Many of us are living in a constant state of stress. Stress comes at us from all sides; finances, relationships, health, family, and work. The current state of events isn't helping with our stress levels either.
Can Foods Help?
When you’re stressed, the foods you turn to are most likely going to be ‘comfort’ foods – think big meals, takeaways, fried foods, sweet foods, and alcohol. I think most people have found some comfort in a tasty meal and a beer or glass of wine when we’ve been stressed or upset. However, this isn’t a good permanent solution.
Turning to unhealthy foods can make you feel better temporarily, but in the long run, it makes you feel worse. When a body doesn't get the right nutrition, it can feel less energetic, more lethargic, and less able to concentrate and focus. And these are only the effects on our mind. There are many more effects on our body. All of this can lead to even more stress.
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food" - Hippocrates
Foods that Fight Stress
If you’ve been feeling more stressed than usual lately, it’s important to know which foods are best to choose and which to avoid when it comes to combating stress and helping you to deal with feelings of stress and anxiety. Each nutrient has their own set of functions. For example, protein & fat allow the body to create our happy hormone serotonin. The body uses Vitamin B for extracting the energy from our food, therefore giving us more energy.
Of course there is a place for supplements when we are suffering from health conditions or we need that extra boost, however the first port of call should be using foods to increase those nutrients as the body knows exactly what to do with food and the energy from clean healthy foods is readily available for our hungry cells.
The best way to fight stress using diet is to have a healthy, balanced & varied diet which includes a moderate amount of foods from each food group.
Filling up on foods such as whole grains, leafy vegetables, and lean proteins as the basic staples of the diet is the best way to ensure that your body gets the optimum amounts of nutrients to fight both physical and mental health problems. When it comes to choosing the foods to eat, some have a range of great properties which help the body to combat stress. Choosing these stress-busting foods will help to heal and calm your mind permanently, rather than providing a temporary fix.
Some of the Best Stress-Fighting Foods
Avocados are a creamy and versatile fruit which can be eaten in a range of different ways whether you enjoy it raw, made into sauces, dressings, and dips, or in a smoothie. These nutrient-dense fruits have the properties to stress-proof your body, thanks to their high glutathione content which specifically blocks the intestinal absorption of certain fats which cause oxidative damage. Avocados also contain higher levels of vitamin E, folate, and beta-carotene than any other fruit, which boosts their stress-busting properties.
If you’re feeling stressed and reaching for the snacks, swapping chocolate or chips for one of the best superfoods is a great way to help you deal with your stress levels and achieve a higher level of calm. Blueberries have some of the highest levels of antioxidants, especially antho- cyanin, which means that this berry has been linked to a wide range of health benefits including mental clarity, better focus, and a clearer mind – all of which can help you to better deal with stress.
Of course, it’s not all about what you’re eating when it comes to managing stress; what you’re drinking can also alleviate or worsen the stress you're feeling. Drinking liquids which are high in sugars and caffeine, such as coffee, energy drinks or soda, can actually increase your stress levels if consumed regularly. Chamomile tea has long been used as a natural bedtime soother, and it has also been used in clinical trials, which determined that chamomile tea is effective in reducing the symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder.
Although it’s usually seen as an unhealthy treat, there is an undeniable link between chocolate and our mood. Studies have shown that eating chocolate can actually make you happier. However, that doesn’t mean that you can start munching on chocolate bars every time you're stressed out – chocolate works best as a de-stressor when eaten in moderation and as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Dark chocolate in particular is best for you, as it contains more flavanols and polyphenols, two hugely important antioxidants which can help combat stress.
Free range eggs are not only kinder to the planet and to chicken themselves, they are also good for us. One egg contains only 75 calories but 7 grams of high-quality protein, 5 grams of fat, and 1.6 grams of saturated fat (which we need!), along with iron, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids. The egg is a powerhouse of disease-fighting nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin.
