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Calm down, dear, it’s only a cereal

March 28, 2012

Back in the days of me getting regularly anxious, I was desperate for any information I could get my mitts on about how to handle it.  At some point, my internet research caused me to do something that led to me getting emails from an organisation I won’t link to (but who you can look up online if you really want to – search for “I love Panic Attacks”*).  A few bits of helpful information came my way but also suggestions that I could be helped a lot more if I paid just $47! (or similar).

*Of course you love panic attacks, people who have them might give you money

I realise I am still getting these emails and need to work out how to stop them arriving.   Today’s however, is of interest since it talked about what foods one should and shouldn’t eat in order to remain calm.  Here is what it said:

[I removed the link but it just led to a site with exactly the same text as the email, with a slide show using very similar text and then a box to click to pay $47 to sign up for a course that would fill in all the information gaps]

Having a quick look at the email: firstly, I highly doubt that diet as a single factor would be the cause of someone getting panic attacks – their causes can be complex.

Secondly – ‘train your brain to create more dopamine’?  That information took about half a minute to find for free on the internet:  (see about halfway down the article – How to Increase your Dopamine Levels).  Whether it’s true or not, no idea!

How can you eat fast food without harming your body too much?  I’d just suggest eating it only occasionally or making sure it’s balanced with lots of healthy food.

Actually at this point I’m done bothering to read and deconstruct the email.  It’s a classic case of “let’s hint at what you could get if you pay me” and bollocks (sorry again, mum) to that.  Instead, I’ve found some information for free and will pass it on for free.

Let’s have a look at the source of my information, – do they seem reputable?   In my opinion, probably yes.  Is the information accurate?  I dunno, I’d need to see the same things written a few more places but we have the power.  Some people say if it’s not on NHS Choices then it isn’t true so let’s have a closer look.

The site is put together by a former anxiety sufferer.  He’s written a book about his own journey and there is a page where you can order that and an accompanying app but nowhere else on the site are you asked for money and there’s plenty of information about all aspects of anxiety and recovering.  Dipping into various pages on the site I find myself nodding in agreement at things he says and totally recommend the site as reading matter for anyone who gets anxiety.

For purposes of this blog, however, we want to look at what he says about food, which is here.

I’m going to simplify by repeating 2 lists he includes: foods to eat and foods to avoid – I’ve colour coded both lists – PURPLE for vegan (or the possibility of the food being vegan), GREEN for vegetarian (or the possibility of the food being vegetarian) and then regular black for where food is meat or fish,    .

Foods to avoid

  • Fizzy drinks
  • Processed food 
  • White bread
  • Chips
  • Pastry
  • Cakes
  • Caffeine
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate 
  • Cheese
  • Fast Food

I am in agreement with chips, caffeine, sugar and alcohol as stressors from personal experience but not too sure about the rest.  I thought chocolate was supposed to make you high or something?  And the casein in cheese is meant to be addictive and soothing.   It’s also really, really hard to avoid processed food the whole time because there’s this thing called having to live your life and well, one can’t be cooking from scratch all the time.  Is there anything in that list that’s essential to the body, though?  Nah.

Foods to eat

  • Yogurt
  • Bananas
  • Vegetables
  • Wholegrain foods
  • Brown Rice
  • Beans
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Fresh Fish
  • Poached Egg
  • Tuna
  • Fruit
  • Porridge
  • Baked potato
  • Peanut butter
  • Garlic
  • Spinach

I’m well up for most of these foods and I notice something else about most of them as well – they have a bundle of vitamins in.  But in what way are they calming?  And why is baked potato on the list of things to eat but chips are on the list of things to avoid?  Dear NHS Choices, please tell me before I commit heinous crimes of reorganising of my diet for no reason or to my detriment!

Things with sugar in give your body a temporary boost and then there’s a subsequent drop in energy, which can make you feel tired and irritable.  That covers the fizzy drinks, cakes and chocolate and maybe the pastry.
Caffeine can drive your stress levels up if you drink too much – fizzy drinks also included because they usually contain it.
All they say about alcohol is that it’s an unhealthy coping mechanism which will not solve your problems, just give you new ones (hey, I know people who do that – who needs booze?)
No mention is made of processed foods being bad but they do say you need a steady stream of energy throughout the day and processed foods are more likely to contain simple carbs that release energy quickly rather than slowly so I’m inferring the white bread, the pastry and the chips now.

