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Stress, Anxiety and a Holistic Nutrition Approach: A focus on Blood Sugar, Digestion and the Brain

Amber Frazier Blog

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January tends to be the most optimistic time of the year. Many are inspired and encouraged by fresh starts and new beginnings…..well, that was until 2020. As we all know, that year quickly spiraled out of control for the entire world. Everything that was played over the airwaves was stress-inducing, to be sure. Heck, all of the news outlets had ‘death tickers’ showing minute-by-minute deaths throughout the US and the rest of the world.

We then approached 2021 with renewed hope and optimism. But, that was quickly shattered, too. Nothing seemed to return us to ‘normal’. Nothing! Instead, many people have remained paralyzed by fear. You get a minute where you think things are returning to normal…..and BAM….things get shut down again. Back to fear. Back to anxiety. Back to paralysis.

As we face the hopes and dreams of 2022, what will the reality be? Who knows? But, I’m hopeful that we’ve all discovered that while we can’t control WHO, CDC or politics…..we can absolutely control how we face each day.

Sadly, over the past two years, as we watch a staggering hike in stress, anxiety, sobriety relapses, and more, our healthcare experts who come on TV have not shared any doable action steps to help navigate the stress or anxiety responses.

Hope

The great news is that there are definitely foods you can eat more of to help ease stress and anxiety. And I mean foods with nutritional therapeutic benefits…..not junk food that puts you in a ‘carb coma’.  So instead of starting 2022 with the goal of ‘eating right’ or ‘exercising’, let’s start the new year off with ways to improve stress and anxiety levels. Because, when stress and anxiety are handled effectively, we have the energy to do the other things necessary to improve our health, from the inside.

What You Need To Know

When using nutrition therapy to improve stress and anxiety levels, there are a few things you’ll want to focus on. These include:

  • Blood Sugar Regulation
    • Helps with stress response
  • Digestive Health
    • Helps with stress response AND brain function
  • Proper Neurotransmitter Production
    • Helps with brain function

Blood Sugar Regulation

Though it’s easy to understand why many people would reach for ‘comfort’ food in times of stress, the truth is that when sugar levels increase, it also increases the release of the stress hormone called cortisol. When cortisol levels get out of balance, it impacts the ability to effectively handle stress AND it depletes important neurotransmitters that are responsible for healthy brain function.

Three foods that you can add to your nutrition therapy routine to help keep blood sugar levels well-balanced include:

  1. Broccoli – high in fiber
  2. Pistachios – contains healthy fats to regulate insulin response
  3. Cinnamon – sprinkle in coffee, tea, yogurt, oats, etc
    1. The National Institutes of Health stated: ‘The consumption of cinnamon is associated with a statistically significant decrease in levels of fasting plasma glucose, total cholesterol, LDL-C, and triglyceride levels, and an increase in HDL-C levels.’

Digestive Health

A few years ago, The National Institutes of Health released research that stated: ‘It has become increasingly evident in recent years that the gut microbiome and the brain communicate in a bidirectional manner, with each affecting the other’s functions.’  This tells us that if your digestive tract is unhealthy, it can easily lead to the brain being unhealthy, too. The good news is that there are foods you can eat to help your digestive tract work better, which then allows your brain to work better.

My favorite three foods to add would include:

  1. Plain, full-fat Greek yogurt – filled with probiotics to help heal the digestive tract
  2. Kombucha (please get in RAW form) – fermented beverage that is also filled with probiotics
    1. This might take some getting used to….but stick with it. You’ll find that the flavor grows on you and the health benefits are amazing.
  3. Apples – especially Granny Smith
    1. Loaded with pectin, a fiber that’s healing to your digestive tract

Brain Health

In order to minimize the risk of stress and anxiety, it’s crucial that you have optimal production of three key neurotransmitters. These are dopamine, gamma aminobutyric acid (more commonly known as GABA), and serotonin.

