Foods to Reduce Anxiety

June 5, 2017

Are you one of 38 million Americans who suffer from depression and anxiety? Did you know that the food you eat and your nutrition are directly correlated to how much anxiety you have? In today's show we talk about how different food and the lack of certain foods in your diet might increase your anxiety level.

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DAR: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition. I am Darlene Kvist, Certified Nutritionist Specialist, Licensed Nutritionist and host of Dishing Up Nutrition. If you or a family member are experiencing anxiety, then you will want to stay tuned. Your food and nutrition affect how much anxiety you have, that’s kind of a new thought for a lot of people, so we want to help you look at how food and nutrition are related to your anxiety.

MARCIE: I’m Marcie Vaske, licensed nutritionist. Today’s show is brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness, a company providing life-changing nutrition classes and life-changing nutrition counseling. I know this topic well, anxiety. I’ve really struggled with it my whole life but over the years, because I’m a nutritionist, I’ve really learned the connection between food and my own anxiety. So I know there are certain foods that will increase my anxiety level and the lack of some foods will increase my anxiety level.

DAR: You may look around and ask yourself, “Am I the only one experiencing anxiety?”

MARCIE: Or if you are a parent of a teenager, you may wonder “Why is my daughter or son experiencing so much anxiety and depression?”

DAR: The fact is, anxiety and depression affect 38 million Americans each year. Sadly, today many of our adolescents are experiencing so much anxiety that they need to drop out of school! We work with a lot of adolescents who have dropped out of school, maybe they are being home-schooled, because they just cannot tolerate going to school because they feel so anxious. As nutritionists, we understand how this can happen. We believe anxiety is caused by a brain function that is impacted by the foods you are eating. If we look at seemingly small insignificant changes in our diet in the last 100 years, we see that our food has been stripped of nutrients essential for a happy, well-balanced brains which ends up causing anxiety for many more people. These weren’t big changes, they were small insignificant changes that occurred over many, many years.

MARCIE: Now we’re just seeing a huge escalation in anxiety and depression. Every day we have clients coming in and that’s always a box checked. Many research studies have found that processed carbs, such as, cereal, pasta, chips high sugar treats and soda have contributed to excessive anxiety. I personally know cereal, which I ate a lot of, especially in college, definitely increased my anxiety and made me feel more tense all the time.

DAR: But I bet when you were eating it, you had no clue that it was the cereal causing the anxiety.

MARCIE: Oh, no connection. It was for sure college courses and life in general.

Dar: You may have found that sugar and processed carbs have set you up to have anxiety. If so, you have to ask yourself, “What am I eating to support my brain function?” Not many people walk around wondering that. An interesting study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a deficiency of a nutrient called, choline was significantly associated with anxiety. One study found that middle aged and older adults who had the highest rates of anxiety had the lowest levels of choline. We’ve never talked about choline before on the air, this is a new thing.

MARCIE: In our Weight and Wellness series, we teach you that when you eat egg yolks or fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, you are supporting your choline production. Choline is good for healthy brain function; so why not eat the entire egg and all the fatty fish you can to support your brain function and experience less anxiety.

DAR: Listeners, you have to ask yourself, are you eating the whole egg or just the egg white? We see this so often. Consider this, do you generally have more things to worry about today than your great grandmother had, or are experiencing anxiety, is it just a choline deficiency because you’ve only been eating egg whites.

Here’s something else to think about, have you been avoiding the egg yolk, because you have believed the old, outdated, inaccurate information that egg yolks were bad for us, because egg yolks contain cholesterol and fat? We still hear this in classes.

MARCIE: I just had a client last week ask me “I can really eat that many egg yolks?”

DAR: They think that it’s because there is cholesterol and fat in egg yolks. Perhaps you have become choline deficient because you believed this old, outdated, inaccurate information. Go ahead and eat two or three eggs a day, if you like them.

MARCIE: Now that you understand how important it is to have sufficient choline in your diet, what are you willing to eat to increase your choline level and decrease your anxiety?

DAR: A lot of our clients, we know this, they eat a couple eggs cooked in butter, everyday and then after a few weeks they have less anxiety. They come in and say “Gee, I’m feeling so much better. More energy, I sleep better, I don’t have that anxiety anymore.

