A quick search on the link between a low carb diet and feeling anxious will return more than a million results, but if you like your health advice served by someone other than Dr Google, we enlisted leading dietitian and nutritionist, Lyndi Cohen, for guidance on the link between these two (seemingly unrelated) subjects.
According to Cohen, if you’re skipping pasta and swapping out sandwiches, it’s important to watch your mood, because yes, there is a scientific link between this meal plan and that low (or high) grade hum of unease, typical to anxiety.
“First of all, what we eat has an incredible impact on our mood,” says Cohen, “and carb-rich foods trigger the production of tryptophan and serotonin, brain chemicals that boost your mood.
“When your brain doesn’t get enough (or produce enough) of these chemicals, it can cause depression, which is just one of the reasons it’s essential to keep a balanced diet that includes all food groups. So, make sure you have included carbs like wholegrains, legumes, fruit and dairy in the mix,” she says, adding that “cutting out carbs can also make it harder to eat out at social occasions (hello Italian restaurants!) which can cause a person to feel isolated.”
Cohen also says that if you’re cutting carbs to lose weight, you might be sabotaging your goals without even realising. This is because you need carbs in your diet, so your body is getting all the nutrients it needs to function optimally.
“So many of us are so focused on trying to lose weight, that we often overlook our mental health. This can be a big mistake as it’s your brain, not your body, that decides what to eat and when.
“If you’ve cut our carbs and experience anxiety or depressive feelings as a result, you’re actually less likely to exercise, eat well and take care of yourself. Plus, you’re prone to emotional eating when your mental health is suffering, which, ironically, jeopardises the health goals you set up for yourself initially,” says Cohen.
So, while many people (misguidedly) think that no carbs is a ‘healthy’ choice, could it be a contributing factor to today’s ‘anxiety epidemic’?
“If you have a history of anxiety or depression, only go on a low carbohydrate diet with support from your health practitioner, and, if you’ve started a low carb diet and have noticed a drop in your mood, simply reintroduce carbohydrates focusing on low GI (or slow burning) whole food options like legumes, fruit, yoghurt or milk, and whole grains like quinoa or oats,” says Cohen.
Still, when it comes to health, there are no hard and fast rules – everybody (and every body) is different, and “different people will react differently to diets, so if low carb feels right for your body, then keep doing it. However, if you’re noticing your mood is lowered or you’re having mood swings, reconsider your diet and look at your health, holistically.
“Always listen to your body as it’s giving you clues about how to best feed it and look after it, because the healthiest people are the ones who listen to their own bodies instead of following trends.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 131 114, Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. In an emergency, call 000. For a correct treatment plan, book an appointment with your GP.
This piece was first seen on ‘My Body+Soul’ May 23 2017.