As I mentioned above, regarding the importance of blood sugar regulation, cortisol plays a key role. And, it plays a key role here, too. Elevated levels of cortisol can decrease levels of dopamine, GABA, and serotonin.

This is important to understand because one of the key roles of dopamine is to allow your brain to feel pleasure. If you don’t have enough dopamine, it’s difficult to feel any pleasure….but sadly, it’s easy to feel stress and anxiety.

Though it’s a neurotransmitter, serotonin is often called the ‘happy hormone’ and decreases the risk of developing depression. However, if stress is depleting your levels of serotonin, stress, anxiety, and depression levels all increase.

GABA is often thought of as the ‘anti-anxiety’ neurotransmitter. When you have optimal levels, you are able to effectively deal with stressors and not fall into an anxious state. However, if GABA levels drop, anxiety levels can go way up.

Now that we understand the role of dopamine, serotonin, and GABA in stress and anxiety, let’s talk about the foods you can eat to improve the production of these key neurotransmitters.

Dopamine

  • Green tea – rich in theanine
  • Pumpkin seeds – rich in tyrosine and tryptophan
  • Eggs – rich in choline

Serotonin

  • Eggs – rich in choline
  • Pumpkin seeds – rich in tryptophan and tyrosine
  • Turkey – rich in tryptophan

GABA

  • Slow-cooked meats – yay for crockpots
  • Bone broth – easy to make at home – yay for crockpots
  • Eggs – rich in choline
  • And, here’s some bonus information: GABA can also be synthesized in the gut by beneficial bacteria. Eating fermented foods that are rich in probiotics can help to increase GABA levels. Aren’t you glad I mentioned the role of digestive health earlier in this blog?

Conclusion:

So, what are the things we know, for sure? We definitely can’t do anything about what the media broadcasts to us all…..but we can turn off the tv. We can’t make stress go away….but we can nourish our bodies to allow us to effectively deal with the stress.

You can see that the foods I’ve mentioned above are most common and readily available. There won’t be much tweaking that you’ll need to do to improve your stress and anxiety levels. And that, in and of itself, should help to decrease your stress levels. 😊

If the thought of creating nourishing meals adds to your stress level, please seek out the help of a holistic nutrition therapist. They are skilled at determining the foods that will provide you with the best health benefits for your specific needs.

Easy Breakfast Yogurt

Here is a very simple recipe for you to use to reduce your stress levels and improve digestive health, starting today.

digestive health yogurt with blueberries on top in a brown ceramic bowl on a white kitchen towel

Serves 1

6-8 ounces plain, full-fat Greek yogurt

1/4C blueberries – with its’ own set of brain-boosting powers

1-2 tbs pumpkin seeds

½ – 1 tsp cocoa powder – with its’ own set of brain-boosting powers

¼ – ½ tsp cinnamon

½-1 tsp maple syrup – optional

Mix all ingredients and enjoy

If you want an even easier breakfast, grab two hard-boiled eggs and 1-2 tbs pumpkin seeds.

Make sure you enjoy either breakfast with a nice glass of warm green tea. There are many tea options to choose from.

Your brain will thank you, as your stress and anxiety starts to melt away.

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About the author

Dr Becky Spacke, teaches holistic nutrition courses at Nutrition Therapy Institute. In addition, she has a private practice, working with people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. You can learn more by visiting www.HealingFromAlz.com

About Nutrition Therapy Institute’s Holistic Nutrition Certification

Nutrition Therapy Institute (NTI) is a leader in holistic nutrition education. Since 1999, NTI has provided students with the highest quality in nutrition training by offering comprehensive holistic nutrition courses online and in-person to help students achieve thriving careers as holistic nutrition therapists in the field of holistic nutrition counseling and wellness. Interested in starting our holistic nutrition courses and earning your holistic nutrition certification? Attend an informational webinar to learn more by signing up HERE.

Images:

Image by johnhain from Pixabay

Image is licensed under CC0

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