When we are stressed, our body releases cortisol and adrenalin, which increases our heart and breathing rate, and our alertness. Though useful in short bursts, having high levels of these hormones constantly circulating in the body can actually have negative consequences for our health and wellbeing.
When we feel stressed, we might find ourselves reaching for comfort foods, but these can often be high in sugar and made with simple carbohydrates, which will maintain the body’s stress response, rather than soothe it.
Arming yourself with the right nutritional information is a great way to make diet choices that will support you in the fight against stress, helping to keep your internal systems functioning at their best, and reducing your risk of stress-related health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety and depression.
Try adding these five stress-busting foods to your diet:
Leafy greens: As children we are often told to ‘eat your greens’, but did you know that leafy greens, like kale, broccoli, spinach and watercress, are particularly good for us when it comes to reducing stress? Leafy greens contain a range of B vitamins, which can calm the nervous system, as well as helping the body to produce neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which regulate mood. Not only this, but leafy greens also contain magnesium, a mineral that helps to reduce cortisol levels, and also fights inflammation.
Probiotics: Probiotics are foods that contain live bacteria, which can be beneficial for us when it comes to combating stress. Natural, bio, and unpasteurised yoghurts, along with fermented foods like kefir and kimchi, are good sources of probiotics. Working on what is called the gut-brain axis, probiotics can actually have a big impact on what’s going on in your nervous system, helping to boost serotonin production, along with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an amino acid that helps to calm the nervous system.
Oily fish: Fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines are a fantastic source of Omega-3, fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory and mood-stabilising effects. You can check here for sustainable sources of fish. If you don’t eat fish, then flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, dark green leafy vegetables and avocados also contain omega three, so try these instead!
Dark chocolate: Yes you read that correctly, chocolate can be good for you! Dark chocolate can reduce cortisol, inflammation and blood pressure, and can even boost immunity. Dark chocolate is additionally rich in flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that helps to protect the body against free radicals. Choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa solids, and don’t overdo the calories – a maximum of around 30 – 40 grams a day.
Whole grains and nuts: Whole grains are full of B vitamins and fibre. B vitamins support a healthy nervous system, and high levels of fibre can reduce stress and its associated effects. Good sources of whole grains are: brown rice, rye bread, wholewheat pasta and oats. Nuts are also great for targeting stress. Certain nuts like cashews contain magnesium, helping to reduce cortisol and inflammation; along with tryptophan, an amino acid our bodies use to make serotonin. Others, like walnuts and hazelnuts also contain high levels of those stress-beating Omega-3 fatty acids.