general feeling of satiety. Anything more than that and I need someone to “talk me down off the ledge.” Large caffeine doses (200 mg or greater) may produce negative mood effects. If you’re a generally moody person, perhaps you need to watch your caffeine intake. High dietary doses have been known to increase anxiety ratings and induce panic attacks in the general population. Individuals with panic and anxiety disorders are especially sensitive to the effects of caffeine. Although highly anxious individuals tend to be more likely to limit their caffeine use, not all individuals with anxiety problems naturally avoid caffeine, and some may fail to recognize the role that caffeine plays in their anxiety symptoms. Again, keep in mind that sodas also contain a high content of caffeine.
  4. Minimize your sugar intake. Like many, I also have a sweet tooth. Eating processed sugars, besides making you fat, plays havoc with your moods due to the wide fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This may be one reason why so many overweight people struggle with anxiety and depression. Their moods rarely stabilize due to constant blood sugar fluctuations. Temporary happiness and a fleeting feeling of satiety come with eating foods high in processed sugars, creating this up-down-up-down syndrome. This can lead to a vicious cycle and an addictive way of eating. As for sugars, stay away from white refined sugar and anything that contains it. If you see the words “high fructose corn syrup” on a label, move on to something else. Furthermore beware of hidden words for sugar on labels, such as dextrose, maltose, glucose, sucrose, etc. These are the food industry’s way of tricking you into believing that there’s not so much sugar in food items. If you have to have sweetener in your coffee or tea, try Stevia. It may not taste as good at first, but you will grow accustomed to it. I actually like it quite a bit now. And I can tell you, I feel much much better when I don’t ingest a lot of processed sugar. If you feel you must eat sugar or sweets, do so at the end of a large meal, so it will more slowly released into your blood stream. This will help keep your mood stable as well as minimize weight gain.
  5. Minimize or eliminate alcohol use. I won’t overemphasize this point, but in general, when alcohol is used repeatedly as a stress reducer it can lead to addiction. While alcohol may cause an immediate euphoric feeling and relieve stress for a brief period of time, too much can actually cause stress through the releasing of hormones in the body. Alcohol has also been shown to cause the user to feel depressed and no longer be effective in relieving stress or anxiety. Other negative effects of alcohol on the body include but are not limited to: addiction, physiologic damage to organs and brain, depression and hopelessness. If you’re prone to high stress, anxiety and depression, your best bet is not to use it, but rather find healthier ways to cope.

This list, while not all inclusive, will help those who suffer from anxiety, panic, depression and high stress. If you are someone with a propensity for the above named problems, watching what you eat can greatly help you cope. The truth is – food is medicine. Furthermore, bad food is bad medicine.

If you’re suffering from anxiety, panic, depression and stress – apart from your life circumstances – take a look at your nutrition. While you may not be able to fully rectify your anxious and stressful situation, you can control what you eat.

What you put in your mouth will directly affect your emotions and mood.

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4 Responses to Anxiety, Stress, Depression & Nutrition – the Food/Fear Connection

  1. avatar
    Megan Thompson August 11, 2010 at 7:42 am #

    i thought aspartame can cause cancer in laboratory animals ‘

  2. avatar
    Rick Osborn August 11, 2010 at 9:07 am #

    Yes, that’s my understanding as well.

  3. avatar
    Ellie Hughes September 30, 2010 at 3:30 am #

    aspartame is known to cause cancer in laboratory animals so be careful,”.

  4. avatar
    Ted Uhlig July 25, 2019 at 1:54 pm #

    Very helpful. I have known the effects of aspartame and sucralose on my mood, but sometimes I have failed to read labels well. I appreciate the tip about eating sweets, if you must, at the end of a large meal. My wife avoided MSG because of how it affected digestion. I was not aware that it caused depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. I am sure the amount of fast food I eat is problematic.

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