Updated: Mar 13
Are you overworked or stressed?
Stress, the negative form of it, brings images to the mind of frazzled, angry, tearful or simply burnt out men and women. Sadly, most of us have experienced these symptoms from time to time. This is why stress-busting foods can really help you feel more in control.
Whether you prefer the label ‘under pressure’ or ‘over worked’ it doesn’t matter as your body thinks it’s the same thing. The type of stress we are talking about can come from external factors such as our place of work, our finances, relationships amongst a whole host of other factors. This stress continues to be amplified by our thoughts in an almost self-conflicting cascading spiral.
If these stressful events are short-lived, then our bodies generally learn to bounce back. However, when the cause continues for a few weeks to several months then we are under chronic stress. This type of chronic stress can deplete our body of nutrients and cause damage to our body, our hormones, our sleep and our overall wellbeing.
The good news is that there are plenty of simple lifestyle changes that we can make to help us to manage our stress levels even if sadly we can’t change the underlying cause of the stress straight away. Our diet, exercise, sleep and our thoughts can all be helpful to build up your body’s resilience.
Here are 6 foods that can help us:
1) Consume foods high in Vitamin C
Studies have shown that when we are stressed are bodies use up more vitamin C, which leaves the adrenal glands when our bodies are undergoing a stressful response. As Vitamin C is water-soluble (meaning we do not store it in the body) it is important that we maximise our intake of Vitamin C rich foods. Our daily Vitamin C requirement for adults is 40mg
Great sources are:
· Acerola Cherries (49 grams = 822mg)
· Kiwi (1 =75mg)
· Strawberries (1cup of strawberries = 89mg)
· Raspberries (1 cup = 32.2 mg)
· Blueberries (1 cup = 14.4mg)
· Blackcurrants (56g gives 101mg)
· Broccoli (1/2 cup cooked = 51mg)
· Brussel sprouts (1/2 cup cooked = 49mg)
· Kale (1 cup = 80.4mg)
· Lemons (1 whole lemon = 83mg)
· Oranges (1 medium size 70mg)
A typical portion is a handful of each and combining vitamin c rich foods with meat/ beans help absorb the iron from these foods.
2) Help your body combat stress with Vitamin B
Like vitamin C, vitamin B is water-soluble and also gets depleted in the body when stressed. There are eight essential B vitamins: thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), vitamin B6, biotin (vitamin B7), folic acid (folate) and vitamin B12.
Some research by Swinburne University in Australia, in 2014 revealed that chronic stress depletes levels of vitamin B6 in the body. The study also showed a 20% reduction in work-related stress in those consuming higher levels of B vitamins. A previous study published in the British Medical Journal in 2004 found that folate can help improve mood, while a review by Swansea University in 2013 confirmed that high doses of B vitamins may be effective in improving mood states. If you feel stressed and like to would like to add vitamin B to your diet, your standard multivitamin will give you a boost but I would concentrate more on adding more of the foods below as you will be gaining more than just vitamin B’s but fibre, magnesium, calcium etc..
Get all eight B vitamins from a variety of these sources:
· Whole grains (brown rice, barley, millet)
· Meat (red meat, poultry, fish)
· Eggs and dairy products (milk, cheese)
· Legumes (beans, lentils)
· Seeds and nuts (sunflower seeds, almonds)
· Dark, leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kale)
3) Avoid Coffee
Reducing caffeine will make a difference to how stressed we feel as these mimics the body's stress response. I know for people who are stressed and in particular overworked or not sleeping asking them to give up coffee will be enough to tip them over the edge. However, that cup of coffee may keep you awake but it is actually making you feel more stressed, creating sleep problems and creating more anxious and on edge feelings.
Caffeine stimulates the release of cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol’s role is to release blood sugars ready for your body to fight or flight and adrenaline raise your heart rate and gives you that on-edge feeling.
This cycle becomes a problem when your body constantly has high levels of cortisol and excess blood sugar being released which means that if we do not burn off this sugar as energy , then it is far too easy for our bodies to store the excess as fat round our stomach. Excess stimulation of adrenaline gives you a feeling of being on edge and when the caffeine wears off ironically you get a massive energy dip making you feel even worse than you did that morning.
Drink 2 glasses of water in replacement of your coffee or swap your coffees for herbal teas. If coffee and black tea is hard to limit, then swap to decaf varieties or limit yourself to only one per day. Fizzy drinks an energy drinks have even higher amounts of caffeine in so its advised to avoid these completely. Try to reduce your caffeine intake on weekend days when life maybe less stressful.
4) Reduce your consumption of grab and go foods
Reduce Salt, saturated fat, sugar and processed foods as they prolong your stress symptoms. These annoyingly are the easy foods to grab for convenience, because frankly, a takeaway is easier than having another task to do like cook when you get home etc.
The aim here is to limit these foods and have at least half a plate of green salad and or vegetables. Your body and mind will soon start to see the benefits. Dark leafy greens like Kale and spinach, are high in magnesium which can improve your bodies sleep quality.
Vegetables in general are a good source of fibre (Plus vitamin C and B) which means that you feel less sluggish and irritable. All these extra nutrients your body is taking in in replacement for the fatty/salty convenience options is giving your body the energy it needs to digest food, metabolise the foods and increase your energy levels so that you are ready to deal with the next day’s activities.
5) Aim for protein and fibre during each meal.
When we are stressed are bodies can get highs and lows of blood sugar levels due to the release of cortisol and adrenaline. This then causes us to crave sugary snacks and caffeine.
By stabilising our blood sugar levels we avoid those awful lows and give our bodies sustained energy for longer. Ways to do this is to eat little and often, avoid white refined carbohydrates such as white bread, added sugars, cakes, biscuits etc as these peak blood sugar causing highs and lows and aim to include protein and fibre with each meal as this reduces the blood sugar release when your body digests the meal.
6) Extra add on’s: Some studies have shown to be beneficial
· Valerian – A calming herb. Its roots were used as a sedative since medieval times to reduce anxiety, stimulate appetite and induce sleep. It is thought to work by raising GABA gamma-aminobutyric acid which dampens down overstimulation when anxious. Valerian blend tea is a nice evening drink if you can get past the strong smell, or tablet form is usually found in herbal sleeping tablets.
· Other herbs include lemon balm and kava kava to reduce anxiety, but with all herbal supplements it is advisable to see if they interact with any medications you are taking as they can interact and it is worth consulting the literature a nutritionist or health professional.
· Ashwagandha – Indian ginseng is an evergreen shrub native to India. This herb has been used as a restorative tonic in ayurvedic medicine to improve resistance to stress. Studies suggest it may help avoid the body depleted its vitamin C reserves and releasing cortisol during times of stress. It can also reduce anxiety, improve sleep and sexual performance (in men) and may even boost concentration and energy levels.
If you are feeling stressed sometimes having someone to listen, review your diet and give you support and practical easy to integrate healthy eating ideas can really help you feel more like you again. We understand how awful it is to feel stressed and if you would like to speak to us about seeing a nutritionist please contact us to book a consultation.