Feeling anxious Eating fermented foods may help 1

Feeling anxious? Eating fermented foods may help

Are you experiencing anxiety? Do you have racing thoughts, are you struggling to focus, do you have tense muscles and finding it difficult to get to sleep? You could be low in GABA.

What is GABA?

GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in your brain. It exerts a sedative effect and acting as your body’s ‘off switch’, aiding calm, sleep, and relaxation.

GABA & Mood

Having low GABA is implicated in anxiety and a balance between GABA and its excitatory neurotransmitter counterpart, glutamate, is essential for a stable mood.

A deficiency in GABA can mean that your brain and nervous system are overstimulated and dominated by glutamate, promoting an anxious, overly alert state. 

GABA is found widely in whole grain foods such as oats and brown rice, however, a great source of GABA can be obtained from fermented foods.

GABA and Fermented Foods

There has been renewed interest in fermented foods due to their purported health benefits, especially being a source of friendly bacteria, which can positively influence human gut health.

Fermented foods were traditionally produced to help combat spoilage before refrigeration was possible. These foods have been subjected to the action of friendly microbes, such as lactobacillus bacteria, to create an environment that prevents pathogenic growth.

During the fermentation process, the bacteria naturally synthesise GABA which can interact with the gut wall, potentially benefitting overall GABA levels.

Researchers are still deciding if eating GABA-rich foods means that GABA enters the brain via the blood-brain barrier (BBB), an extremely selective membrane barrier between your bloodstream and your brain which protects harmful substances accessing the brain.

However, the research is clear that fermented foods can have a positive role to play in the gut and, as such, may indirectly promote GABA via the gut-brain axis (a bi-directional way that the brain and gut communicate), ultimately promoting calmness and tranquillity, and therefore helping to alleviate anxiety.

Types of Fermented Foods:

Because fermented foods have increased in popularity, it is relatively easy to source them in most major supermarkets.

The best GABA sources are:

  • Miso
  • Kimchi
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Natto
  • Probiotic yoghurt
  • Tempeh

Ideas to get more fermented foods and GABA into your diet

Miso – soups & broths, dressing, and marinades. I often roast broccoli or aubergine with miso, along with a little chill & garlic.

Kimchi & sauerkraut – originating from Korea, kimchi is spicier than sauerkraut. Add to salads, rice, and noodle bowls.

Probiotic yoghurt – top soups, curries or eat with granola and berries for breakfast

Kefir – enjoy as a drink or add to smoothies and overnight oats.

Tempeh –I use it as a plant-based alternative to meat. It is best marinated first – try teriyaki – and add to salads, stir-fries, or use in a curry

Kombucha – drink as an alternative to alcohol

Natto – this is an acquired taste and traditionally eaten over rice with vegetables.  


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