What Has Anxiety Got To Do With Food?

August 12, 2023

The rates of anxiety have been rising each year and there was a dramatic spike in 2020 with the pandemic. Chances are there are several things that may be stressing you out and causing you to feel anxious: the economy, your job or job loss, divorce or relationship conflict, illness of you or a loved one, the environment, or a natural disaster. There’s no shortage of things that might lead to feeling anxious, and even 1 in 3 teenagers in the U.S. ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder! The connection between food choices and anxiety isn’t surprising when you think about it – if our bodies aren’t getting the nutrients they need to function properly, there will be more issues with moods and levels of stress. And that’s what we’ll cover in today’s show: how you can change your nutrition to reduce anxiety.

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KARA: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We're a company specializing in life-changing nutrition education and counseling. My name is Kara Carper. I'm a Licensed Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Specialist, and I have a master's degree in holistic health. I'm really pleased to be here today with Melanie Beasley, a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. And Mel sees clients at our local Eagan office, and she also does virtual appointments via Zoom, and she teaches a lot of our classes as well.

I'm really passionate about today's topic for a lot of reasons, and I know Mel is too. The rates of anxiety have been rising each year. There was a dramatic spike in the year 2020 when our world shifted at the start of the global COVID pandemic. And if you're an adult listener, chances are there are several things that might be stressing you out, causing you to feel anxious. Maybe it's the economy, your job, or maybe a job loss, could be a divorce or other relationship conflict, maybe an illness, whether that's you or a loved one. Maybe it's related to the environment or a natural disaster. You know, there's no shortage of things that might lead to us feeling anxious.

MELANIE: A hundred percent.

Statistics on anxiety in kids and teenagers

KARA: What about our kids, though? I have a daughter who's almost 12, and it really concerned me when I saw a recent statistic that said one in three teenagers ages 13 through 18 in the United States, have an anxiety disorder.

MELANIE: It, it's concerning for parents when you start reading and hearing those statistics. That can cause you anxiety. Right?

KARA: Absolutely.

MELANIE: Quite frankly, Kara, I feel your daughter is ahead of the game. She, has you as a mother, it's a, you understand the chemistry behind it and, and how to help her. So it is really concerning, especially since we know that those precious brains are still developing up through the age of 25. And about 10% of teenagers are being medicated for anxiety: 10%. There's just not as much long-term research on the effects of kids and long-term use of some of these medications. So, according to a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids and teens who eat a lot of highly processed foods have higher rates of anxiety. We are not surprised, right, Kara?

KARA: No, no, we understand that connection.

Processed foods correlate with higher anxiety

MELANIE: We do. I mean, I, when I sit in a restaurant, I will look and see what's on the kids' menu, and it is pizza and mac and cheese and French fries and chicken nuggets. And then, you know, maybe for lunch they had Lunchables and fruit roll-ups and more chicken nuggets. So the list goes on and on. What are we feeding our brains? Many children have been feeling much more anxious. I'm hearing it a lot. And I want to also include, I'm hearing in clinic, obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety, disordered eating. And as these diagnoses are also on the rise, we have to really start saying, what's the cause?

KARA: Mm-Hmm. And the connection between food choices and anxiety isn't surprising if you start thinking about it. After all, our bodies aren't getting the nutrients that they need to function properly. You know, there's going to be more issues with moods and levels of stress.

MELANIE: And I don't think maybe listeners aren't making that connection.

KARA: Right. That's really our big purpose for today, is to help everyone make that connection.

MELANIE: Yes. Yeah, of course. So what is the food connection to anxiety? Well, our show topic today is “What Has Anxiety Got to do with Food”? And I'm going to say a bunch. It is very true that what we eat and the quality and the quantities and the frequency of what we eat or don't eat, can dramatically affect anxiety levels. That's what we'll be talking about today: how you can change your nutrition or help your children and loved ones change their nutrition and reduce that darn anxiety.

Statistics of anxiety in adults

KARA: And in 2020, the National Institute of Mental Health found that about 20% of adults have an anxiety disorder. And it's just kind of interesting. Anxiety is more common in women. 24% of women have an anxiety disorder. And while it's 14% of men.

MELANIE: I often wonder that statistic, how many men are actually coming forward.

KARA: I think about that too.

MELANIE: Women, I think, are much more likely to run and get help.

KARA: Mm-Hmm; for several reasons.

MELANIE: I think, I know a lot of my clients and people in my life, though men are more likely to bottle it. It’s scary.

KARA: No, that's a great point though. It could be just drastically underdiagnosed.


