• Emma Nuttall

Foods to combat stress

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

How to support your body in stressful times

During times of stress, do you rely on caffeine to get you through the day? Do you struggle to get to the gym due to time constraints and often treat yourself to chocolate to make it past the mid-afternoon slump? On the drive home, do you think about the glass of wine that is waiting for you once the kids are in bed? You may feel the stress start to dissipate with your first glass, so you pour yourself another. However, when you finally wind down enough to go to bed, you don’t sleep very well. So, you drag yourself out of bed the next morning feeling exhausted, start the day with a coffee and the cycle starts all over again.

If this continues for a long period of time, you might find that weight starts to creep on and sleep quality gets poorer and poorer, along with your mood. It’s a common cycle that many of us know too well. Believe me, I’ve been there!

The impact of stress

In our busy, over-scheduled lives, stress is a frequent occurrence and something you can’t always control. High levels of the stress hormones; adrenaline and cortisol, are produced as a result of the flight or fight response. Ongoing high levels can lower immunity, impact sleep quality and increase blood pressure and inflammation. Fortunately, there are many ways you can reduce the impact of stress on your body. Increasing your intake of important nutrients, light to moderate exercise and mindful activities can all make a considerable difference to your stress levels and overall health.

Foods that fight stress

Comfort foods that are high in fat and refined sugars are appealing during times of stress as they provide a quick burst of energy however these foods can drive inflammation and increase the stress response. Extra nutrients are required to meet the demands of stress.

Vitamin C: The adrenal glands produce stress hormones and vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that supports adrenal function as well as the immune system. Lower your cortisol levels by consuming vitamin C-rich citrus and kiwi fruits, red pepper and brussels sprouts. Supplementation should also be considered during times of high stress.

High quality lean protein: Stress induces protein breakdown so eating adequate amounts of protein is important to support the stress response.

Essential fatty acids: Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish, nuts, seeds and flaxseed oil protect the body from the effects of stress and reduce blood pressure and inflammation.

Eat the rainbow: Eating a diverse variety of fruit and vegetables provides a range of nutrients and antioxidants to counteract the effects of stress.

Magnesium: Support energy production, muscle relaxation and promote sleep with magnesium found in leafy greens, legumes, broccoli, salmon, and artichoke.

B vitamins: The B group vitamins are crucial to energy production and nervous system support. Vitamin B5 is involved in adrenal function and can be obtained from a range of foods including, beef, chicken, oats, potato, broccoli and wholegrains.

Foods to avoid

Caffeine and alcohol are both stimulants. Caffeine can increase levels of stress hormones and alcohol has a negative impact on the liver, brain and sleep quality, so avoid where possible or only consume in small quantities.

Stay hydrated

Don’t underestimate the importance of hydration. Water not only meets the body’s fluid needs but it supports healthy digestion and flushes toxins out of the body. Filtered water is best and there is a delicious range of caffeine-free herbal teas to choose from these days. Green tea can help ease caffeine withdrawal symptoms however keep your consumption moderate.

Lifestyle tips

Sleep is a time for the body to repair and regenerate so good quality sleep is even more important during times of stress. Excess cortisol can, however, disrupt circadian rhythms, impacting sleep. Mindfulness, meditation and natural therapies that promote relaxation can lower cortisol levels and enhance sleep quality. Relaxation activities also increase production of GABA – the body’s most important inhibitory neurotransmitter. Physical activity has also been shown to promote sleep. Exercise has a protective effect during stress by regulating hormones. Experiment with low to high intensity exercise and see what’s right for you.

Research demonstrates that individuals with a good support network cope better during times of stress. Your tribe are there to call on, so don’t be afraid to ask for help!

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