Eating a balanced and healthy diet is key to helping our bodies manage and cope with stress. It’s important to try to identify and reduce the causes of stress. Our moods can be influenced massively by blood sugar levels, therefore much of the dietary advice out there aims to help us to stabilise levels of sugar in the blood.
Here are some top tips to help you!
Choose whole, natural foods and ensure a minimum of five portions of non-starchy vegetables per day.
Start the day with a balanced breakfast. Avoid sugary cereals, pastries and too much caffeine. Instead try oats or a high protein breakfast like eggs!
Prioritise protein. When chronically stressed, the body has an increased demand for protein. It’s estimated that the body requires 0.7-1.8g of protein per kg of body weight daily. Choose things like chicken, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds in each meal. Protein also helps to slow the release of sugar into the blood stream which will help to regulate your stress levels.
Try not to skip meals and ensure that you eat regularly. Small and regular meals will help to maintain energy levels and mood, while decreasing tiredness and irritability.
Avoid highly refined foods such as white bread, pasta, chocolate, biscuits, sweets or foods with added sugars. Foods like cereal, bread, tinned produce or processed food can contain hidden sugars that you may not even think about! Replace these types of foods with unrefined options such as brown bread, rice, oats and rye. Excess alcohol can also cause imbalanced blood sugar levels.
Watch the caffeine. Drinks like tea and coffee may provide a quick energy boost, but this is a temporary boost and consuming too much may reduce energy levels and deplete nutrients in the long term. Aim to drink at least 1 – 1.5 litres of water throughout the day and try incorporating herbal or fruit teas instead of caffeinated drinks.
Try to avoid emotional eating. When you’re stressed, it may seem easy to reach for the takeaway menu or a bar of chocolate, however this will not help you in the long run! Stress diverts blood flow away from your digestive system, which you don’t want when you are trying to digest food. You may experience bloating, gas and become prone to discomfort.
Key nutrients to help reduce stress:
Vitamin C which can be found in most fresh fruit and vegetables.
Magnesium is dramatically depleted in times of stress, and symptoms of deficiency often include fatigue, anxiety and insomnia. Include plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds to supply adequate levels of magnesium.
B vitamins can help to support adrenal function, particularly B5 which directly supports adrenal cortex and hormone production. Sources include wholegrains, nuts and seeds.