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5 Healthy Food Habits to Help Combat Midlife Stress and Anxiety

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

The menopause phase of life is a time of physical and emotional changes beyond the end of fertility. It is an individual experience in which some women seem to transition through easily while others are left feeling irritable, stressed and anxious due to the effects of hormone fluctuations or the reduction of estrogen and progesterone hormones.

On top of hormonal changes, some women experience increased stress and anxiety levels from extra pressures at home or at work. Children, teens, aging parents, and career demands can leave many feeling overwhelmed. Others may also be struggling with an empty nest and a shift in routines or relationships. Not to mention, too, the 2020 pandemic that has driven nearly everyone’s stress and anxiety levels to an all-time high.

Stress plays a huge role in how we experience menopause. Hot flashes, headaches, disturbed sleep, low sex drive, digestive disturbances and weight gain are a few of the negative effects some women in midlife face.

It is so important that chronic stress be managed. Studies are showing that it can increase the risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Nutrition that supports gut (digestive) function is key to stress and anxiety management. Your gut, gut microbes, brain and mental health are all interconnected and influence each other.

When our gut does its job absorbing what we need, and keeping out what we don’t (and what’s harmful), it helps to nourish every single cell in our bodies.

Let's take a look at 5 simple dietary habits you can implement now to support your digestive system and help decrease your stress and anxiety levels.

1. Increase your dietary fibre.

A high-fibre diet consisting of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes and beans can help balance blood sugars and feed friendly gut bacteria which have been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms. As well, these high-nutrient foods help replenish nutrients, like vitamin C, B vitamins and the minerals magnesium and iron, that are commonly lost during stressful periods. Many experts in the field of menopause recommend women eat 30 grams or more of fibre daily as part of a healthy food plan. You can read more about the benefits of dietary fibre in this blog post.

2. Add fermented foods to your plate.

Probiotics are health-promoting microbes that we can eat, drink or supplement with. These microbes are friendly because they perform important functions that enhance our health. For one, they crowd out bad microbes we ingest that can cause disease and increase our risk of serious gut infections. Stress can have a negative impact on our gut microbiota. So, it’s essential that we make a habit of replenishing our body with friendly microbes found naturally in foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, apple cider vinegar and kimchi.

3. Eat magnesium and vitamin B-rich foods.

Research shows that magnesium plays a role in migraines and depression and can help with chronic pain and anxiety. Foods naturally rich in magnesium may help a person feel calmer such as spinach, pumpkin seeds, legumes, bananas, and oats. These foods are also good sources of the amino acid tryptophan which is converted to serotonin in the body and may promote relaxation and anxiety relief.

B vitamins may also have a relaxing effect on some people. In particular, research shows that women who consume more vitamin B6 are less likely to experience anxiety and panic attacks. When combined with magnesium, vitamin B6 seems to be more effective with severe stress. Chickpeas, nuts, bananas, and tofu are great plant-based sources of vitamin B6 and dark leafy greens and whole grains are rich in B vitamins.

4. Keep hydrated.

Staying hydrated is especially important if you are experiencing hot flashes and night sweats. Water helps counteract stress by circulating nutrients throughout the body. Keep in mind that caffeine in coffee, black tea and energy drinks contribute to dehydration and nervousness. Switching to green tea may be a better option as the L-theanine in green tea is known to reduce stress without causing sedation. Chamomile tea is a great choice in the evenings as it is a good nerve tonic and a gentle relaxant.

5. Relax at mealtimes.

To help properly digest nutrients, try to rest and relax before and after eating. Chew your food well and avoid drinking cold drinks with your meals. Eat at a table with family and friends and put on some soft music to keep mealtimes

Stress is an unavoidable part of life in today’s world. Identifying triggers and finding suitable outlets for stress helps reduce its negative impact on our health. As a holistic nutritionist, I help my clients recognize their triggers and find ways to decrease their feelings of sadness, concern or fear. One way is by establishing some healthy food habits.

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