KARA: Because of that. So, but just to kind of summarize. So one in five adults has an anxiety disorder, but one in three teens has an anxiety disorder.

MELANIE: One in three.

KARA: One in three for ages 13 through 18. And those numbers just have continued to rise the past few years. So, well, guess what? I, if you've heard me talking before on Dishing Up Nutrition, you may already know this, but I do fall into that statistic for adults. I was diagnosed with anxiety years ago, and this was prior to even hearing about Nutritional Weight and Wellness. And I certainly wasn't eating the protein, fat and carb, what we call real food in balance way of eating the way that we teach every day. So I was a little bit behind the game.

MELANIE: And knowing you, knowing you like I know you, that surprises me because you just seem like such a chill cat, you know, all the time. Well, Kara, I remember you sharing that in past shows, but do you mind sharing again your story and how changing your nutrition sort of changed that situation?

KARA: Yeah, definitely. Especially if it's going to help folks kind of make these connections. And I'm happy to share. For me, anxiety felt like a racing heart, shallow breathing, shakiness, lightheadedness. And here's the big thing that I remember is my brain was catastrophizing. Is that a word?

MELANIE: I don’t know. It should be. I love it.

MELANIE: Catastrophizing. I just made it into a word; things out of proportion. Can any of you listening relate to this? So, for an example, rush hour traffic, if I was running late, I felt like the world was ending. Or maybe if I couldn't get to sleep at night and I was lying there, kind of ruminating, that would lead to my heart beating even faster. Of course, more tossing and turning. And then thinking the worst about how bad the next day would be from not sleeping.

MELAMIE: Oh, how miserable.

KARA: So for those of you who have not experienced anxiety before, it's those really kind of daily small annoyances that are, they just get blown out of proportion, but they feel real because the physical effects of anxiety are hard to ignore, like the heart racing and increased respiration.

MELANIE: Well, Of course they feel real. That's your reality, right?

KARA: Yeah.

MELANIE: And, and I've had clients go to practitioners who say, it's all in your head. It's not helpful because it, it's your reality. It's what you're experiencing. And I, I bet many people can relate to those examples that you gave.

Low blood sugar can contribute to anxiety

And I'll be honest, as, as long as I've been a dietitian, those symptoms also sound a lot like low blood sugar. It, which is a contributing factor, right, Kara. So what are your thoughts on that? Do you think that you were experiencing low blood sugar?

KARA: Oh, that is such a…

MELANIE: Was it part of the equation even?

KARA: That's a good lead in. That's a great question. Yes. I know I was experiencing low blood sugar. I did not know it at the time. Some examples of meals or snacks maybe that I used to eat that would lead to low blood sugar were for breakfast, cereal with milk.

MELANIE: Of course.

KARA: Maybe for a snack, a granola bar or something like a Cliff bar; very high sugar, high carb. Perhaps a bagel and a coffee at a local coffee shop. Or maybe snacking on popcorn before bed.

MELANIE: Oh, the snacking on popcorn. I get that a lot before bed because, you know, it was it was a diet food.

KARA: Right. Because we were thinking low fat, you know? Especially if you don't put the butter on it.

MELANIE: No. Spray it with buttery flavored Pam. Can you believe it? I just cringe. I cringe. And I'm hearing a theme here. Those are all processed carbohydrates that rapidly turned to sugar. I didn't hear you say anything about, you were eating protein or healthy fats or fibrous vegetables or fruits with those foods.

KARA: Correct. Yeah. That, and that's what was missing.

MELANIE: So in my head, I can picture how our bodies work. And after eating cereal and milk for breakfast, which I did as well, it turns into about 15 teaspoons of sugar in your bloodstream. That's before you even sprinkle that sugar on top. So your blood sugar was so high that it's really inevitable that it would come crashing down within about an hour. And that low blood sugar feeling is the same feeling as anxiety; can even trigger panic attacks.

KARA: Yes. Yes, it can. And I, I even met with a client years ago who came in for panic attacks, and we got to the bottom of it and it was anxiety being caused from blood sugars spiking and then crashing.

MELANIE: And something that in the morning that can exponentially exaggerate that is if you have coffee with caffeine and then you have a sugary breakfast. Think donuts and coffee, muffin, coffee.

KARA: Mm-Hmm.

MELANIE: It can really trigger a panic attack.

