10 HEALTHY EATING HABITS TO KEEP STRESS IN ITS BOX
When stress and anxiety strike, eating well can go out the window. Make a few simple changes, though, and your meals can nourish body and soul...
Ditch the white toast and cereals
"Unstable blood sugar levels are a huge driver of anxiety, and sudden drops in blood sugar can even trigger panic attacks," says nutritionist Zoe Palmer-Wright, who’s working with nutrition brand FOGA (foga.co). "Start your day with a breakfast that includes a mixture of fibre, healthy fat and protein. Your meal will be digested more slowly and sugars in the meal will be released more steadily into your system, so your stress response won't be activated."
Opt for bircher, porridge or oat-y smoothie bowls
Great for stabilising blood sugar, there's another reason oats deserve a regular place in your diet. "Oats are also high in tryptophan, an amino acid the brain converts into serotonin," points out Zoe. "Low serotonin is a driver of anxiety."
Snack on seeds
"The endocrine system has a major role to play in our health and wellbeing, affecting our sleep, mood and stress response," says health and wellness coach Angelina Nizzardi (angelinanizzardi.com). "Good nutrition is essential in supporting this system, ensuring a healthy hormonal balance. Healthy fats are the building blocks for hormones so include avocado, nuts and seeds in your diet."
Stock your fridge with live foods
"Fermented foods that are naturally rich in probiotics will have a positive impact on mood and mental health because many key mood-regulating neurotransmitters, including serotonin, are actually made in the gut," says Zoe. "Good probiotic foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso soup, raw apple cider vinegar, kimchi and tempeh."
Try not to skip meals
Too stressed to eat? "It's common for people to have a reduced appetite when stressed," says psychiatrist Dr Alexander Lapa, "but changing your routine can put even more stress on the body. Your routine informs your circadian rhythm and this is what regulates your mood. My suggestion would be to have something to eat, even if tiny. Preferably something highly nutritious."
Add adaptogens to your spice rack
"Adaptogens are incredibly helpful for better managing anxiety," says Zoe. "These natural substances help your body better handle physical and emotional stress and help keep stress hormones such as cortisol in check." Powdered ashwagandha, Asian ginseng and holy basil (or 'tulsi') can be added to smoothies, soups and herbal tea.
Keep your salad drawer stocked
Have fresh fruit and veg slipped down your agenda? "Vitamin D and E found in lean protein (or oats, beans and lentils on a plant-based diet) are also essential support," says Angelina. "Manganese found in leafy greens, asparagus and broccoli also supports pituitary gland function. Overall a diet in lean protein with plenty of fruit and vegetables will ensure healthy endocrine system function."
Reach for the Marmite
"B-complex vitamins help to stabilise mood and calm the nervous system," says Zoe. "They're also needed by the brain to make important mood-regulating neurotransmitters, so we need even more of them when we are stressed and anxious. They can be found in legumes, tempeh, nuts, seeds, leafy greens and nutritional yeast." And on lazy days there's always Marmite...
Switch up your chocolate
"High magnesium foods are super important for brain function and reducing anxiety," advises nutritionist Luisa Carugati of The Really Healthy Company (Healthy.co.uk). "The average diet is really deficient in magnesium with just 270mg when we need at least 500mg." The good news? Dark chocolate is a helpful source. Aim for 70 per cent cocoa solids or over.
Opt for an early dinner
Eating late feels sophisticated, but can play havoc with your sleep (an essential way to lower stress) as your body needs at least two to three hours to digest a large meal. Choose an early meal time and keep to it every day. "Having a set meal time is a great way of reducing stress as your circadian rhythm regulates your mood," says Dr Lapa. "You’ll also find yourself becoming naturally hungry at that point as your body adjusts."