What you eat and drink can affect how you feel. Eating a nutritious, balanced diet is part of a holistic approach to bringing peace and calm to your life so in this article we discuss what foods (and drinks) can cause agitation and suggest alternatives. We also highlight some ways you can find peace and calm through how you eat.
What foods can cause agitation or anxiousness in your body?
Agitation – restlessness or aggravation, or maybe nervous energy feels uncomfortable in the body. Whilst it can be triggered by outside factors (stress, interactions with others, life situations) these feelings can also arise through our diet – what we regularly eat and drink. Below we list items that can lead to agitation or anxiety, and give you some suggestions on what you can include in your diet instead.
- E-numbers (food additives and preservatives) – these products are often added to processed foods to make them last longer or to give them a nice colour. They include a wide range of products that have passed various “safety” tests and approved for use in food products. For example nitrite and nitrate (E249-E252) are often added to meat to increase its shelf life (by stopping the growth of bacteria). Certain colour additives have been shown to lead to hyperactivity particularly among children, e.g. E110 (sunset yellow) and E102 (tartrazine). Sodium benzoate (E211) is a preservative and has also been linked to hyperactivity in children and decreased attention.
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners (like aspartame (E951), sorbitol (E420) and saccharine (E954)) – usually added to bring sweetness to foods but also sometimes advertised as giving “energy” (think about those “energy drinks” or “energy bars”). High amounts of sugar can give you a burst in energy (as it spikes your blood sugar levels), but this is usually followed by a low, leaving you feeling tired. We recommend that you use more natural sources of sugar, like eating fresh or dried fruit (dates, raisins or sultanas) or those sugars that have a lower glycaemic index (rice syrup or high grade maple syrup) and give the processed sweeteners a miss. See the additional comments below for sustainable energy sources.
- Manufactured flavour enhancers like monosodium glutamate (MSG – also known as E621), which are added to food to make you feel “fuller” or more satisfied. Studies have suggested that MSG (and processed glutamate) can overstimulate the nervous system, so we suggest excluding it completely from your diet. MSG is commonly added to Chinese food, but it also finds its way into many prepacked and processed foods (sometimes into soups, canned foods and meat). You can exclude this from your diet by checking the label on any packaged foods; monosodium glutamate, glutamic acid, glutamate. Other additives also contain processed glutamate, including: yeast extract, yeast food and hydrolyzed protein. Some researchers believe that many people are intolerant to this additive, so excluding MSG or other processed glutamates from your diet should help you feel calmer.
- Vinegar – is extremely acidic. Too much will mean that your body starts to become more acidic, which is when health problems can arise, and you will feel uncomfortable. The key to the use of vinegar is balance. Apple cider vinegar is one of the better vinegars to use, and has been shown to help to clear yeast infections, as well as other health benefits. Try using lemon or lime instead of vinegar.
- Chocolate. Hmmnn. The debate over the positive and negative benefits of chocolate continues! Check the pack of your chocolate bar and give them a miss if they contain high levels of sugar, butter, milk and cream, as well as any of the additives listed above. Chocolate bars often contain high amounts of saturated fat (which is contributes to bad cholesterol levels and may lead to heart problems) and caffeine, both of which can lead to agitation in your body. Chocolate, specifically cacao, is a source of antioxidants, so including some small amounts of good quality chocolate in your diet occasionally is good for your body (but this does not mean eat a large bar of dairy milk every night!). It also contains neurotransmitters which can help our body to release feel good chemicals (increasing serotonin levels). Dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate, but again, check the packet and be aware of what you are eating.
- Caffeine – too much can cause an increase in heartbeat, sweating, nervousness and many other symptoms, all of which can make you feel agitated inside. If you do want to drink coffee or tea, make sure you drink it at least 4 hours before you go to bed. Consider cutting down the amount of caffeinated drinks you consume, so that you only have one or maximum two per day. Substitute with herbal teas, decaffeinated alternatives (although again keep the number low) or coffee alternatives (like those using grains)
- Alcohol – whilst you are drinking alcohol you might feel that it brings peace and calm, in reality it is doing the opposite, and your body will feel worse for wear the next morning, particularly if you drink a large amount! Consider only drinking alcohol once or twice per week, and keeping to two glasses. Do it mindfully (and enjoy it) and know when to stop.
- Allergies and intolerances – it may be that your body does not tolerate certain foods. If you think this might be the case, check out our earlier blog article on how to do an elimination diet.
- Spicy (heat) foods, like cayenne pepper and chili powder can heat up your system and cause agitation. At the same time, many spices have a great effect on our bodies, bringing balance and calm. For example, cinnamon is great for stabilizing blood sugars and for reducing bad cholesterol (LDL) – try this months juice, Cinnamon Cleanse.
Digestive aids for calm
Many herbals teas have excellent properties for bringing calm to the body and the following list are all great to drink if you feel agitated or if your tummy is uncomfortable:
- Linden flower (Tila in Spanish)
Quiet, sustainable energy (food) sources
For food that will give you sustainable energy for your day, include plenty of beans, pulses and legumes in your diet. There are a wide range of beans and lentils available in most supermarkets, either dried or already cooked. (If you take the cooked variety check the ingredients to find the most natural that you can). Read this months recipe for our black bean quesadillas for a wonderful lunch or evening meal idea. Chickpeas are also great to include – here is the link to our hummus recipe.
Check out what carbs you include in your diet. We love using millet (its actually a seed) or buckwheat, instead of potatoes, bread or pasta, as these two wholegrains bring sustainable energy to the body, as well as being packed with vital vitamins and minerals.
Hormones play a role in how we feel and when our hormones are out of balance, we can feel restless or full of nervous energy. In a previous blog article, we discussed how what we eat can affect our hormones and seen how some foods, like brown rice, are great for balancing our hormones. Check out the article by clicking here.
How do you normally eat your meals? Do you sit in front of the television with the food on a tray? Do you regularly skip meals or eat at your desk at work?
Bring mindfulness to your mealtime. Consider putting down your knife and fork, and chewing each mouthful of food at least 10-20 times (more if you can, 30 is great!). Take the time to really taste the food that you are eating and you will not only find yourself enjoying it more, you will eat less, as you will start to notice that you are full.
Take regular meal breaks and find a dedicated space for them – whilst at work, move away from your desk, even for 20 minutes. Consider setting your table at home (with the good crockery and serviettes!) to enjoy a meal, with your partner, family or on your own. Make meal time a special occasion for yourself! Turn off the TV, put down the book and simply enjoy the food. Maybe, sometimes your family could try eating a meal in silence!
For centuries people have gone on regular cleanses, either fasting or other cleanses, maybe with juicing. We often suggest that people take a 3-day juice here at La Crisalida (for more on juicing click here) and it’s a great idea to allow your body to cleanse (and rest) from food a couple of times per year. Clear out of your diary to make time so that your whole body and mind can rest whilst you are juicing, to get maximum benefit.
Other useful resources
To your health and wellbeing.
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).