April marks Stress Awareness Month and unfortunately stress is all too common in so many of our daily lives. The majority of us are running from place to place, agreeing to every work project and social arrangement as well as fitting in workouts and all life admin in between the chaos. Let’s then add some other factors to our wonderful concoction of stress: stressful life events, work stress, financial stress, mental health, body image stress, playing our roles as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, girlfriends, boyfriends and a shoulder to cry on. The pressure of all these factors can become all too much which promotes excess stress on the body. What exactly does this mean for the everyday functioning of the highly complex machinery within the body and how can we use food to help reduce these effects?
During times of stress the brain reduces the importance of any unnecessary processes such as digestion, reproduction and food requirements in order to tackle the stressor. However, in today’s society too many of us are running around with constant stress which is leading to issues in digestion and gut health, weight maintenance, anxiety, sleep and poor food choices to name a few.
Although it’s not all bad news and the food we eat can help with stress management. Individuals under chronic stress often require higher nutrient dense foods. However, in reality during stressful times we typically reach for the less nutrient dense comfort foods.
- SUPPORT YOUR HAPPY HORMONE
Tryptophan is an amino acid which along with vitamins B3, B6 and magnesium help to synthesis serotonin. Serotonin contributes to heightened mood and as a result will help you to manage your stress levels more efficiently. Foods rich in tryptophan include: tofu, turkey, oats, eggs, cheese, salmon and nuts.
- EAT YOUR FRUITS (+ VEGGIES)
Fruits and vegetables are particularly rich in vitamin C which is required to help metabolise amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine. These amino acids are important as they help stimulate the production of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine which act as anti-depressants to the brain.
Vitamin C also plays a key role in optimal immune function. During periods of chronic stress vitamin C can be depleted which is one of the reasons why stress may cause us to be more prone to illness.
3. REDUCE THE RISK OF VITAMIN B DEFICIENCIES
B-vitamins are vital in energy production. Vitamin B deficiencies may promote stress like effects such as anxiety, fatigue and irritability. Vitamin B5 is particularly essential in helping to control some of the stress mechanisms. Foods rich in pantothenic acid (aka B5) include: seeds, avocado, eggs and broccoli.
- GET YOUR DAILY DOSE OF DARK CHOC / ALMOND BUTTER
By now this can’t be news; magnesium seems to have gained its fair share of well-deserved publicity recently. Magnesium plays a role in muscle and nerve relaxation and foods rich in magnesium include: green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate and almonds.
- EAT YOUR BRAZIL NUTS
Selenium is important in energy production and also supporting the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands secrete cortisol and the effects of chronic stress can build up causing them to be weak and impair their ability to function effectively. Research has has suggested a selenium deficiency may negatively affect adrenal function.
- CUT YOUR COFFEE INTAKE
Whilst the coffee debate is still on-going, it’s clear that excess caffeine stimulates cortisol production which can lead to energy highs and energy lows. For those suffering from chronic stress you’re best to swap your coffee for a matcha or green tea as this contains L-theanine as it promotes the release of GABA (a neurotransmitter) which has a calming effect on the brain. The L-theanine also ensure the caffeine is released as a slower rate to prevent energy dips and spikes.
There you have a few tips to help you use nutrition to manage the effects of stress on your body. However, if you’re suffering from chronic stress you’re encouraged to seek further professional advice.
Cuciureanu, M. D., & Vink, R. (2011). Magnesium and stress(pp. 251-268). University of Adelaide Press.