Nutrition and anxiety

Professor David Russell explores the relationship between nutrition and anxiety

According to Young Minds, a UK-based charity supporting young people with mental health challenges, one in ten children has a diagnosable mental health disorder – that’s roughly three children in every classroom. This figure rises in adolescence, where one in five young adults has a diagnosable mental health disorder.

What’s fuelling this rise? Theories range from increased reporting and diagnostic improvements to social media, vaccinations, increased life pressures and financial struggles. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that mental health challenges are omnipresent in today’s society and particularly prevalent in our classrooms and lecture theatres.

So, what can we do to help?

Nutrition may not be the natural first step that comes to mind, but research is emerging that suggests a nutrient-dense plate could support those with mental health issues, especially anxiety and depression. We’ll explore just one parameter of this idea today: blood sugar levels.

Observational evidence suggests that a relationship may exist between high glycemic index (GI) diets and the development of anxiety and depression symptoms, according to a study within the Case Reports in Psychiatry Journal. High GI foods are commonly known as refined carbohydrates, or food that spikes blood sugar rapidly. The article discusses how high GI foods result in an increase in blood glucose levels and a corresponding drop in blood sugar. This drop is associated with an acute increase in adrenaline which contributes to neuropsychiatric symptoms – including anxiety. The Harvard Medical School blog agree that low blood sugar can precipitate or mimic symptoms of anxiety, and therefore it is important that enduring blood sugar levels are kept stable.

There are many other studies suggesting nutritional interventions to support anxiety. Our recommendations are: green vegetables, oily fish, eggs, lean meats, root vegetables, wholegrains, low-sugar fruits (berries, apples, pears), full-fat dairy, pulses, legumes, nuts and seeds. We’d also recommend opting for three main meals which contain protein, fibre and fat, as opposed to regular snacking. We’ll explore this another time…

To finish, we want to highlight the importance of professional therapies, social support and stress management when dealing with mental health. Nutrition is by no means a catch-all solution but is a supportive aide in managing mental health challenges.

For more on the Russell Partnership, visit

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