Stress can have a huge impact on our health. When we experience stress, the body releases hormones that place us under a ‘fight or flight’ system in order to protect us from danger. The problem with fast paced modern living is our brains and bodies don’t know the difference between a real or imagined threat. The body thinks traffic jams, moving house, work pressures and exam stress are just as dangerous as a nearby hungry bear.
When the brain senses ‘danger’, our body takes over as automatic responses kick in. The sympathetic nervous system which controls our fight or flight responses fire ups, and several changes happen to our bodies. Nor adrenaline floods our system, muscles tighten and we hold our breath so the bear doesn’t notice us!
More noticeably, we stop digesting our food, the body doesn’t need to waste precious energy on unnecessary processes! As the digestive system shuts down, we struggle to get the nutrients we need from our food, and many people suffer with IBS and other digestive issues as a result.
Most of us think of comfort foods as quick, easy foods, and when we are stressed we usually crave sugar and pizza. I know it’s very tempting to reach for the junk food, sugar, and processed options that give us a short term high when we are stressed, but long term, eating foods to support the body, to reduce the effects of the stress hormones, increase energy and calm our minds and bodies is the best way to go.
So, here are the best foods to eat when you are stressed.
Keep it Light
Make sure you try easy to digest foods like homemade vegetable soup, sweet mash potatoes, poached fish, and stewed fruits. Overloading the digestive system will just make things worse.
Green leafy vegetables contain folate, a chemical that has a pleasure boosting affect in the brain. Studies have found those who eat more vegetables are calmer, happier and more energetic.
Vegetable soup is low in calories but high in nutrients, vitamins and minerals required to boost energy and keeping us going. It helps you feel fuller for longer, and is cheap and easy to make so if money or lack of time are stressing you out, soup is a great option.
Stress breaks down protein in the body in order to fuel the muscles for fight or flight responses, so make sure you eat good quality protein every day, preferably at breakfast and lunch to replace the lost protein and balance sugar levels.
A diet high in protein can help to stabilise your blood sugar levels, improve concentration, reduce brain fog, boost energy levels and support your muscles and bones, and support the absorption of nutrients.
Foods to include are organic farmed salmon, white meat such as free-range chicken and turkey, lean grass-fed beef, free range organic eggs, seeds and beans.
Eat more oily fish such as salmon, sunflower and hemp seeds which are high in Omega 3 essential fats. Stress can cause inflammation, so the anti-inflammatory properties of these foods can help to combat the negative effects of stress.
Seeds are also a great source of magnesium, a mineral which has been shown to help regulate stress related emotions such as fatigue, depression and irritability.
Hemp seeds are your go to food; they contain a small amount of protein, packed with nutritional benefits and are perfect balanced with Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils. You can add seeds to salads, smoothies, porridge, yogurts, and even in rice and sauces!
There is something quite soothing about a steaming hot mug of tea, especially before bedtime.
Avoid the caffeine laden ‘PG tips’ and drink Echinacea instead. Echinacea tea helps to support the immune system which is compromised in periods of extreme stress.
Valerian and camomile tea with a little honey can help to calm you down, or try Green tea which contains relaxing properties as well protecting against cancer, helps with weight loss and enhances mental performance.
Eat oats for breakfast to stop the mid-morning cravings. When the body craves that sugary doughnut because you skipped breakfast, opt for complex carbs such as porridge instead. Stress can cause the blood sugar to rise, so as well as being a slow release of energy, helping to balance the blood sugar levels, they can also help the brain produce serotonin, a natural anti-depressant.
It also contains more soluble fibre than other grains, which helps to keep you feeling fuller longer and stops you reaching for that sugary doughnut.
When your body is under extreme stress, the high level of anti-oxidants in Blueberries will help to fight the stress-related free radicals. However, all berries including strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are rich in vitamin C which can help to reduce high blood pressure and remove the stress hormone cortisol from our bodies.
So, eating the rights foods such as vegetables, protein, salmon, berries and seeds can do wonders to calm the body and reduce the stress levels. When you eat real foods to nourish your body, you restore balance to the hormones produced by the body experiencing stress.
Ultimately, you will feel fuller, calmer and happier as a result.
“Good health requires healthy foods” – Roger Williams