05 Feb Managing Stress One Bite at a Time
Watching Paul speak on Operation Transformation last Wednesday night was hard for many of us. Why? Because Paul represents so many of us who face constant stress every day. While stress can be a positive and motivating factor at times (such as when you’re under pressure to perform well at work or to ace an important exam), uncontrolled stress experienced over a long period of time is considered ‘chronic’, dangerous and capable of increasing someone’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain or obesity, mental disorders, autoimmune diseases, digestive disorders, and even cancer.
Let’s face it: the stress we face today isn’t going anywhere, which is exactly why it’s more important than ever to find natural ways to manage it. If you’re up against large amounts of stress in your life (and who isn’t?), studies show you can greatly benefit from carving out more time in your busy schedule for things like regular exercise, yoga, meditation and spending time outdoors. Did you know the food you eat can also help you take the edge off of it?
Ok, so a bowl of spinach is not going to magically make all of your problems disappear, but diet can be a very powerful tool in the management of stress as stress creates greater physiological demands. The irony of stress is that people suffering from stress need a more nutritionally dense diet but often opt for comfort foods (like sugary and fatty foods) lacking in the necessary nutrients. This induces a situation of nutrient depletion that further compromises the metabolic systems. Stress not only influences the choice of food of a person but also the quantity of food eaten.
First, the science
Here’s a little information on some of the best foods for natural stress relief but if this detail is just adding to your stress levels, skip ahead to the shopping list!
- B Vitamins help develop and maintain the nervous system. Vitamin-B-deficiencies might increase the risk of developing stress-related symptoms such as irritability, lethargy and depression. They also help maintain regular blood-sugar levels to help keep your energy and mood stable.
- Magnesium & calcium work alongside each other to regulate muscle contraction and relaxation. Calcium is involved in contraction, magnesium in relaxation. Increased magnesium intake in times of stress can help us to feel physically less tense.
- High protein foods provide amino acids that are needed for proper neurotransmitter functions.
- Omega 3 fats can reduce inflammation and are great for the brain, development and heart health.
- Vitamin C: Stress depletes vitamin C levels in the body, thereby reducing the body’s resistance to infection and disease and increasing the likelihood of further stress. Vitamin C also lowers blood pressure and stress hormone cortisol.
- Keep your blood sugars balanced: The last thing you need in times of stress is your blood sugar to hit the floor. This will take your mood down to rock bottom and your ability to cope with even the smallest of challenges will be reduced. So, what can you do.
- Ensure that all of your carbohydrates, like bread, rice, pasta etc. are the whole wheat or multigrain varieties. These are much higher in fibre and therefore take much longer to digest. This means that their sugar is released more slowly, and your blood sugar is drip fed rather than bombed. They cause the body to make insulin, which allows tryptophan (precursor of serotonin) to get into the brain. Serotonin is considered to be the brain’s natural ‘feel good’ chemical and appetite suppressant.
- Ensure each meal contains a good quality protein, a good quality low glycaemic carbohydrate, and some good fats. This will further slow the digestion of the meal and keep blood sugar stable for hours.
On the other hand, foods to avoid in order to keep stress levels down include:
- Packaged or sugary foods: Processed, refined foods or those with added sugar can give you blood sugar highs and lows throughout the day, increasing anxiety and causing cravings and fatigue.
- Too much alcohol or caffeine can cause or worsen anxiety, make you dehydrated, interfere with sleep leaving you tired, and make you unable to cope with stress well.
- Refined vegetable oils: Imbalances in polyunsaturated fatty acids, meaning getting much more omega-6s than omega-3s from your diet, are tied to metabolic damage, inflammation and poor gut health, which can affect mental processes.
Second, your shopping list
- Oranges are a rich source of vitamin C.
- Spinach is a rich source of magnesium, is loaded with vitamin C and is one of the richest food sources of folic acid (vitamin B9).
- Dark chocolate reduces stress by fighting off free radicals, and it also contains amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that is said to reduce anxiety.
- Blueberries are full of antioxidants and vitamin C. The antioxidants fight the free radicals which adversely affect the memory.
- Broccoli has stress relieving vitamin B6.
- Fish, like mackerel, salmon, tuna & sardines, contains omega 3 fatty acids. It also has stress fighters like B6 and B12.
- Bananas offer serious mood-lifting power, with a combination of Vitamins B6, C, fibre, tryptophan, potassium, phosphorus, iron and protein. The combination of natural sugars and fibres creates long-lasting energy to help in the prevention of blood sugar imbalance.
- Walnuts contain omega 3 fatty acids and uridine, which together are thought to be a natural antidepressant, vitamin B6, tryptophan, protein, and folic acid which contribute to stress release.
- Eggs are full of high-quality protein and omega 3 fatty acids, an excellent source of vitamin B12 and a good source of vitamins B2, B5, and vitamin D.
- Green tea contains L-theanine a protein which relaxes the brain, thereby reducing stress and anxiety with tranquilizing effects.
- Flax seeds are the richest source of omega 3 fatty acids in the plant kingdom.
- Whole grains are a rich source of slow releasing carbohydrates.
- Turkey contains an amino acid that’s converted into dopamine which elevates the mood.
Take Control One Bite at a Time
Stress is going to happen at some point in a person’s life and will most defiantly happen more than once. However, as unavoidable as stress can sometimes be, we always have a choice: We can either let the body suffer from the effects of stress, or we can choose to do something about it. A few simple steps can minimise its potential to wipe us out.
About the author of this blog
Client Services Manager & Nutritionist
Anne joined Pure Results in December 2018 as Client Services Manager. Anne is the first point of contact for our clients, from initial queries up until camp. She is available at all times to answer any questions that you have and support you in any way that she can!
Anne is also a qualified Nutritional Therapist and a member of NTOI (Nutritional Therapists of Ireland). Anne believes good nutrition is all practical and balanced, not diets and deprivation. Running her own start-up business, Anne Prendiville Nutrition in North County Dublin, Anne does one-to-one consultations with clients on digestive health, weight loss, sports performance, skin health and other health issues.
She sees her role as helping clients make better choices more and more often. Her plans are personalised, addressing each client’s health concerns, their goals and suit their budget, lifestyle and daily commitments.