How Diet can help with Stress

Ah stress, we’re all so very, very busy these days, striving to find that work / life balance. Whilst nutrition can’t lessen your workload or responsibilities it can help you to better cope with them. Stress, in itself, causes stress to the body, increasing our physiological demand for many nutrients. Unfortunately, when stressed, people can neglect their diet, eat unwisely and can make the situation worse.

7 Steps to Support Stress

1. Manage your blood sugar levels

Cortisol, one of the hormones released by the adrenal glands, has a major role in managing blood sugar, with low levels making us ratty and irritable. Prevent this by eating at regular intervals. This doesn’t mean croissant for breakfast, cake for snack and a white bread sandwich for lunch. Each meal should contain quality protein (e.g chicken, fish, pulses or eggs) and healthy fats. Again, not the sort that doughnuts are fried in are but olive oil, fatty fish and butter (yes, butter). Fats and proteins take longer to digest and release their energy slowly. Fibre has the same effect so go for whole grains and plenty of vegetables.

2. Get your 7-a-day

Stress can lower levels of several phytonutrients including Vitamin C, which can lead to reduced immune function and a susceptibility to infection. One of the highest stores of Vitamin C in the body is in the adrenal glands so stress can have a direct effect. Ensure every meal contains salad or vegetables, which will preferably cover half your plate. Follow afterwards with a piece of fruit.

3. Love it or Loathe it – Marmite

In addition stress also lowers several B vitamins which are needed for nerve function. Marmite is a great source of B vitamins, including B12 - critical for vegans. If you’re not a lover of Marmite (and apparently there are a few) try whole grains, pulses, breads and pastas which retain their B vitamins. Marmite on whole-grain toast is a double whammy. A handful of mixed seeds and nuts as your mid-morning snack will further increase your intake and balance blood sugar levels too.

4. Potassium

Cortisol also affects our levels of potassium and sodium, causing excretion of potassium whilst retaining sodium. Avoid highly salted foods and include potassium rich vegetables such as celery, cauliflower and avocado in your 7-a-day.

5. Have a Relaxing Bath

Along with potassium magnesium is also excreted in greater amounts when stressed. Unfortunate when it is necessary for restful sleep and Vitamin B6 metabolism. Top up your levels with a calming bath of Epsom salts and a spoonful of molasses (just don’t drop in the water – rather sticky).

6. Avoid Stimulants

If we can’t do much about our stressful morning commute we can avoid foods which will disrupt blood sugar levels, such as drinks containing caffeine, refined carbohydrates or foods with high sugar levels. When stressed we feel biologically driven to hunt down that chocolate biscuit but try to resist, you may feel better for a short period but it will be followed by an inevitable downturn.

7. Think Gut

As if all the above isn’t enough to contend with stress can directly affect our digestive system, raising levels of inflammation and reducing our ability to absorb nutrients. This may result in food intolerances, bloating and discomfort. Home-made bone broths (i.e. meat stocks) are rich in glutamine which help re-establish gut wall integrity. Our microbiome is a delicate thing too, a balancing act between different strains of bacteria, with imbalances linked to low mood and anxiety. Rebalance with a diet rich in pre and probiotics. Prebiotics such as leeks, Jerusalem artichokes or bananas feed the bacteria we have, probiotics such as live yoghurts or live sauerkraut may increase levels of healthy bacteria directly.

Other than finding a new job, swopping out our family or coming into vast swathes of money there is not always a lot we can do to reduce stress. What we can do though, is ensure that we give our body the tools it needs to cope with it as best as it is able.

Please contact me at info@thislifenutrition.co.uk for further advice.

By Saffron Rogerson

26 September 2016