The occasional stressful event is part of life. Stress is the body’s way of helping us to focus so we can tackle the problem. But when stress is ongoing, whether it’s from work demands or taking care of everybody but ourselves – it can really take its toll on the body.
Chronic stress can result in all sorts of health problems such as low mood, hormonal disruption, heart disease and may even cause fat to gather around the middle. Whilst we can’t always control stressful events from occurring, we can control how we respond to them.
Eat to beat stress with these top 6 ways:
1. Get off the blood sugar roller coaster
Skipping meals can cause our blood sugar levels to drop, stimulating the stress response, whilst leaving us feeling tired, irritable and unable to cope. Whilst it may be tempting to rely on quick-fix foods when under stress, many can result in blood sugar highs and lows. Instead, aim to eat regular meals, and snacks if needed. Opt for slow-release carbohydrates such as brown bread, brown rice, potato with the skin on, quinoa, oats and even rye.
2. Support your gut health
Ever had that gut reaction or butterflies in your stomach? The gut and brain are connected via the vague nerve and are constantly chattering with each other. This means stress and gut health are a two-way street, with both influencing each other. For example, stress management has been shown to be as effective as dietary interventions for improving symptoms in those IBS (1). Whilst numerous studies have shown that stress and anxiety can negatively alter the composition of our gut bacteria (2). Feeding our gut bacteria with a special type of fibre called prebiotics can encourage stress-protective bacteria to flourish and grow (3). As a result, metabolites are produced which may positively influence our brain and stress response (4).
3. Consider calming plants
There is exciting research to suggest that plant extracts may help to relax the body and calm the mind. For example, Rhodiola Rosea has been shown to help fight mental stress and fatigue (5,6), whilst passionflower is thought to increase GABA in the brain, a neurotransmitter that keeps anxiety in check (7). Lastly, Californian poppy may help to promote relaxation.
4. Enjoy stress-busting nutrients
A varied diet rich in nutrients is important to support the body during times of stress. The organs that deal with stress are called the adrenal glands and contain
the highest concentration of vitamin C in the body. Whilst the B vitamins are involved in the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which calm the body and reduce anxiety. Lastly, magnesium is dubbed as ‘natures tranquiliser’ with research suggesting that it may have some benefits for symptoms of stress and anxiety (8).
5. Be mindful of stimulants
Whilst small amounts of caffeine may boost mental energy and concentration, excess caffeine, especially in those who are sensitive can lead to anxiety, irritability and sleep difficulties. What’s more, caffeine can stimulate the stress response within the body ultimately increasing cortisol levels. The upper limit for caffeine intake has been set at 400mg per day, which equates to around 4 small cups of coffee or 1 Venti Starbucks black coffee. Pregnant or breastfeeding women are advised to consume no more than 200 mg/day of caffeine.
6. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
It’s a no-brainer that good quality sleep supports our body to better cope with stressors that are thrown our way. Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase the output of the stress hormone cortisol, which can stay high throughout the day.
Late-night eating, heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol are all components that will reduce the quality of our sleep. Instead, try calming plant extracts before bed such as lemon balm or valerian root. Including tryptophan-rich foods alongside complex carbohydrates within our evening meal or snack can aid with melatonin production. For example, chicken with brown rice, or a banana and glass of milk could make a great choice! Finally, prebiotic fibres such as inulin and fructooligosaccharides have been shown to encourage our gut bacteria to produce metabolites that improve deep sleep and stress-protective rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep (9,10).
For more information on how we can improve sleep, have a look at this helpful post: ‘Is Gut Health The Secret To A Good Night’s Sleep?‘