Childhood anxiety is on-the-rise, and for those impacted, a healthy, balanced diet is critical. Within the United States, approximately 7.1 percent of children have been diagnosed with anxiety — and although there are medications and therapy options available, not all children respond to these treatments, and in many cases, experience side effects.
In other cases, children do not receive any treatment. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 80 percent of children with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not getting the treatment they need.
Although there are numerous variables associated with anxiety disorders in children, including genetics and various external factors, there is increasing evidence that a correlation between one's diet and associated anxious behavior may exist.
The Relationship Between Diet and Anxiety
Understanding the relationship between diet and anxiety is the first step towards making progress in relation to a child's overall treatment plan.
Numerous studies have focused on this relationship, including a 2014 review, published in the American Journal of Public Health. It was concluded that unhealthy dietary patterns among children were associated with poorer mental health, and in comparison, a quality diet was linked to better mental health.
Given that the average age of onset for anxiety is six years of age, early intervention is key. If your child currently suffers from anxiety or behavioral issues, there are nutritional strategies in which you can implement — starting today!
Alter Your Child's Diet: Foods to Include and Avoid
One key nutrient believed to impact anxiety levels is magnesium, as showcased in this study. It was found that a magnesium deficiency in mice enhanced symptoms of anxiety, as this mineral helps regulate stress hormones. Some of the best sources of magnesium include, but are not limited to dark leafy greens, nuts, legumes, and seeds.
Zinc is another important nutrient, which is found in cashews, beef, chickpeas, and shellfish — as well as B-complex vitamins, found in everything from avocado to poultry, spinach to bananas. There is also evidence that an increase in omega-3 fatty acids can improve symptoms of anxiety. Some of the best sources include salmon, shrimp, trout, seaweed, hemp seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts.
Lastly, researchers are beginning to examine a possible relationship between the gut and conditions such as anxiety disorders. This is based on the fact that approximately 95 percent of your serotonin receptors are located in the gut. This is why researchers recommend an increased intake of probiotics, including yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha, and kefir.
In comparison, it's recommended that you decrease your child's intake of sugar. Research has shown that a reduced intake of sugar may not only improve symptoms of anxiety and depression in children, but also increase concentration levels. Avoid simple sugars found in candy, soda, processed foods, and white bread. This will also help your child avoid artificial food dyes, which have been shown to increase hyperactivity and feelings of anxiety.
In summary, focus on a balanced, whole food diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, as well as quality sources of meat and fish, avoiding heavily processed foods that spike blood glucose levels and negatively impact key neurotransmitter levels.
Looking for more information? Here's an excellent guide to support your child's anti-anxiety nutritional plan.