KARA: Yeah. Yeah. We're going to talk more about caffeine a little bit later in the show too, but it looks like it's time for our first break. You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition, and our topic today is, “What Has Anxiety got to do with Food”? Mel and I are talking about anxiety and the relationship with food. This applies to all ages. Kids as young as preschool and elementary school all the way up through adulthood.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 80% of children with a diagnosable anxiety disorder, they're not getting the treatment they need. And we know that some seek medication and therapy, but not all children or adults respond positively to the treatments. And sometimes you probably have heard this, listeners, sometimes there are negative side effects from medications. So after break, we will be back to talk a little bit more about this.


MELANIE: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. I'm Melanie Beasley, Licensed Dietitian, here with Kara Carper, Licensed Nutritionist. And our topic today is about anxiety and how the food we eat is related to your anxiety levels. We've been talking a lot about anxiety in children. One in three teens, ages 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder and many are not getting treatment of any kind. Parents may be tempted to jump to medication. I mean, you're terrified when it's your child. There are some negative side effects, and less than 50% of people who go on these medications say they notice improvements. So sometimes you need the drugs, you need the medication.

KARA: Mm-Hmm.

MELANIE: But I also think, let's look at food.

KARA: Yeah, yeah. Because, you know, there's no downside. There's no negative side effect to eating the right foods. And it's been extremely effective for reducing anxiety.

Nutrient rich foods support kid and teen brains

MELANIE: That's a good point. It's, it can be work in tandem. So, absolutely. A, a study published in Pediatrics with 120 children and teens found that consuming fast food, sugar and soda was associated with higher rates of anxiety. The same study also found that the kids and teens who ate fewer vegetables, fruit, fatty fish, were more likely to have that anxiety.

KARA: Sure. So eating more of the processed, like refined fast food and soda increased anxiety. And then they were looking at what was lacking in, in the children's diets.


KARA: Which is the veggies and the fruits and the, you know, essential fatty omega three acids and things like that.

MELANIE: Nourishment.

KARA: Yeah. And kid and teen brains especially thrive when they're flooded with the right vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and other fatty acids that come from those proteins, healthy fats and vegetable and fruit carbohydrates. So it makes a lot of sense.

MELANIE: It does.

Back to the blood sugar connection: avoid high sugar foods & eat in balance

KARA: So before break, you know, Mel and I were just kind of, we were talking about the connection between nutrition and anxiety, and I was sharing that before knowing about Nutritional Weight and Wellness, if I was eating things like cereal and milk, what would happen is my blood sugar would spike and then inevitably it would come crashing back down to create more stress and feelings of anxiety. And it still happens to me once in a while, but I always notice that if I'm missing a healthy fat, missing a protein, maybe if I just have simply too many carbohydrates at a meal or snack, but at least I know why it's happening. I'm able to make those connections.

MELANIE: We're human, we, we do that.

KARA: Yeah. It's, it's all about getting the information and the education so we can kind of correct.

MELANIE: Oh yeah. We all do it. I went a little ham on watermelon over the 4th of July, so I understand Kara.

KARA: Yep. Even like just fruit by itself can do that.

MELANIE: Yes. It did it.

KARA: So, has anyone else ever had popcorn before bed as a snack? Maybe a bowl of ice cream, maybe even grabbing cereal before bed? Those are all examples of foods that spike the blood sugar and it will come crashing down. And this is, you know, that's what was happening to me when I was lying awake in the middle of the night. So I used to wake up almost every night with anxiety, but it was actually low blood sugar.

Eat a balanced bedtime snack to help with blood sugar balanced & sleep

It was caused from eating, you know, the popcorn or the ice cream or something before bed. Nutritional Weight and Wellness and Dar taught me how to switch that up and eat a balanced bedtime snack. So now, you know, I really enjoy having something like heavy whipping cream with half a cup of berries, just as an example. And it really keeps me sleeping through the night, or I'm able to go right back to sleep if I get up to go to the bathroom.

MELANIE: Yes. Yeah. It's, it's great. Sleeping through the night is good for anything, but definitely if you're experiencing anxiety. My clients really love that heavy organic whipping cream, the one from the carton and pairing that with like a half a cup of berries. So it's delicious. And if you can't do dairy, then you can do full fat canned coconut milk. We've mentioned that a few times on the radio I think.

So I tell them the heavy cream or coconut milk anchors that blood sugar level and doesn't let the blood sugar spike and it releases a little energy all night long. And it keeps us from crashing in the middle of the night, which in turn wakes us up.

KARA: Right.

MELANIE: So we want to sleep through the night. That's our goal.