Oats are great in that they can be a filling comfort food, but also have a large number of healthy properties to actually make you feel better from the inside out. A complex carbohydrate, (especially when wholemeal or jumbo) eating oats causes your brain to produce higher levels of the feel-good chemical serotonin, helping you to feel calmer and less stressed. Studies have shown that kids who choose oats for breakfast tend to be much sharper throughout the morning in school compared to kids who had boxed cereals in the morning.
If you’re looking for a healthy snack option which will help you to stay better in control of your stress levels, walnuts are a great choice. There is no denying the sweet, pleasant flavour of walnuts and they can be a tasty snack for in-between meals or as part of a desert. A versatile nut, walnuts are great for salads, or add them to a sweet treat such as coffee and walnut cake.
Another food which is great for snacking on and can also help to combat stress and anxiety in the long term is pistachios. Studies have found that simply eating two small, snack-size portions of pistachios per day can lower vascular constriction when you are stressed, putting less pressure on your heart by further dilating your arteries. Along with this, the rhythmic, repetitive act of shelling pistachios can actually be quite therapeutic!
Green leafy vegetables
Leafy, green vegetables should be a pivotal part of anyone’s diet. Along with helping to combat stress, leafy greens are full of nutrients and antioxidants which help to fight off disease and leave your body feeling healthier and more energised. Dark leafy greens, for example spinach, are especially good for you since they are rich in folate, which helps your body to produce more mood-regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is a ‘feel-good’ chemical. Making leafy greens a part of your diet will help you to feel happier and less stressed out overall.
Last but not least, eating fermented foods such as yogurt can help to keep your gut healthy, which actually in turn will help to improve your mental health and reduce stress levels. The beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus which are found in fermented foods such as yoghurt actually have a direct effect on your brain chemistry and transmit positive mood and behaviour regulating signals to your brain via the vagus nerve.
Putting Together Your Diet Plan
Planning your meals wisely is key to not only staying physically fit and healthy, but also to staying mentally strong and being able to best manage your levels of stress. Knowing which foods to avoid and which are the best to reach for to snack when you’re feeling worried and anxious is important to helping you get control over your emotions and fears.
When you’re feeling stressed, you may be tempted to reach for classic ‘comfort foods’ – usually foods which are laden with sugar, very starchy, or greasy. However, although these foods can make you feel temporarily better, they will actually make you feel worse in the long run.
Having stress-busting snacks such as fresh berries, dark chocolate, yogurt, walnuts or pistachios, or even a fruit smoothie with avocado and leafy greens in it can help you to feel better in both the short and long term when it comes to stress.
When it comes to combating and dealing with stress in the long run, it’s important to make sure that for the most part, you are eating a diet which is healthy and balanced.
In order to stay on track, it’s a good idea to make a meal plan for your week and plan ahead to make sure that you have a good selection of these stress-busting foods & many other wholefoods in your kitchen to make meals and snacks when when you’re feeling like stress-eating. Making sure that the majority of your meals include foods such as lean proteins and leafy green vegetables will not only make you feel healthier overall, but can improve your mental health and stress levels, too.
A good example of a healthy, stress-busting menu for the day would be:
Cottage Cheese & Avocado on toast with sesame seeds and lime juice
Tropical smoothie bowl with berries, mango, granola and coconut
Oat & Carrot Cookie and a cup of herbal tea
Goats Cheese, Pear & Walnut salad with added buckwheat or quinoa
Vegetable sticks with cucumber/mint yoghurt dip, peanut butter or other nut butter or Oat or wholegrain crackers with hummus, cheese, beetroot slices and/or tomato
Creamy Leek Risotto with fresh parmesan
Chamomile tea or calming herbal tea blend
As the saying goes, you are what you eat – so make sure that first and foremost, you’re filling yourself up with foods that are healthy and nourishing for both body & mind!
For easy, quick, nourishing and delicious breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert & snack recipes, we have a four unique Recipe Packs available. Every recipe pack has a quick reference guide to the amount of carbohydrates, proteins, fats etc each recipe contains.
The packs come with a two week meal planner, shopping list, easy to follow recipes and photo’s to make creating healthy and nourishing meals and snacks super easy.
Don’t forget, there are so many recipes that you can prepare in advance or freeze to make it even easier!