MARCIE: Or sometimes they say, I’m sleeping better, more energy and am more peaceful. They don’t even realize that they even had anxiety. Another way to get your choline in for the day is to make some deviled eggs. Summertime and it’s time to whip out those eggs. We suggest using safflower mayo. They taste great and they support choline production. Most kids, teens and even adults, love those deviled eggs!

DAR: Again, you think deviled eggs, hmmm. I know I always make them at Thanksgiving time but have you made them lately? If you are a parent of a teen who is experiencing anxiety, and again it’s just amazing, every week we all see one or two of these people, would they be willing to eat a slice of quiche for breakfast? Quiche is eggs and cream and vegetables, quiche is full of choline and other nutrients for the brain. Or perhaps, just prepare an egg bake with eggs and cream.

MARCIE:  It is clear that, for most people, cereal and skim milk lead to more anxiety, so how can you add eggs to your diet? I always ask myself, “What can I eat to support my brain function and reduce my anxiety?” Listeners, are you asking yourself, “What can I eat or prepare for my family to reduce anxiety?” I know that I had to  change a lot of my eating to decrease my own anxiety.

DAR: When we come back from break I’d like you to tell your story of when your anxiety started and what you’ve done to change things. Because, people really believe what another person says, rather than research.


DAR: When you’re preparing breakfast do you stop and think “Is this good for my brain? Or bad for my brain?” A real common morning question. “Is this breakfast going to help control my anxiety during a real high stress day? Or will I have a melt down?”

MARCIE: I know from my kids, because I don’t want them to have a meltdown, when I feed them eggs cooked in butter with some sweet potato fries that it’s going to help them much more than giving them cereal with skim milk. That’s going to set them up for more of an anxiety reaction in their body. Some days when we’re running late I’ll whip up one of those protein smoothie recipes, they love them. It has that good coconut milk, because again, I know that skipping breakfast is going to contribute to a lot of excessive anxiety.

DAR: Skipping breakfast for everyone leads to more anxiety, even if you don’t have anxiety generally, you will if you skip breakfast. So we had a caller who was wondering “What can I eat for choline, because I am sensitive to eggs.” Well here’s an idea. Yesterday I was working with a nine year old boy who has some ADD, ADHD and he loves to get up and eat in the morning. So he loves to have tuna salad for breakfast. So tuna salad, salmon salad work great. So mom just makes it with mayonnaise, safflower mayo, a little bit of celery and some peas. So then he has his carbs and he feels good and he eats a lot of it which is great for him. So that’s another idea for people who are looking to add more choline if they happen to have an egg sensitivity.

So, Marcie, before break you were going to share about your anxiety level and what you’ve done to change that throughout the years.

MARCIE: Right. Looking back I was anxious as a kid even. And if I look back at what I was eating, it was sugar, cereal, skim milk because that’s what was the rage, right?

DAR: Well, one of the things I’ve noticed after working with a lot of kids is that I have noticed that people who were gluten sensitive as they were born, as a child, they tend to have a little more problems with sleep and are anxious. So of course, when you were eating the cereal.

MARCIE: Of course, it was two bad things right? So I kind of went through that phase and then as a teen, I was drinking diet Pepsi and eating Reese’s peanut butter cups for lunch. It was written all over that that was not going to create a good feeling in me. Then of course I went off to college and you know what a college diet looks like. My favorite was Frosted Mini-Wheats in milk and as much as I could eat, the better. And bagels. Always having this low-grade anxiety running through my life. But what I learned was that as I got smarter and was interested in nutrition, I understood that I could watch my pattern. If I was eating sugary foods, or if I wasn’t getting that good protein and healthy fats than my anxiety would be higher. Then I really started to put that all together. And now I know. There are some days, because I’m a human being, and some days I don’t eat enough protein and I will know right away that I need to get some turkey or some salmon to get some good choline.

DAR: You know, I think typically, women have a hard time to concentrate on eating frequently enough and eating enough protein and fat to keep our blood sugar balanced. That’s just the way women are wired these days. We have to really concentrate on that.

MARCIE: But it’s worth it. Because as soon as you don’t, some of those symptoms start popping back.

