Are your food choices making you anxious?

by Laura Gale

Is your diet making you anxious?

Anxiety encompasses feelings of worry, apprehension, fear and nervousness. These feelings can be difficult to manage and can impede on our ability to live a comfortable life.  For some, feelings of anxiety are characterised by a diagnosed anxiety disorder and might include panic attacks; while for others, anxiety results in a restless mind that is unable to put aside worry, and feelings of stress that are out of proportion to the problem at hand.

Regardless, it is important not to overlook the key role that diet plays in the management of anxiety.  Alongside other tools such as pharmaceutical medicines, herbal and nutritional therapeutics, and lifestyle strategies; what we eat can impact how our brain operates, and how our body experiences stress.

The major player to consider is blood glucose (also known as blood sugar).  Blood glucose that is too high or too low can result in feelings of aggression, irritability, nervousness, fatigue, confusion, and shakiness or having the ‘jitters’.   All of which can also be recognised as symptoms of anxiety.

Our blood glucose levels are impacted by what we eat via the rate at which sugar enters the blood stream following a meal, and similarly by the rate at which it drops as it is taken into cells to be stored for later use.

Being mindful to avoid blood glucose spikes and sharp drops can help anxiety sufferers ensure that their diet is not worsening stressful symptoms.

The first consideration is ensuring that meals are not skipped over the course of a day.  Skipping meals can lead to drops in blood glucose levels and a propensity to sharp spikes when reaching for high-energy snacks to stave off hunger.

In addition, the following outlines 5 Key Elements to include in the diet to ensure anxiety is not worsened by the diet:

  1. Wholegrains

Carbohydrate-rich foods need to be chosen carefully.  Lower glycaemic index carbohydrates, such as wholegrains, will have a steadier impact on blood glucose levels. This contrasts with ‘white’ carbohydrates (white rice, bread, pasta etc), which can cause spikes in blood glucose levels due to the speed with which they’re released into the bloodstream.

  1. Healthy fats

Eating meals that contain multiple macronutrients, such as carbohydrates with healthy fats, can slow the rate at which the carbohydrate is absorbed into the blood stream, preventing spikes or sharp drops in blood glucose levels.

  1. Protein

Along with choosing low-GI carbohydrate options, making sure all meals and snacks include a protein source is critical for blood glucose control.  Like fat-containing foods, protein slows or blunts the absorption of sugars, ensuring a more stable blood glucose level between meals.

  1. High fibre foods

Fibre, in particular soluble fibre, can slow the absorption of sugar from carbohydrates and help improve and promote stable blood glucose levels. Examples of soluble fibre include oats, nuts, seeds, lentils and legumes.  Fibre also promotes feelings of fullness between meals.

  1. Magnesium-rich foods

Magnesium is an important nutrient for the regulation of blood glucose levels via its role in increasing the sensitivity of cells to insulin, which helps lower blood glucose levels efficiently.  Magnesium-rich foods include green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and wholegrains.

It is also important to avoid certain things to avoid sharp spikes and associated drops in blood glucose.  Heavily processed carbohydrate foods (think packaged cakes, biscuits, white bread, snack foods), have little nutritional value and can contribute to disordered blood glucose levels.  The same goes for sugary drinks and ‘white’ carbohydrate foods, i.e. bread, pasta, rice.

Anxiety is multifactorial in nature.  Whether a diagnosed anxiety disorder, or feelings of worry or stress that are out of proportion to the concern, anxiety can limit a person’s ability to comfortably move through their day.  Whilst what we eat is unlikely to be the cause of anxiety, eating a diet that supports stable blood glucose levels will certainly go a long way toward eliminating a contributing factor that is easy to control.

Recipe – Quinoa porridge (serves 2)

A great breakfast recipe that promotes soluble fibre, protein and low GI carbohydrates to get your blood glucose off to a steady start for the day.

¼ cup rolled oats
¼ cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 ½ cups water
1 banana, thinly sliced
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp nut butter
2 tbsp chia seeds


Place the oats, quinoa, water, and banana into a saucepan on medium heat.

Once the porridge begins to boil, add the cinnamon, and lower the heat.

Simmer for about 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally until the quinoa grains begin to show their little tails.

Once the quinoa is cooked, take the porridge off the heat and stir in the nut butter and chia seeds.  Divide into two bowls and top with natural yoghurt (or coconut yoghurt if dairy-free) and fresh or frozen berries.


For further information or to book a consultation with Laura contact the clinic on 035977 0117 or visit the website to book online. 

This article is intended to be informational only and represents the opinion of the author. It is not intended to be used as medical advice and does not take the place of advice from a qualified health care practitioner in a clinical setting. Please check with your healthcare practitioner before embarking upon any of the treatments discussed.