Our body’s response to stress is an in-built reaction to threat commonly referred to as ‘fight or flight’. Physiologically we release the ‘stress’ hormones adrenaline and cortisol which trigger the body to pump more blood into muscles and increase the availability of glucose. These responses are intended to fuel a quick physical or mental response to any stressful situation and are a useful ‘boost’ for tasks such as speaking in public or attending a job interview.
What is the negative impact of stress?
Sustained worries over relationships, work and illness or emotional problems linked to grief, anxiety, depression, self-esteem or guilt can all contribute to long-term stress. This can lead to chronic inflammation as the hormones responsible for regulating the immune response become less effective. When the immune system becomes uncontrolled in this way, white blood cells can attack healthy tissues and organs setting up chronic inflammatory processes thought to play a key role in the development of many diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
How does diet help with stress?
Rob Hobson, Healthspan Head of Nutrition says: “Whilst diet isn’t directly linked to stress, the effects can impact on food choice and overall nutrient intake. Stress may encourage people to seek out unhealthy comfort foods or lead to erratic eating patterns, which can impact on blood-sugar levels, micronutrient intake and body weight, all of which can impact on inflammation and disease risk. Stress can also deplete the body of certain nutrients such as vitamins C and B as well as minerals such as magnesium, which are all associated with mood. Taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement such as Healthspan Multivitality Gold (£5.95 for 90 tablets) is a useful way of keeping your intake of micronutrients topped up during times of stress.”
Easy food swaps to help manage the effects of stress on the body
Maintaining regular eating patterns and choosing foods that contribute to a healthy balanced diet will help to insure you get the nutrition your body needs to function properly. Making small changes to the foods you choose to eat is a helpful approach to tackling the impact of stress on the body.
Switch sugary breakfast cereals for eggs
A healthy breakfast is a good way to start the day, especially if you have an unpredictable schedule ahead of you. Many breakfast cereals are high in sugar and whilst they may give you a quick boost, the effects are often short lived leaving you feeling hungry mid-morning. Eggs are a good source of protein and many micronutrients associated with the nervous system. Team with wholegrain toast as the fibre can help to keep blood sugar levels balanced through to lunch and give you the sustained energy you need to deal with stressful situations.
Ditch coffee for herbal tea
Coffee is a great pick-me-up, which stimulates the nervous system making you feel more alert but is probably not the best choice if you’re feeling stressed. Excess caffeine can leave you feeling jittery and anxious so try lessening the load on your nervous system by opting for herbal teas such as chamomile, peppermint, lemon balm or green tea, which are thought to have a calming effect.
Switch salad for dark green leafy vegetables
Green vegetables are particularly rich in micronutrients such as magnesium and the B vitamins, which are depleted more rapidly from the body as a result of stress. Magnesium promotes muscle relaxation, whilst low levels have been associated with anxiety. The B vitamins are essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system and cognitive function, whilst also being shown to play a role in stress and anxiety so maintaining good intakes is key.
Swap your sandwich lunch for a high protein and wholegrain salad
Choosing a white bread sandwich for lunch may not be enough to sustain energy levels all afternoon, which is important if you need to stay alert to deal with a stressful meeting or work presentation. Protein helps fill you up as does fibre from wholegrains such as brown rice or quinoa. Researchers at Cambridge University found that glucose reduces the activity of cells required to promote the release of hormones that help to keep us feeling alert, whilst protein stimulates these cells and inhibits the effects of glucose. This means that choosing a high protein lunch is the best way to avoid mid-afternoon energy slumps.
Swap chocolate bar for a fruit and nut snack
Snacking may be the only option if you’re caught short between meetings or your appetite is quashed as a result of stress. Always make sure you eat something and if that means snacking then those high in sugar as they can wreak havoc on blood sugar levels and adding to the negative effect of stress on the body. Keep a healthy snack bar to hand such as one made with dried fruit and nuts as these are high in fibre and also provide a good source of magnesium and B vitamins.
Swap regular fruit salad for berries
If you’re feeling particularly anxious or stressed about the day ahead then fruit is a good option for breakfast and often easier to face than other foods. Research has suggested that antioxidants may play a role in anxiety and stress, which is mostly attributed to the oxidative stress caused by inflammation. Berries are high in antioxidants which are substances that help the body to deal with excess free radicals produced as a result of inflammation and whilst a bowlful of berries may not impact on the immediate effects of stress, they may help to protect against the long-term effects.
Stress can compromise nutrient intake by influencing appetite, food choice and depleting the body of micronutrients. Focus on eating regularly and choosing nutrient-rich foods to help the body deal with the negative impact of stress.Last modified: April 7, 2021