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Fermented Food Helps Social Anxiety, Study Says

Fermented Food Helps Social Anxiety, Study Says

Psychologists usually look to factors in the mind in an attempt to help people struggling with mental health issues. But that process is quickly changing. While the mind is a beautiful and powerful place, studies show that the stomach may also play an important role in your overall health — physically and socially.

In a 2015 study done by William & Mary Psychology Professors Matthew Hilimire and Catherine Forestell in conjunction with University of Maryland School of Social Work Assistant Professor Jordan DeVylder, researchers reveal a possible connection between the mind and the gut. Their findings disclose a connection between fermented foods which contain probiotics (the good  bacteria in your digestive tract) and social anxiety symptoms. Those probiotic filled foods could be the answer to decreasing one’s fear of social situations.

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Psychologists asked over 700 college students about the fermented foods they consumed over the course of 30 days. The questionnaire also asked about consumption of fruits and vegetables as well as exercise frequency. The researchers found that individuals who had consumed more fermented foods (such as yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha) had reduced cases of social anxiety. The effect was greater in those who rated highly on the neurotic scale. The researchers also found, secondarily, that those who exercised more were more likely to have reduced social anxiety. So, those who were susceptible before the study would show the strongest connection between eating yogurt and participating in group therapy.

While further research is needed to solidify some other points of the study such as whether or not a causative connection can be made between eating fermented foods and reducing social anxiety, it’s safe to assume that a diet which includes probiotic filled foods is good for your health and your social life.

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Here are five fermented foods that are tasty, healthy, easy to eat, and that help to decrease social anxiety:

1. Yogurt

All yogurts contain some probiotics. The yogurt with the “Live & Active Cultures” seal contains approximately 100 million probiotic cultures per gram when it’s manufactured — this equates to about 25 billion probiotic cultures within one cup. Kefir, a fermented milk product, is a drinkable type of yogurt which has even more probiotics.

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2. Kombucha

Kombucha is a type of effervescent tea which combines black (or green) tea, natural sugar, yeast, and bacteria (the good kind). The yeast and bacteria consume the sugar and the result is a delicious drink high in B vitamins, acetic acid, and probiotics. A very small amount of alcohol is included in this drink during fermentation and studies have shown that it helps to stabilize blood glucose levels.

3. Miso

Miso, a Japanese seasoning, is a paste-like substance made from soybeans, rice, and barley. It has a bold taste and works well in soups, stir-frys, and drinks including this Blueberry Miso Smoothie. Since it is high in sodium, only a little bit is needed to season up any dish.

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4. Tempeh

Tempeh, the nutty-tasting relative of tofu, is made from naturally fermented soybeans. It is a good source of probiotics as it contains amino acids. It contains a good dose of iron, calcium, and protein. It can be used in burgers and stir-frys. And because it’s fermented, it’s much easier to digest than some soy products.

5. Kimchi

Kimchi is a spicy fermented cabbage, closely related to sauerkraut. Pasteurized versions of kimchi do not contain probiotics. However, if you look for “unpasteurized,” “live and active cultures,” or “naturally fermented” labels, you will find the real deal. Don’t forget to refrigerate as getting sick from rotten food that is already unpasteurized is a greater possibility.

What we eat is just one way to look at our mental states. As researchers and psychologists continue to learn about the connections between our brain and our stomach, it seems like food will increasingly have a profound effect upon how we feel and how we connect with others. This is just one wonderful reason to be kind to your tummy.

Featured photo credit: Frozen yogurt with raspberry coulis at Frozen in South Yarra/Katherine Lim via flickr.com

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Daniella Whyte

Psychology Researcher

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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