7 Ways to combat stress with nutrition
Stress and Nutrition – is there a way to manage our stress through diet and supplements?
Stress has become a constant companion of our modern, fast-paced lives, and whilst a little stress has its benefits, a few of us have more than just a little, disallowing any of these benefits to be seen. There can be many side effects of chronic stress, and when it comes to nutrition and health, long term stress can lead to poor dietary choices, hormonal imbalance, weight gain and digestive issues.
Not many of us crave a veggie packed salad after a stressful day, with most people going straight for the high-sugar and high-fat options. After a stressful period, the human body can go into ‘recovery mode’ where increased appetite and food cravings become rampant. Simultaneously, metabolic rates drop to conserve energy, so we hold on to the calories consumed rather than utilise them as energy. Every so often this might not impact our health, but combined with chronic stress this could lead to longer term health conditions.
Read on for my top stress and nutrition tips:
1. Manage Your Caffeine Intake
When we consume caffeine, we stimulate the production of cortisol, our stress hormone. In small amounts this can be beneficial, leading to increased energy and alertness – hence the use of caffeine by many of us! However, for those of us who have pre-existing high stress levels, the addition of caffeine to our cortisol levels, can heighten our stress further.
The recommended limit for our daily intake of caffeine is 400mg, this could equate to five espresso shots or eight cups of medium stewed green/black tea. If you are concerned about your stress levels or notice an adverse effect when you consume caffeine, I would advise reducing your caffeine intake but avoid going cold turkey. When we cut out caffeine abruptly, we may be left with withdrawal symptoms that include headaches, nausea, mood changes and shakes.
2. Balance Your Blood Sugar
When your blood sugar levels go on a roller coaster ride throughout the day, your mood and stress levels can follow. You may feel irritable, moody, tired, struggle to concentrate and experience cravings for sweet foods. To maintain optimal blood sugar, I would advise you to be eating regular healthy meals, avoiding foods which are high in sugar and refined flours, such as white bread and pasta. Substitute these refined carbohydrates for whole grain alternatives which are unprocessed and higher in fibre, such as starchy vegetables, brown rice, quinoa, beans and oats.
Ever thought – I am not hungry, or I don’t have time for breakfast? What about, I don’t need the extra ‘calories’, or lunch will come around soon enough? When we skip meals, we can make it harder to maintain stable blood sugar levels which can lead to decreased energy, concentration, productivity, mood and adversely impact stress levels. New trends such as intermittent fasting, can actually increase your cortisol levels, putting added stress on the body if not done correctly. If you have high stress levels then fasting may not be appropriate for you.
4. Meal Prep your stress with nutrition
Many people will pick up the easiest lunch option, often “on-the-go” from cafes that serve less-than-optimally-healthy foods. Whilst this might save time, it can leave you feeling lethargic, unproductive and in the long run, can impact your nutrient intake and stress levels. Taking a few minutes in the evening or morning to prepare your breakfast/lunch can be a great place to start to really set you up for the day. It doesn’t have to be fancy, simply pack a tupperware with leftovers from your dinner the night before and you’re good to go. Even a couple of days a week would be an improvement, rather than eating out everyday.
5. Mix up your workouts
It’s known that exercise releases the “feel-good” hormone endorphins, and there is no better feeling than an intense, sweaty cardio session leaving you feeling like a new person.
Many individuals who do several HIIT workouts a week could actually be putting more stress on their body, with side effects showing up as fatigue, increased appetite, inability to lose weight, gut issues and an overall feeling of burnout.
Mixing up your workout routine and incorporating a combination of High intensity with Low intensity for the best results is so important for your mind and body.
6. Desk Detox
You might have all the will power in the world, but if you have a bag of your favourite, go-to sweet food in your direct eye line, when stress comes crashing in, you are going to reach for that food and potentially demolish the whole thing. The reason for this is that when we are stressed, we are more likely to mindlessly snack. For this reason, I would recommend trying a desk detox by removing all of the temptations on your desk. Instead, I would advise keeping raw nuts, a pot of edamame beans, hummus, carrots or a small bar of dark chocolate in your office draw for safe keeping!
7. Supplements I recommend for stress
Whilst supplements can help correct deficiencies and support our body’s resilience with stress, you can’t out supplement stress! These are some of the supplements I use to support my clients with their stress levels and responses. Please only take supplements when working with a nutritionist or doctor, especially if you have any chronic health conditions or are taking any medication.
Ashwagandha- This plant has been used as a part of Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It is an adaptogenic herb and can help to adapt to your body’s stress responses.
B complex- B vitamins play an important role in metabolism by transforming the food you eat into usable energy. Those on vegetarian or vegan diets may benefit from B vitamin supplementation due to the fact it can be tricky to get some of the B vitamins from diet alone.
Magnesium- is an essential mineral involved in over 300 processes in the body! The body uses it to regulate so many bodily functions, and studies have found that magnesium supplements may improve stress and anxiety (1). I like this Magnesium blend as it contains Vitamin C (our need for vitamin C increases as we are stressed) and L-theanine which is a natural amino acid found in tea that has been shown to have a soothing effect on the nervous system.
Understanding how your body responds to stress can also help when managing stressful situations and reducing the impact it has on your health. Seeing a professional such as a Nutritionist is a good place to start if you want to make long-term positive changes to your diet and to help manage stress.
Overall, knowing what healthy options are available to help combat stress with nutrition, and utilizing their calming properties is a great place to start.