Include a protein, fat and carb at every meal & snack

KARA: Exactly. It really is like magic. And I swear by that. I try to use that same rule of thumb with every meal and snack. You know, if you struggle with anxiety and if you're not being cognizant about including a healthy fat and a protein at every meal and every snack, that is contributing to the problem. It sounds really simple, but it's so effective. Dr. Mark Hyman, he's one of my favorite authors and speakers in the nutrition field, and he said in his books, “Always combine a carbohydrate with some protein, healthy fats and fiber”. He says, “Never carb it alone”.

MELANIE: Never carb it alone. I love that because when someone eats that carbohydrate by itself, like just eating a banana or a piece of fruit, it seems, it seems so innocuous, it seems very healthy, but it rapidly raises your blood sugar. So you never want to eat a “naked carbohydrate”. If you want to balance your blood sugar and reduce anxiety, always pair a carbohydrate, ideally with both protein and some healthy fat. So what would that look like? That would be, have that half a banana with some peanut butter and maybe a beef stick or hard-boiled egg and you're there.

KARA: Yeah. You got all the parts. You got the PFC, the protein, fat and carbohydrate. And I always, I used to tell clients, and I still tell friends and family, if you're in a pinch and you don't have all three: the PFC, protein, fat, and carb, it's better to at least pair your carbohydrate with something else. You know, if, if all you have is a protein, pair it with that, or if all you have is a healthy fat, pair it with that. Pair it with whatever you have on hand.

Here's an example. You know, the other day I was in a rush and I grabbed an apple and I just had two tablespoons of peanut butter. So at least I had that healthy fat with the carb to anchor my blood sugar.

MELANIE: You have the Nutritional Weight and Wellness noise in your head all the time.

KARA: I felt a little guilty. I will not lie.

MELANIE: It's there; confessions.

KARA: But I was at least pairing my carbohydrate with something else.

MELANIE: And you just feel better. It, it lasts longer.

KARA: Yeah.

Skipping meals & snacks can lead to low blood sugar

MELANIE: Well, I'd like to add in that skipping meals and snacks can also lead to low blood sugar. I mean, that's just common sense. Right? Which in turn creates anxiety. So waiting too long to eat; listeners, you know when this happens, you're, you're driving home from work, you didn't have a snack, maybe you had had a light lunch and every driver on the road is making you bananas.

Or you're, you know, you get home and your husband is chewing too loudly, it's time to have something to eat. So this means low fuel glucose in your brain and it makes the brain irritable. So we want to calm it down, feed it regularly.

KARA: That's such a great point. You know, I've found what increased my anxiety was waiting too long to eat, whether it was breakfast, lunch, dinner, or regular snacks, not including a protein. And ideally, you know, for myself, I, I need to have four ounces of cooked protein at my meals and two ounces of cooked protein at my snacks. Other things that might lead to more anxiety could be not including at least 10 to 15 grams of healthy fat with every meal and snack.

MELANIE: Which really is about a tablespoon.

KARA: Yeah. Like a tablespoon of butter; tablespoon of…

MELANIE: Easy to picture.

KARA: Coconut oil.

MELANIE: You're having that tablespoon. Yes.

KARA: Perfect.

MELANIE: I'm very carb sensitive, so my protein is five to six ounces at a meal to anchor it. And that just, that works best for me. And, but we'll continue to talk about meal and snack ideas to reduce anxiety.

But I really want to circle back to a really important component of our show today: the alarming rise in anxiety in our young population. We mentioned one in three teens is diagnosed with anxiety disorder, but it's happening to even younger children ages five to 12 in elementary school. I never, in 35 years of practice saw this.

KARA: I know. I know.

MELANIE: This is something that is relatively new to our society. And we have to ask ourselves, what is that connection?

Like adults, kids are also sensitive to high carbohydrate foods

KARA: And you know, when I was giving examples of eating carbohydrates by themselves and my blood sugar would spike and crash, even just like the simple popcorn snack, kids are no different. Actually, they can be more sensitive to fluctuating blood sugars spiking and crashing. I saw a friend at a birthday party last weekend and she's been following Dishing Up Nutrition, our podcast and Nutritional Weight and Wellness for years.

And she just asked, “Hey, what's, you know, what's your upcoming radio show topic?” And I told her about today, what does anxiety have to do with food? And it really resonated with her. And we started talking about at what point as a parent do you kind of give your kids free reign in the kitchen to start preparing their own meals or snacks and just, hey, go ahead and Susie grab whatever you want.

MELANIE: Yeah, yeah.

KARA: At what age, you know?

