Still working on it…my TCM nutrition book. One whole section of it will contain food suggestions for various health conditions. Because so many suffer from anxiety, I thought that would be a good section to share with all of you now.
Treating anxiety with food
Though there are several different types of anxiety—including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias—and a wide range in severity of anxiety symptoms, the general symptoms include feeling panicked or uneasy, palpitations, shortness of breath, dry mouth, cold or sweaty hands or feet, muscle tension, dizziness, nausea, and problems sleeping.
TCM usually looks to the Water and Earth elements when addressing anxiety, as it is a combination of fear and worry. The Water element is related to the Kidneys and adrenal glands that pump out stress hormones. Some salty flavoured foods address this issue. The Earth element is fed by whole sweet foods, including complex carbohydrates. Unrefined complex carbohydrates maximize the presence of L-tryptophan in the brain which aids in the formation of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is required for calming the mind and promoting sound sleep. L-tryptophan is found in most foods, but other amino acids in high-protein foods compete with its use in the formation of serotonin, so carbohydrates are your best source.
Of course you shouldn’t go overboard on the salty or sweet foods, and you may notice you crave these foods when you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed. But, look to find a healthy balance of whole foods that include these flavours.
Whole grains fit this category, as they are rich in B vitamins. They also contain some essential fatty acids, like the omega-3s you’ve probably heard about time and again as a thing you should make sure you eat. When the germ and bran of a grain is kept, you get these nutrients, and the bitter flavour of the whole grain supports the TCM Heart, helping to calm the mind. The interesting thing is that TCM and Ayurveda both use whole grains like wheat and barley (both gluten grains) as herbs and foods to help calm the mind and even improve digestion. That is, if your digestive system is not completely out of balance.
Foods rich in essential fatty acids and magnesium are also key to addressing anxiety. Essential fatty acids help improve brain function. Magnesium has been called “the original chill pill,” as it can help decrease an overactive stress response through a number of hormonal and brain mechanisms.
Put it all together, and these are foods that can help treat and decrease your anxiety.
- Chamomile tea is calming and ideal for the evening
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens
- Green tea contains L-theanine which helps release chemicals in the brain that promote a feeling of alertness with calmness during the day
- Magnesium-rich foods, including beans (black, kidney, lima, navy, pinto, white, etc.), halibut, tuna, artichoke, dates, figs, barley, oat bran, brown rice, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, lentils, broccoli, beet greens, okra, parsnips, peas, pumpkin, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes
- Omega-3 essential fatty acid foods, including wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring; also chia seeds, flax seeds (ground), and walnuts
- Seaweeds such as dulse, kelp, kombu, nori, wakame
Foods that are best avoided or limited include stimulants like caffeine-containing food and beverages and processed or concentrated sugary foods.