Stress Awareness Month 2023 | Nutrients for Stress Reduction

Stress is the health epidemic of 21st Century, with 80% of health problems thought to be linked to ongoing stress. Here, Sarah West, Head of Nutrition, discusses how what we put into our bodies can alleviate tensions.

All sorts of situations can cause stress, and this stress can affect how you feel, think, behave and how your body works (blood sugar levels, brain, immune system and even the gut – the organ with the greatest number of nerve cells).

Common signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating.

It’s important to recognise the symptoms of stress early. Recognising the signs and symptoms of stress, will help you figure out ways of coping and save you from adopting unhealthy coping methods.

Here are eight key factors to consider in eating well to alleviate stress:

1. Eat well

Diet is often the first area to be compromised when busy and stressed. Hectic lifestyles can lead to a reliance on processed convenience foods, lacking essential vitamins and minerals. Stress can make it more difficult for our bodies to absorb vital nutrients from food (particularly B vitamins and vitamin C). High cortisol levels depletes nutrients including magnesium and promotes an over active immune system.

Make sure that your diet provides adequate amounts of nutrients such as essential vitamins and minerals, to replenish lost nutrients & support body during difficult times, as well as water, between 6-8 glasses of clear fluid intake a day. Avoid drinking liquid 1 or 2 hours before bedtime, so it won’t affect your sleep.

2. Manage caffeine

Caffeine will give you a quick burst of energy, but then may make you feel anxious, disturb your sleep (especially if you have it before bed). You can find caffeine in: cola, tea, chocolate, coffee and other manufactured energy drinks. Try switching to decaffeinated versions (although these are not suitable if you’re very sensitive to caffeine, as they still contain a small amount).

3. Get your 5-a-day

Eating a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables every day will help you to get a good range of nutrients, minerals, vitamins and fibre that our body need to keep us physically and mentally healthy.

As a rule, one portion is about a handful, small bowl or a small glass (only 100ml per day counts as a portion).

4. Eat the right fats

Our brain needs fatty acids (such as omega-3s) to keep it working well. So instead of avoiding all fats, it’s important to eat the healthy ones. Healthy omega 3 fats are found in: oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines) and nuts and seeds (especially walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds).

Deficiency in omega-3 can make you more susceptible to depression & low mood.

Try to avoid anything which lists ‘trans fats’ or ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ in the list of ingredients (such as some shop-bought cakes and biscuits). They can be tempting when you’re feeling low, but this kind of fat isn’t good for your mood or your physical health in the long run.

5. Be active

Walking is simple, free and one of the easiest ways to get more active, lose weight and become healthier. It can help you reduce some of the emotional intensity that you are feeling and help you handle your problems calmly.

Find activities you enjoy and make them a part of your life. If you’re not very active but you are able to walk, increase your walking distance gradually. If your joints are a problem, try swimming.

Adults aged 19 and over should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as fast walking, running, swimming or cycling, a week.

6. Avoid unhealthy habits

In the long term, these crutches won’t solve your problems. They’ll just create new ones. Don’t rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine as your ways of coping.

7. Take time out

Take time to relax, and strike the balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to yourself, this can really reduce stress levels. Tell yourself that it is okay to prioritise self-care.

Get good quality rest. By improving your sleep environment, addressing your emotional issues and choosing healthier daytime habits, such as food or exercise can help you improve the quality of your sleep.

If you’re hungry before bed, have a light snack such as an oatcake with yogurt, or warm milk.

8. Cut down on sugary foods

Eating a diet high in sugar and refined carbs such as white bread, white rice, white pasta can cause wakefulness at night and pull you out of the deep, restorative stages of sleep.

Avoid big meals or spicy foods just before bedtime. Large or spicy meals may lead to indigestion or discomfort. Try to eat a modest-size dinner at least 3 hours before bedtime.

And finally, remember that a good night’s sleep for adults will be between 7.5 – 9 hours each night.

Foods that may help with stress relief:

  • Brazil nuts are high in selenium. Low selenium is associated with increased rates of depression, irritability, anxiety & tiredness.
  • Vitamin E which may improve mood by reducing inflammation.
  • Vitamin D can be found naturally in egg yolks and fortified food and may help with depression and improve people’s mood. During winter time most of the people need to take supplements.
  • Pumpkin seeds are high in potassium, which helps reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. Also magnesium, a relaxation mineral.
  • Dark chocolate has a high tryptophan content, the body uses to turn into mood-enhancing neurotransmitters,such as serotonin in the brain. It is also a good source of magnesium, may reduce symptoms of depression
  • Turkey and chicken are high in tryptophan, an amino acid that the body needs to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate sleep and mood and may help reduce anxious feelings. Serotonin production is hindered by low B vitamins.
  • Green leafy vegetables are high in folate, vitamins B3, B6 and B12. Deficiencies can be linked to depression. Low vitamin B can be hindered serotonin production.

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Our nutritionists provide clarity and advice to empower your members to achieve their dietary-related goals. All of our advice is practical, easy to understand, and evidence-based. Making dietary changes for life requires an understanding of healthy diets, behaviour change, balance, and embracing progress as a key – not perfection.


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