MELANIE: Yeah. I remember even when they, I had one that was super picky and they all went through that, both went through the picky stage, but I remember at some point just saying, you're welcome to have a different vegetable. Pick what you want. But it had to be in the category. You're welcome to have a piece of fruit. If you don't want the berries, pick it from the same category. And that was how we started when they were little.

Magnesium is a calming mineral

KARA: I'd like, I really want to talk more about that. We have to take a quick break. You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. Melanie and I have been discussing what anxiety has to do with food. Certain vitamins and minerals provide a calming effect. The mineral called magnesium is, I would say on the top of that list.

I found it to be very helpful when it comes to managing both anxiety and sleep issues. And three out of four Americans are deficient in magnesium, just not getting enough from their food sources. And it's also easy to become deficient in magnesium because a diet that consists of processed foods or sugary drinks, lowers magnesium levels, kind of excretes it from the body. So we'll be right back.


MELANIE: Welcome back. You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. I'm Melanie and I'm here with Kara today. If you or your child or another loved one struggles with anxiety or sleep issues, increasing your magnesium can be very helpful. Magnesium is a calming mineral and I would say Magnesium Glycinate. So you don't end up with loose stool.

Foods high in magnesium

So are you wondering what foods are high in magnesium? Meat, especially grass fed, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, avocados. These are all great sources of the mineral, magnesium. So we like that food first approach. But if you're deficient, you may need magnesium, a magnesium supplement, like I mentioned, Magnesium Glycinate. Four to 600 milligrams before bed can be a magic mineral to calm and reduce anxiety.

KARA: That's the one I take. I take 500 milligrams of Magnesium Glycinate every night before bed. My daughter, she tends to be constipated, so I give her 400 milligrams of what we call Mixed Magnesium before bed and it helps with sleep, anxiety and it keeps her bowel movements regular.

Give some autonomy & responsibility to kids with food choices/preparing meals

MELANIE: That's great. So Kara, this is a frequent topic in our society today and it comes up with family, friends, and clients. For some families, it's important to give children that autonomy and responsibility of learning and preparing their own meals or snacks when they get to be a certain age. I love this because children need to know how to nourish themselves. I have adult clients that don't know how to cook. This is not something they were gifted by their parents.

And so we're working together, you know, to figure out how to get meals on the table. But when you start involving your children, the children take ownership to what's being placed on the table and in their mouth. It's so great. So other parents and caregivers will play a bigger role in meal and snack preparation. Even as kids get older, you all have to make your own best choices based on the situation. I mean, my daughters and I get together, they're adult daughters. We love to cook a meal together.

KARA: Mm-Hmm.


KARA: I think that's a great point though, is just giving kids the knowledge when they're still in the house and they're growing up so that when they do go off on their own, they're equipped to know how to nourish their bodies.

MELANIE: Yes. I remember we would, if we went out to eat, it was like a buffet or something and the children, we had a term which was, if you get a treat, you, has to come with a healthy buddy. You know, what's your healthy buddy? Because I knew they had to pair it with something.

KARA: Yeah. Oh, I like that. Yeah, I like that. A healthy buddy. I'm going to use that one. Well, so when I was talking to my friend, the one who's been following, you know, Nutritional Weight and Wellness for many years, she has two high schoolers, and one was diagnosed with anxiety and ADHD. And if left to her own devices to get meals at home or get whatever she wanted at school, she would typically make choices that led to much worse anxiety and more issues with focus, more issues, problems having, you know, attention, lower moods, worse behavior. So that really got me thinking.

MELANIE: She was reaching for those comfort foods.

KARA: She was, yeah. Yeah. The kind of the, the cereal bars, the fruit roll-ups, things like that. So have you, if you're listening, can you relate to this? Have you had someone, a well-meaning person in your life say, you know, “I can't believe you're still packing lunches for your children. When my child was that age, they were in the kitchen making their own breakfast, packing their own own lunches.” It can be kind of a sensitive subject.

So I just encourage everyone listening to have an open mind whatever your individual belief system is about what age kids should be in charge of their own food, 'cause really every family needs to make that decision based on their individual needs.

MELANIE: No one knows your child like you do.

KARA: Right. Right.

MELANIE: So it's a good, it's a good starting place to say even just choices. Would you like this or that?

KARA: Yes.

MELANIE: They start to have an ownership.

KARA: I liked that. What, what you said, you know, maybe you don't want this vegetable, would you like another one in that same category?

MELANIE: Yeah; something like that. It, it's, it gives the, them ownership, gives them choices.

KARA: Yeah.

