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How to Eat to Reduce Anxiety in Kids

I have struggled with anxiety pretty much my entire life. From the time I was very little I worried about things most people never even think about.

It gradually increased over the years, coming to a head in my 20’s with full-blown panic attacks. My poor husband got a crash course in mental health issues in our early years of marriage.

But something changed as I approached my 30’s. The anxiety started to go in the opposite direction. Instead of a daily battle it was more of a once-in-a-while/situational event. What shifted?

My diet!

I started to learn about real food and natural health. I made some adjustments to what and how I ate. And it truly changed the trajectory of my life.

Can You Prevent Anxiety With Diet?

Funny enough this all happened around the time I had my first child…and she was struggling neurologically and emotionally. So I really made the dietary changes for both of us.

We were both experiencing significant brain inflammation. This happens when the glial cells in the brain become primed and then activated. The result is symptoms such as:

  • Brian fog
  • Light sensitivity
  • Word searching
  • Difficulty staying present (lack of focus)
  • Low tolerance for stress
  • Decision fatigue
  • Clumsiness
  • Headaches
  • Depression & anxiety
  • Delayed reaction time
  • Developmental delays

Brain inflammation is often a contributing factor when it comes to anxiety. So take note of how often your child experiences any of these symptoms.

anxious teen

How Can You Reduce Anxiety in Kids?

Another source of inflammation that can contribute to anxiety is gut inflammation. This often goes hand-in-hand with brain inflammation.

Do you notice any digestive symptoms or even skin reactions when your child is feeling anxious? That is a telltale sign that there is gut inflammation.

Using diet and lifestyle to put out the fire of the inflammation will go a long way to reduce anxiety in kids.

Eating to Reduce Anxiety

So what does a diet that reduces inflammation and anxiety look like?

One of the most important dietary adjustments to make is reducing sugar and keeping meals and snacks balanced. All meals and snacks should contain a balance of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Not only will this help keep blood sugar stable, it will help a child maintain a steady level of energy and decrease mood swings. Imabalanced blood sugar and low energy are both sources of stress on the body.

Protein is a key dietary component for amino acids to create neurotransmitters (such as GABA and serotonin) and support proper brain function.

Healthy fats are essential for cellular structure and for getting energy into the cells quickly. Short-chain and medium-chain fatty acids are great sources of energy. These include butyrate and MCT oil.

Finally, fiber from complex carbohydrates helps support a healthy microbiome. This in turn helps the body produce some of the short-chain fatty acids and neruotransmitters.

All combined the three macronutrients give energy at a cellular level, help reduce inflammation, and reduce anxiety.

protein and healthy fats

Can Diet Reduce Anxiety in Kids?

Now that you know some general guidelines for helping your anxious child, let’s dig deeper into specifics for active anxiety.

Whether your child is experiencing worry, separation anxiety, or any other symptoms of anxiety, start by assessing if it is acute or chronic.

An acute stressor, such as a test, a speech, or meeting new poeple will respond well to staying consistent with the general dietary guidelines, such as balanced meals and minimal processed foods and sugar.

Chronic feelings of anxiety, even when no actual stressor is present, will require more specific nutrition.

When anxiety is chronic, the body is likely inflamed and running out of energy. The goal is to reduce energy expenditure and increase energy input.

Keeping food easy to digest is essential. This can look like soups, stews, smoothies, and well-cooked meats and vegetables. Digestion takes a lot of energy! Making it as easy as possible will go a long way.

It’s also important to make sure your child’s diet is nutrient-dense and that the nutrients are highly absorbable. This will vary for each individual. Some will do better going heavier on animal proteins and fats. Others will do better with more carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, and properly-prepared grains. A Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis can help you figure out exactly what works best for your child.

Finally, some key nutrients that support a sense of calm in the body and the brain are magnesium, calcium, potassium, Vitamin C, and B Vitamins. Focus on foods rich in these nutrients.

berry smoothie

Foods to Support Mental Health

Both plant foods and animal foods are essential for good mental health. And while I don’t believe going overboard on any one “superfood” is healthy, there are some foods that can be supportive of reducing inflammation and boosting energy if eaten regularly (doesn’t need to be daily). These include:

  • broccoli
  • garlic
  • salmon
  • sardines
  • eggs
  • blueberries
  • probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables
  • colorful fruits and vegetables
  • avocado
  • olive oil
  • high-fiber foods
  • organ meats
  • bee pollen
teen eating lunch

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Is Anxiety Preventable?

When working with my clients, the goal is always to focus on building up the body and on what you can add. However, it is important to mention some dietary factors that may be contributing to anxiety that need to be removed.

Diet and lifestyle factors that can contribute to anxiety include:

  • Food dyes/artificial colors – these are neurotoxins and will put a burden on the brain, gut, and liver.
  • Sugar – sugar is inflammatory. Use natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup in moderation. Avoid processed sugars, especially white sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
  • Food sensitivities/allergies – common inflammatory foods include wheat, gluten, and dairy. These are not problematic for everyone. But they are the most common culprits. Some other possibilities include nuts/seeds, nightshades, high histamine foods, and oxalates.
  • Processed foods – keeping processed foods to a minimum will help reduce gut inflammation and allow more room for nutrient-dense/supportive foods. This will also reduce exposure to fortified foods. Vitamin and mineral fortification leads to imblance and toxicity. Some synthetic nutrients to watch out for include calcium, Vitmian D, iron, and B Vitamins.
  • Toxic cleaners and health and beauty products – exposure to chemicals will also drain energy and put a burden on the body’s detox pathways. Keep toxins out of the home and focus on natural cleaning and body products.
  • Heavy metals – expsoure to heavy metals (such as aluminum, lead, mercury, and arsenic) can create imbalance in the body since heavy metals displace essential minerals. Reducing any known expsoure and using HTMA to check for hidden exposure can help pinpoint a contributing factor to anxiety.
girl eating doughnut

How Diet Can Impact Anxiety

Thankfully, I rarely have anxiety anymore. If I do, it’s more related to my nervous system, not my diet. But I can tell if problematic foods start creeping in. They definitely open the door for anxiety.

If your child is struggling with anxiety, focus on a balance of real food. Keep irritating foods out. Put an emphasis on easy-to-digest nutrient-dense foods. A nourishing diet can make all the difference when it comes to anxiety in kids!

Have you noticed a connection between diet and your child’s anxiety?

how diet can reduce anxiety

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