When you’re stressed out, the foods that you’re turning to are most likely going to be traditional ‘comfort’ foods – think big meals, take-away, fatty foods, sweets, dessert, and alcohol. Let’s face it, we’ve all found some comfort in a tasty dinner and a bottle of beer or glass of wine when we’ve been stressed out or upset about something, it seems to be coping mechanism the majority of society has, in fact for the most part it's just seen as the 'norm' and I'm no exception, we've all been there right? However, most of us know this isn’t a good permanent solution.
When you’re turning to unhealthy foods you can feel better temporarily, but in the
long run, you will feel worse. When your body isn’t getting the right nutrition, you
can begin to feel less energetic, more lethargic, and in some cases less able to
concentrate and focus. All of this can lead to even more stress.
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. The best way to fight stress is to have a healthy balanced diet, which includes a moderate amount of each of the different food groups.
Filling up on foods such as whole grains, leafy vegetables, and lean or plant 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 include:
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. However, be careful with portion control when eating avocado, as
it is high in fat. My favourite way to eat avocado is simply sliced and sprinkled with cracked sea salt, mmm delicious!
If you’re feeling stressed out and reaching for the snacks, swapping chocolate or crisps 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 anthocyanin, which means that this berry has been linked to a wide range of health benifits including sharper cognition, better focus, and a clearer mind – all of which can help you to better deal with stress. I add a handful to most of my breakfasts, like porridge, pancakes and overnight oats. Also, buying frozen can make stocking up on berries much cheaper.
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 fizzy pop, 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
generalized anxiety disorder. Try a cup of camomile or lavender tea an hour before bed, and enjoy it in a calm environment with no phone or TV, maybe just a good book!
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 flavonols and polyphenols two hugely important
antioxidants which can help combat stress. More than many fruit juices.
Try breaking 4 squares of a good quality chocolate up and mixing with your daily portion of nuts. Or stir a couple of pieces into a hot bowl of porridge for a bit of luxury in the morning.
Porridge (oatmeal) is great in that it can be a filling comfort food, but also has a large number of healthy properties to make you feel better from the inside out. As a complex carbohydrate, eating porridge causes your brain to produce higher levers of the feel good hormone serotonin, helping you feel calmer and less stressed. Studies have shown that kids who choose to eat oats in the morning for breakfast tend to be much sharper through the morning at school compared to others who had alternative breakfast meals. The same seems to be true in adults. For something a little different, try soaking your oats in a dairy free yogurt over night and topping with blueberries.
If you’re looking for a healthy snacking 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, they can be a great snack in between meals or as part of a dessert. A versatile nut full of healthy omega-3 fats they 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 shown that eating 2 small snack sized portions of pistachios a day can 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! Personally these are my favourite go to snack and are also delicious when added to breakfasts or dessert.
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 fight of disease and leave your body feeling healthier and more energized. 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. Try making kale crisps or may favourite way to add extra into my day is to add a big handful of raw spinach to a smoothie or make a big salad with a jacket potato at lunch.
last but not least, eating fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut 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 that are found in fermented foods actually have a direct effect on your brain chemistry and transmit positive mood and behavior regulating signals to your brain via the vagus nerve. Add these to your diet by using yogurt on breakfast or in a shake, have kimchi with your favourite salads or with some steamed Chinese vegetables, or add some sauerkraut so a wholemeal sandwich.
Plan Plan Plan!
Planning your meals wisely is key to not only staying physically fit and healthy but to also stay 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 on when you’re feeling worried and anxious is important to helping you get control over your emotions and fears.
Having stress-busting snacks such as fresh berries, dark chocolate, 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. It’s important to make sure that for the most part, you are eating a diet which is healthy and balanced.
Kirsty Wilson - Nutritionist