MELANIE: Plus their brain is so engaged making choices, they don't argue with you. So Kara, what I hear you saying is that for some families, kids in elementary school, middle school, high school, what have you, grabbing their own meals and snacks and it's working out for everyone in the family, which is fantastic. Have a variety of healthy foods available. Right? That, that your, your, your children can pick from. But for those children who have anxiety or maybe ADHD, depression, or what about the kids who are picky eaters or hooked on sugar, does it make sense for them to be in complete control of their food and beverage choices? Hmm.

KARA: I know, I know. And that's really what my friend and I were discussing. And she and her husband, they still make a balanced breakfast for their daughter consisting of eggs, nitrate free sausage, a slice of toast with some butter, that healthy fat. And that really helps to get the day started off right when it comes to moods, energy, focus, behavior, even improved social interactions and athletic performance. And they pack a lunch for her every day. So this was to ensure optimal brain health, not just at that breakfast meal, but throughout the entire day for her.

MELANIE: Oh, that's great. You know, Kara, that brings, brings to my memory, when my children were little, we had milkshake night on Sunday night and I would make them a protein smoothie that had fruit, protein powder, frozen fruit, and I'd sneak a little vegetable in there. It was great; until they went to a birthday party of a neighbor's. And I can remember my daughter running across the field to get back to the house and saying to me, mama, we went to McDonald's and did you know they put ice cream in their milkshakes? And I thought, oh, the gig is up.

KARA: Oh, you were caught.

MELANIE: I was caught. But you know they would go to a sleepover and come home and say, can you make me a green smoothie? Because they knew how junky their bodies felt. So a few of our dietitians have written great articles on our website, weightandwellness.com, with ideas for packing lunches for children. A good rule of thumb gets back to never pack a carbohydrate alone. We talked about this, the starchy, concentrated carbs. Kids do not have a hard time finding a starchy form of carbohydrate on their own.

KARA: They'll find it.

Pack meals & snacks with protein, healthy fat & vegetables

MELANIE: They'll find it . So focusing their meals and snacks on protein, healthy fat and vegetables is just a great rule of thumb. They will always find a starch, a treat at school or with a friend or at a neighbor's. So you want to pack those children with a really good base. Right? Get them with a base. And then when they, when they're hitting those treats, you know, it's our job to nourish. And then when they get that treat, their body is not on such high alert.

KARA: Yeah. How did you phrase that for your daughters? Did you say a buddy, pack it with a buddy?

MELANIE: A healthy buddy.

KARA: A healthy buddy.


KARA: You know, there's going to be like a starchy carbohydrate or a treat.


KARA: And it needs a healthy buddy.

MELANIE: Needs a healthy buddy.

Examples of food ideas to pack

KARA: So cute. Packing balanced protein, fat carb or PFC lunches, it's kind of an art for any age. So just start thinking about it. What are some proteins that your child likes? Maybe chemical free or nitrate free turkey or deli meat, beef sticks, pepperoni slices. Maybe it's string cheese or chunks of cheese; hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, whole milk plain yogurt. These are just kind of, I'm trying to get the wheels turning for people.

MELANIE: And those pre, you know, those prepackaged crackers and that's not what we're talking about. Put it together yourself so you know the ingredients. My daughter said to me, you know why our generation loves charcuterie boards? And I said, why? She said we were raised on Lunchables.

KARA: Oh yeah. That's such a great point.

MELANIE: She said it's just an adult charcuterie board.

KARA: So homemade Lunchables.

MELANIE: Homemade Lunchables is what we're talking about. So you know the ingredients. And then consider what healthy fats does your child enjoy? It might be olives, it might be avocado, might be nuts or seeds. Watch the oils that are in those nuts and seeds. They'll put cotton seed oil in there and you want to avoid those. But sunflower butter is a better option paired with apple or celery. Full fat cream cheese on celery sticks is another one. Children love to dip. So you know, a healthy fat like guacamole to dip their veggies in. Wonderful. Full fat cheese and full fat cream cheese, whole milk plain yogurt, add your own fruit. These all support that blood sugar and help balance even moods focus and energy. And that's really our goal here.

KARA: Yeah. Yeah. So you and I, we just gave some, you know, starter tips on some healthy proteins and some healthy fats. And for carbohydrates, most kids they're just not eating enough vegetables or getting enough fiber from their carbohydrates. So if you can really focus on the vegetables and figure out which ones they like, which ones are they open to, that's really a great way to ensure that your kids are getting the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that helps to reduce anxiety.

MELANIE: I, yeah. I love the deli meat, cream cheese, pickle, maybe slivers of some sweet peppers in there rolled up.