DAR: So, going back to what we were talking about, it’s kind of interesting that when people start to experience memory loss, depression, or anxiety, they are often prescribed mental exercises, such as, solving puzzles, or medication, or psychotherapy; however, food and nutrition are rarely suggested. It’s sad isn’t it? When we really look at it, we need nutrients in food to make our brain function right.

MARCIE:  Bottom line, just like our heart and our bones, our brain needs a good diet and nutrients to function at its peak. I can even tell if I’m not getting enough fats, I feel unfocused and all of those symptoms start coming back. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar to no more than 6 teaspoons per day for heart health. What is good for the heart is good for the brain.

DAR: We talk about this a lot on the show, if you drink a Coke, or Pepsi or a Mountain Dew you are getting anywhere from 15-17 teaspoons of sugar in that one soda drink. And you’re saying, not more than 6 teaspoons per day.

MARCIE: I’m always telling people this in the classes that I teach and their jaws just dropped. But it’s so important, we talk about it and people get dizzy. But if we’re drinking 17 teaspoons you cannot, or should not be having more than six.

DAR: Spoon 17 teaspoons into a Mountain Dew can or bottle and you’ll see what you’re really taking in. Or what your adolescent son or daughter is drinking.

MARCIE: And, why anxiety might be a problem for them. And now it’s summertime, so Blizzard’s, 48 grams of sugar!

DAR: As a nutritionist, I realize that a deficiency of even just one nutrient can lead a person to having more anxiety. We now understand a deficiency in choline, which we’ve been talking about, can lead to anxiety. We also know that a deficiency in vitamin D can lead to depression and anxiety. Several studies have found that low levels of vitamin D can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, a condition of anxiety and depression. We always recommend having your vitamin D level tested at least once a year. Most people feel their best when their blood level of vitamin D is between 50 and 80. In Dr. Daniel Amen’s book, Unchain Your Brain, he recommends 50-100 as a good level for positive thoughts and feelings. He personally wants his around 100. So today, as a nutritionist when a client is experiencing anxiety, I always look deeper, so let’s take a look at some additional research.

MARCIE: A landmark study that was published 13 years ago, in 2004 (and the nutritionists at Nutritional Weight & Wellness have been quoting ever since!) found a remarkable connection between the brain and the gut. The study was called, Gut as Our Second Brain.

DAR: So this is old research, this is even before Dishing Up Nutrition got started. In 2010, gastroenterologist, Dr. Stephen Collins from McMaster University in Canada, found that giving mice with chronic digestive issues, chronic colitis the probiotic bifidobacterium longum reduced anxiety-like behavior in high anxiety mice.


MARCIE: Getting back to the show, we had a couple callers. One on lutein and one on eggs.

DAR: It’s a great question on lutein. Lutein is great for your eyes and we get it from the egg yolk. So eating eggs is a great source of lutein, so not only do they help you get more choline for your brain but you get more lutein for your eyes. So, what kind of eggs? We always think that eggs that are organic or from pasture raised chickens that means they’re running around and eating grass, have the most nutrients and they taste the best. If you can’t eat those, eat just eggs, because you’re still getting choline and lutein, not as much, but you’re still getting some. So, let’s get back to what we were talking about before break, we were talking about the research that was done at the McMaster University in Canada and they found that mice who had chronic digestive problems, which is called colitis, and we know a lot of people have that too. So when mice had that and didn’t have any bifidobacteria that they had a lot of anxiety, so what they did was give them bifidobacteria and it reduced their anxiety which was interesting.

Again, what did the research find? When mice lacked bifidobacteria in their gut, they had anxiety; when researchers gave the mice bifidobacteria, the mice had less anxiety. The mouse’s behavior change was so remarkable that Collins went on to demonstrate that gut bacteria can influence anxiety-like behavior, not only in mice, but also in people.

MARCIE: I think about that and I think about my own anxiety and once I started repacking my digestive system with some good bifido, it helped very much.

DAR: We talk about this very much on the show, but we can first get bifidobacteria when we are breast fed.

MARCIE: And I wasn’t, so I never had it. I was like that mouse!

