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Keep calm and carry on with nutrition

‘Keep calm and carry on’ is a British mantra and nutrition has its own part to play.

If you are feeling angry, helpless and anxious after the terrorist attack in Westminster last week, you are not alone. Thousands of people are feeling jittery and upset in the wake of the violent killing of a policeman and four passers-by on Westminster Bridge by Khalid Masood.

Studies do suggest that nutrition can play a part in reducing stress and anxiety over the long term and it helps to avoid certain food and drink that can exacerbate negative feelings, sleeplessness and low mood.

Studies do suggest that nutrition can play a part in reducing stress and anxiety over the long term. 

What to choose

No foods contain the ‘feel good’ hormone serotonin, but many do contain the amino acid tryptophan which is one of the building blocks of serotonin. There is some suggestion that certain foods, particularly if eaten with carbohydrates which causes the body to produce more insulin (which promotes amino acid absorption), could give you a serotonin boost, however the evidence is not strong enough to support this. What we do know is that exercise and exposure to UV light can help to improve mood by temporarily increasing serotonin levels.

Salmon contains good fat, Omega-3 fatty acids and has been shown to help balance cholesterol and lower blood pressure. Both can be elevated due to prolonged exposure to stress.

Eating brazil nuts, meat, fish, wholemeal bread and seeds will boost your selenium levels. Low selenium is linked to a negative mood and more depressed state.

Studies have shown that B vitamins (especially thiamin, cobalamin and niacin) and folate can help improve mood and lower stress/anxiety, anger and depression scores. These are water soluble and cannot be stored by the body, so we need a regular intake of them. If your level of intake is decreased for just a few weeks it can lead to you having low levels, which the could affect your mood and take on life. Eat plenty of the green veggies: romaine lettuce, spinach, green peas and asparagus along with wholegrain cereals and bread. Try adding sunflower seeds, cashew nuts, peanuts and sweet almonds into your diet. Folate is found in green vegetables such as cabbage, spinach romaine lettuce, green beas and peas, brussel sprouts and broccoli. Also strawberries, tomatoes, papaya and peppers, fortified cereals and marmite/yeast extract.

Iron has an affect on mood, so eat some red meat, fish, dried fruit and green veggies to help boost your intake.

What to avoid

Alcohol may dull negative feelings and jitters in the short term, but in the long term is actually makes things worse by interfering with natural sleep patterns and increasing feelings of anxiety. It actually decreases levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain and can become addictive.

Anything containing caffeine is also to be avoided if you want to get into a calmer place.

Anything containing caffeine is also to be avoided if you want to go to a calmer place.

Caffeine, which increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, can be found in carbonated colas, sports drinks and coffee. Instead, opt for water. Drink around two litres each day to give your body the best chance to operate at its peak.

Refined sugar gives you an immediate energy high followed by a slump in blood glucose which can wreak havoc on your mood. Instead opt for foods that release their energy slowly into the bloodstream like oatcakes, porridge and wholemeal bread.

Transfats, also known as hydrogenated fats, are found in a wide variety of packaged snacks, cakes and biscuits. A study, published by the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition found that rats who ate transfats for a prolonged period of time had more anxiety-like symptoms than rats who had a transfats free diet.

Priya Tew
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