KARA: Oh, the pickle roll up. Most kids will love that.


KARA: That's a great one. Well it looks like we're going to take our last break here. You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. I'm Kara Carper, Licensed Nutritionist. I'm here today with Melanie Beasley, Licensed and Registered Dietitian. And our topic is, what does anxiety have to do with food? There seems to be a trend. And according to my friends who have kids in high school and college, this is not a new trend. It's new to me because my daughter and her friends just recently started asking to go to coffee shops. Either the coffee shop…

MELANIE: It begins.

KARA: I know, right? It it might be the strip mall. It could be the kiosk in the mall. So listeners think, what is worse for increasing anxiety than a caffeinated drink? Well, you guessed it. It's a caffeinated drink loaded with sugar and chemicals.

MELANIE: A hundred. Yes. Yes. A hundred percent yes.

KARA: So Melanie and I will give a couple of examples of what that looks like after break.


Caffeinated & sugar loaded beverages can contribute to anxiety

MELANIE: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. I want to give a couple of examples of popular coffee shop drinks. A 16 ounce caramel Frappuccino has 400 calories, 60 grams of carbohydrate, which is 15 teaspoons of sugar dumped in your teen’s body. And about a hundred milligrams of caffeine. Middle school and high school children, and even some elementary age children are drinking these. The ones popular with some of the younger children are Refreshers. Well that's a 16 ounce Refresher known as the “pink drink” has 20 grams of sugar, which is five teaspoons of sugar and about 50 milligrams of caffeine. It's really anxiety in a cup.

KARA: Yeah. Bubble tea houses: that's another thing also called boba tea. That's huge right now. And I just, you know, I looked some of this up online, A typical 16-ounce bubble tea has 300 calories, 40 grams of carbohydrates all coming from sugar. So that breaks down into eight teaspoons of sugar and contains a hundred milligrams of caffeine. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids under the age of 12 have zero caffeine. Zero milligrams is recommended.

MELANIE: No monster drinks?

KARA: No monster drinks. And they say that kids 13 or older should limit caffeine to under a hundred grams. But think about this. If your teen has anxiety, really they should be avoiding all caffeine and especially the caffeinated, sugary beverages, 'cause those fuel the fire for anxiety.

So if you're a parent listening, you might be thinking, what am I supposed to do? I mean, ideally we would not be getting the kids into the coffee shop habit when they're young. I always say, you know, as an occasional treat, you can always go to those coffee shops and ask for a smaller size. I don't think they advertise that, but ask for the eight ounce or the 12 ounce. Those are more kid friendly and really strive for zero caffeine or minimal caffeine.

What might be okay to get at a coffee shop?

And I started looking up ingredients before letting my daughter go to the coffee shop, and just, I don't let her get whatever she wants because I was shocked at how high the sugar content is in most of those. Melanie, I did find one at a local coffee shop, a drink that looked okay. So I wanted to give it a shout out. It's called the Iced Passion Mango Tea Lemonade. And that one had eight grams of sugar. So not perfect, but hey, compared to all the other ones, you know, it's pretty good. It had zero caffeine. So I would say a much better option.

MELANIE: That's what you need option. I've really encouraged my clients, 'cause you're still going to meet and be social at coffee shops, but you can get plain decaf almond milk latte and use some stevia drops from your purse.

KARA: Oh, that's a great idea.

MELANIE: I mean, hazelnut, vanilla cream, chocolate stevia drops.

KARA: Yeah.

MELANIE: Yeah. So that's, that's typically what I'll do.

Ways to incorporate more vegetables for kids

KARA: So right before break, Mel gave some great ideas of healthy fats that could be given to kids for lunch, maybe packed in their lunch. I had given some protein options and I also mentioned that most kids are just lacking fiber and not getting enough veggies. And so it made me think about a colleague of ours who puts freshly washed and cut veggies out for her kids after school. And just having them prepared and ready in front of them. They always eat them. And I started trying that. And it works, you know, when kids are hungry, if they have veggies that they are okay with they're going to eat them.

MELANIE: While they're talking to you, they'll grab them. I have clients who are trying to prepare a meal, they're hurried after work and I will have them do, I call it a salad bar. You pull everything that you want to use up from the refrigerator. So it might be you've got leftover meat, you've got some nuts, you've got some greens, you've got some arugula and a couple, pull out a couple salad dressings and the children get to make their own salad. And the rule is you have to pick two ingredients that are not the dressing or the lettuce.

KARA: Okay.