Now let’s look at what it’s recommended one eats for a healthy diet (please note it does not mention particular calmitude-inducing properties):
Protein like in meat, fish, cheese, tofu and eggs – this means cheese has changed categories, which I will leave others to worry about because I don’t eat it anyway.
Carbs like potatoes, bread, pasta and rice – they don’t make any mention of refined vs wholegrain but the latter keeps you fuller for longer.
Dairy like cheese, milk and yogurts – although you can get all the vitamins and stuff from elsewhere so if, like me, you don’t eat any, never fear – YOU WILL LIVE!
Fruit and veg – natch, is where a load of the interesting vitamins live, like vitamin K from green, leafy vegetables and which colleague K assured me she had not invented.  While we’re on the subject, what happened to vitamins H and I?

Finally in the healthy diet list are fats and sugars – notably the specific things they mention for fats are nuts and avocados, which are awesome health-wise.  For sugars they say ‘sweet food’; I guess  because they don’t know what else to say, having already dissed sugar.

Will I be making any changes having read all that information?  I’ve already given up caffeine and alcohol and I only eat white bread when I’m offered it at someone’s house, also I use brown rice etc.   Plus I drink chamomile tea like it’s going out of fashion so I’m full of calming flowers all day and thus doubt turkey porridge with peanut butter and spinach is going to help any extra.

I think a more sensible approach is to NOTICE how you feel after you’ve eaten a certain thing.  Do you feel good afterwards?  Bingo!  Eat that stuff again, it worked for you.  Do you feel icky afterwards?  Don’t make that thing a regular part of your diet unless you want to feel regularly icky.

A final few words to Mr “I Love Panic Attacks” – Taurine is present in Energy Drinks, which also contain a load of caffeine.  I couldn’t find any other sources that said it ‘calms you down’.  It’s of animal origin so veggies please steer clear.   Magnesium is in loads of foods – you’re probably getting enough not to have to make a hoo ha about it.  No, Omega 3 is not a waste of money – veggies get thee to some flaxseed oil if you’d like some.

Here endeth.  Hope to be able to review that HAES book soon as Amazon sends it – apologies to anyone who was expecting that review instead of this.

  1. “And why is baked potato on the list of things to eat but chips are on the list of things to avoid?”

    Fat content, I’ll bet. Baked potato has almost none, chips have loads.

    “While we’re on the subject, what happened to vitamins H and I?”

    The discovery of vitamins was very hit-and-miss, so we didn’t really know what we were dealing with (and hence how to name them sensibly) until we’d done a lot of naming already. So there was a lot of renaming and reclassification – and things are still not entirely clear, and far from neat and tidy.

    Vitamin K was (I think) so named because it was important in blood Koagulation (it was Germans doing the naming), and when it was named there were plenty of candidates for the vitamins between E and J – and indeed for later letters of the alphabet.

    Vitamin F was once a name for essential fatty acids – now not classified as a vitamin at all, because to count as a vitamin we now say it has to be something you only need trace amounts of, and you need a fair amount of essential fatty acids. When we realised how closely they were related, a lot of vitamins were reclassified as B-complex vitamins: vitamin G (riboflavin) was reclassified as vitamin B6, vitamin H (biotin) got reclassified as B7, and vitamin M (folic acid) was reclassified as vitamin B9. I think there were others, too. And even after all that the B-complex vitamins aren’t perfectly neatly named: there’s no vitamin B4 or B8, because it turned out that they can be synthesised in the body.

    There’s still borderline cases within the vitamins everyone more-or-less agrees on these days: for instance, vitamin D can be synthesised in your skin, and biotin/vitamin B7 can be synthesised by bacteria in your intestines – but some people still need them from diet, so most people count them as vitamins.

    • You are a mine of information, Sir 🙂
      That was all fascinating to read
      You are in danger of becoming someone I ask about things when I have no clue

  2. That’s a list of foods that contain high levels of tryptophan, which increases levels of serotonin and melatonin in the brain. Weirdly they don’t mention chocolate, which has loads of it, but maybe they don’t want to go around telling people to gorge themselves on Lindt 70%.

    • COOL!
      So I see from the link you gave that eggs are high in tryptophan and you’ve just told me chocolate is high in tryptophan. I’m deducing therefore that chocolate eggs must be waaaay high 😉

      Thanks for the link 🙂
      Wondering if chocolate is missing because it usually contains a load of sugar x

      • Yes, I suspect the short-term ‘buzz’ of sugar in most commercial chocolate will cancel out any long-term calming benefits. From my understanding the very strong, high-cocoa solids chocolate which doesn’t have too much sugar or added fat is best.

  3. I got some 90% Lindt at the supermarket yesterday, which hopefully counts in that latter category 🙂

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