DAR: So the correct probiotic which we believe in this case would be Bifido Bacteria can actually reduce anxiety in mice and humans. We know that bifidobacteria helps to reduce colon cancer risk by 50%, it’s a win-win.

MARCIE: I love that kind of research, when you put it all together it makes so much sense. Since that first research in 2004 and follow-up research in 2010, additional research about the gut microbiome which has been conducted linking anxiety, depression and many other health issues to the health of our gut. Is this new information for you? I know a lot of people, when I talk about the gut and it’s connected to the brain and these symptoms and conditions, people just look at me a little cock-eyed like “Really?”

DAR: So then you have to ask the question, what does this mean to you as a parent with a child who is experiencing so much anxiety that they can’t even force themselves to crawl out of bed and go to school? Or maybe you’re the one having anxiety – you have fear of losing your job and just can’t face work, it’s just overwhelming.

MARCIE: You might be wondering, does my second brain, my gut, influence my mood, anxiety and well-being? Again, in our Weight and Wellness series, we teach people that when they eat animal protein the bifidobacteria in their gut helps to break down the meat into amino acids. Those amino acids are the building blocks of our brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These brain chemicals carry messages from one cell to another. The neurotransmitter serotonin helps us to feel calm, peaceful and happy, so you have less anxiety.

DAR: So, Marcie let’s go through that scenario one more time.

MARCIE: Right. You have some good bifidobacteria in your intestinal tract, you eat the protein, it breaks it down into amino acids and then those amino acids turn into our neurotransmitters and that’s what makes serotonin. And that makes us feel happy.

DAR: Then there’s another neurotransmitter called dopamine, and I love dopamine. That helps us to have energy, self-esteem and positive thoughts. All of our neurotransmitters are made from meat or fish or eggs, but the meat and fish really need bifidobacteria in the small intestine to access the amino acids to improve neurotransmitter levels and to function properly in the brain. This is the gut, brain connection and it’s connected to the gut-brain-anxiety connection as well. So if you’re lacking in any of those things, you’re going to have more anxiety or depression.

MARCIE: So now it might be the question of what do we need to eat? We’ve kind of been saying it all along, but we need to eat meat, eggs, or fish to support the production of these essential brain chemicals.

DAR: Think about this – if your child has had strep throat or an ear infection, they no doubt had to be on antibiotics. We know antibiotics kill the bad strep bacteria, but antibiotics also kill the good bifidobacteria, which then causes your inside machinery to shut down and you become deficient in serotonin, dopamine and other key brain chemicals that make you feel good. A deficiency of brain chemicals can lead to anxiety and depression. When you think about ear infections, strep throat and multiple rounds of antibiotics can lead to anxiety and depression and we see it every day and it’s shocking to people.


MARCIE: Before we left for the break we were talking about how antibiotics can lead to anxiety and depression. And there is an interesting fact, when you or your child lacks good bifidobacteria in your intestinal tract, you not only shut down production of your positive brain chemicals, but you also start to experience cravings for everything sugar. I have nine year old twins and I use them as little test tubes, just like myself. So, about my son was three or four and he got strep throat and had an antibiotic and so I really wanted to test out some research, so he got to be my person. So after his antibiotic was done, about three or four days afterwards, I didn’t give him the probiotic and low and behold those sugar cravings – he couldn’t get enough sugar, it was amazing. So, lesson learned, you don’t have to do this on your own kid, I will be mother of the year – not really – because it probably wasn’t very nice. But it really makes a big difference. So what does that mean, they might want juice, you look for ice cream, you tear open and eat bags of chips. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself after an antibiotic.

DAR: Sad to say, but sugar and processed carbs feed the bad bacteria and you may need more antibiotics to get rid of the strep. As you can see, there are many nutritional reasons that can cause anxiety. We, at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, believe it is important to determine the real reason behind the anxiety and then change your nutrition to change your life. Dr. Daniel Amen, author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life says, “you need to get serious about your brain. First step is to eat real food, quit sugar and sodas, get plenty of healthy fats in your diet and quit eating bread.”