MELANIE: And so it, it engages their brains, then it engages their mouth. They're not, they're not bothering you while you're trying to cook. They can't say, I am hungry and want to wander to the pantry and get something that you don't want them to have. So, and it's nourishing them. So it's a great way to get them started is the salad bar trick.

KARA: That is great.

MELANIE: And you get to use up leftovers.

KARA: It's, and it's visible and it's accessible. And I like that you're giving options because kids, well, adults love options too, right?

MELANIE: Yeah, we do.

KARA: Let's be honest. But kids especially. It gives them a sense of control.

MELANIE: And they get to talk about it.

KARA: Yeah.

MELANIE: With their sibling or with you. What are you going to pick? What are your, what are your choices today? What do you feel like?

KARA: Love it as a way to get more veggies in them. Fruit is great as well, but just keep in mind, fruit is higher in sugar and if given the choice, you know, would you like a fruit or a vegetable, most kids are going to grab for the fruit instead of the veggies. And just kind of exacerbating the whole issue of not getting enough fiber and minerals and nutrients.

MELANIE: So, so some fruit, you know, having a little fruit is great.

KARA: Yeah. Yeah.

MELANIE: It's just, you don't want it to be the crux of the meal.

KARA: Right, right, 'cause vegetables do have different minerals and fiber content.

MELANIE: Yeah exactly.

KARA: And they need that as well. And back to the veggies, you had mentioned earlier that kids love to dip. And so maybe it's the little dipper veggie dip and maybe it's a good guacamole.

MELANIE: Wonderful, wonderful. And we have to remember that that connection with anxiety. The more variety of vegetables that you get in, the more these different vegetables feed different bacteria in your gut microbiome, which is helping us make neurotransmitters to feel calm and relaxed. So we want that variety of vegetables. They are prebiotics, which help feed the probiotics, which help make the brain chemicals, which help us feel calm and relaxed. So there's that connection. So important to get vegetables in. And we're missing that I think in our children's diets these days.

Well, Dar the founder of our company, Nutritional Weight and Wellness, has a granddaughter in college taking pre-med classes, which obviously requires a lot of focus and attention. And her granddaughter, she's blessed to have Dar, she chooses to have a breakfast with something like eggs cooked in butter and a serving a fruit because she knows her brain works better when it's fueled with protein, then those healthy fats and real food carbohydrates, such as in the fruit. So in the past she would tend to have a cup of tea and a piece of toast, but now she chooses to have protein and healthy fat in her breakfast. So some wisdom there.

KARA: Mm-Hmm. She's so fortunate to have Dar as her grandmother. And that reminds me of another example. One of my daughter's friends who's 12, she told her parents that she wanted to start being responsible for all of her own meals and snacks. You know, the parents were thrilled because it was less work for them, more independence for their daughter. And it sounds like a good thing. But what happened is that this 12-year-old started grabbing her own versions of meals and snacks and what her parents observed is more irritability, increased anxiety.

And after our discussion today, you know, that's not surprising to me because I see that the foods most kids grab are going to be those processed carbohydrates. Not a judgment at all, but just human nature. Especially for that age to want to grab something sweet that turns quickly into sugar in the bloodstream.

MELANIE: Yes. I remember reading a study I thought was interesting where they took children and they had a variety of foods. They had everything from processed foods and they had vegetables and they had meat. And the first few days they were grabbing all of the processed junk foods. But by the end of the week, the children were actually choosing healthier choices. So if we have those healthy choices available, many times they will begin choosing healthier choices. Like you said, putting the vegetables out, it's fabulous.

So if my girls had control of the kitchen growing up, they for sure would've been eating toast or English muffins or nothing for breakfast; granola, because that's a crumbled cookie. So we all love that. Boiled noodles with butter. That was a favorite of one of my, one of my children. Children gravitate towards those processed carbs, but encouraging them to eat what their body needs.

So you want to use words like, we want to be strong, we want to be healthy. We want to have brain power. These are the words that that lend itself to health and not disordered eating. It takes time, but, and commitment. But we all love our children and they're worth it. So if we go back to the statistic that our brains are still developing until the age of 25, to me it makes sense that they can use guidance in how to fuel their brain while they're growing up under the care of a trusted adult.

Listening to today's show, you can hear that Kara and I have a passion for helping our children to feel better, feel less anxious. And so the key for us is food first, real food that will nourish their brains, nourish their bodies, and keep them healthy and happy. That's the goal of today.

KARA: And our goal at Nutritional Weight and Wellness is to help each and every person experience better health through eating real food. It's a simple yet powerful message. Eating real food is life changing. Thank you all for listening and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day.

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