MARCIE: Simple! Except for the people who love the bread and have a mourning period for it. But it’s so good for you to get it out of your life. So you’re probably saying to yourself “I hear what you’re telling me, but what does that look like, how can I put that together?” How do you change your nutrition to reduce anxiety. First of all, when you come in for an appointment with one of our nutritionists at Nutritional Weight and Wellness to determine what has caused you to have intense anxiety, we will ask you a lot of questions. We might ask, “Was your birth a vaginal birth or a C-section?” “Were you breast-fed?” “When did you take antibiotics?” “How often have you needed antibiotics?” All of these factors influence your microbiome and your brain health. Microbiome is just a fancy word for gut health.

DAR: For over 20 years, we have been encouraging clients to support their intestinal health with bifidobacteria; to eat a balanced diet of meat, vegetables and good fat; and to give up processed carbs and soda. With these simple changes we have seen clients reverse their anxiety condition. You heard it right – reverse their condition of anxiety. Powerful.

MARCIE: It is! And all you have to do is change what you’re putting in your mouth. We say it all day long, it’s just so important. We can’t leave the discussion about anxiety until we connect low blood sugar to anxiety disorders. We know when you eat processed carbs and sugar, your blood sugar goes up, so what happens then? Your pancreas releases insulin to bring it back to normal; however, for many people it overcorrects and they experience low blood sugar.

DAR: When your blood sugar is low, you have less blood flow to your brain and less glucose to your brain cells and you can experience anxiety and depression and anxiety can get to that panic level, leading to panic attacks. When your blood sugar level is low, panic and anxiety can set in. To avoid anxiety, it is vitally important to eat five times a day – eat in balance with meat, vegetables and good fat to prevent anxiety attacks. I think that if I personally was experiencing anxiety all the time I could do this, I could say, I’m eating meat, vegetables and fat five times a day. I do it now, every day. So, you know, good food, if you think about this – good food has no side effects – you just feel in charge of your life.

MARCIE: That’s right, there are no bad side effects, you just need to try it! The thing is, people don’t even realize the amount of anxiety they’re experiencing until they start eating more balanced and they’ll say “Wow, I didn’t even know that was there.”

DAR: And I think one of the things, if they think about this, they can roll out of bed and they have to have something ready for breakfast. It was really interesting, when I was working with this little boy yesterday, that as soon as he wakes up, he wants to eat. It’s just having the right food available for him to eat every day. So like the tuna salad was perfect for him, he was looking forward to it. Another person can do egg salad and maybe you put it on a really healthy gluten-free cracker or a wasa cracker, or whatever is OK for you. It’s getting the blood sugar balanced and then maybe two hours later follow it up with a protein shake.

MARCIE: Or some wild rice meatballs, or maybe you like cottage cheese you could have a little cottage cheese and some berries and throw some almonds on there.

DAR: You don’t have to have gourmet food. A bowl of chili for lunch, with some sour cream on top, it would be perfect to be an anti-anxiety type of lunch. I think if we start thinking in terms of “Ok, anti-anxiety type of snack for the afternoon?”

MARCIE: Right, we could some smoked salmon or even some salmon salad because that would always be a great choice because you could put it on a cracker or use some celery or eat it like that.

DAR: You know, one of the things that I’ve been doing lately is having some cut up steaks or chicken breast, a few grapes, a little bit of vegetable and maybe some peanut butter and that’s an afternoon snack. So you know, our goal at Nutritional Weight & Wellness is to help each and every person experience better health through eating real food. It’s simple, yet a powerful message, eating real food is life-changing. Thank you for listening today and thank you Marcie for sharing your story. 


Towards the later part of the podcast, Marcie recommended 400mg of something??? A Harley went by and I missed it!
Can you tell me what she said?

June 7, 2017 at 8:37 pm


Hmm, we didn't hear a mg mention, but have included the transcript on this page so maybe that will answer your question? Our thought is that she was mentioning Bifido Bacteria since that discussed frequently on the podcast. 

Sheila Smith, NT
This was such a GREAT topic! Your discussion was SO informative and valuable! If more people were trained and informed about this way to eat or NOT to eat, our population would have less problems emotionally, physically and socially! Thanks so very much for these GREAT, IFORMATIVE topics to help people! (A little bit of Sally Fallon groundwork here was great to see & read!)
June 8, 2017 at 9:57 am

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