How Nutrition helps with stress

Pain Management,
Mental Wellbeing,
Weight Management,
Pain management,
Digestive Health

Stress is something that we all live with, and it impacts our lives on many levels.  But what is stress? How does it affect us? and what can we do about it?

The first thing to remember is that stress is a normal physiological response to danger.  

When we are in danger, or a perceived threat, our body fires into action to prepare us for ‘fight or flight’:

The heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, blood becomes ‘stickier’ to prepare for injury, the breathing rate increases, sugars are released from stores into the blood stream to provide energy.  Blood is diverted to the muscles and away from the digestive system, our mouth goes dry, our pupils dilate….  

This is all fantastic when we need to expend a large amount of energy running away from danger.

The problem arises when the danger is not something we need to run away from, and when the threat is continuous.  This can happen in everyday life - we get stressed in a traffic jam, we are anxious about a meeting, we have something on our mind….  These daily stressors may still put our body into ‘fight or flight’ mode causing the exact physiological responses above.  You can see that it is not good for us to be in this state all the time.

How can nutrition help?

One of the best things we can do nutritionally to help manage stress is to balance our blood sugar levels.  When we eat foods high in sugars, the subsequent ‘crash’ after the initial blood sugar peak causes stress on the body and stimulates the innate flight or fight response.  Caffeine has a similar effect, so if you are already stressed and reach for a sugary snack and a caffeinated drink, it is a triple whammy!  

Top tips for balancing blood sugar levels

  • Ensure your main meals contain adequate protein and some good fats to sustain you to the next meal, avoiding that blood sugar ‘dip’
  • If you need a snack, choose fresh fruit and nuts, quality oatcakes and cheese or crudités with hummus instead of biscuits and cakes
  • Reduce caffeinated drinks, swap to decaf coffee and experiment with herbal teas 

Examples of blood sugar balancing meals: Breakfasts

  • Greek natural yoghurt with walnuts and chopped fresh fruit (peaches are delicious) Soak the nuts in water first (15 mins) to activate them so they absorb easier.
  • Quality whole grain or rye sourdough toast with mashed avocado or sautéed mushrooms

Examples of blood sugar balancing meals: Lunches

  • Salad Niçoise – mixed salad leaves, cold cooked baby potatoes, tomato, cucumber, boiled egg, tuna, olive oil and vinegar dressing
  • Vegetable soup with 1 tablespoons of haricot beans (or other beans, chickpeas or lentils, slice of whole grain or rye sourdough bread and butter 

Examples of blood sugar balancing meals: Dinners

  • Chicken stir fry with a wide variety of vegetables (onions, peppers, carrots, bok-choy/spinach) and brown rice
  • Grilled steak, Greek salad, (olives, feta cheese, tomatoes & cucumber) coleslaw (crated carrot and cabbage with mayonnaise),new potatoes

However, we need to bear in mind that nutrition is just one puzzle piece in the big picture…. So what else?

Regular treatments such as reflexology or a massage are very effective in stress management, and physical activities such as brisk walking in nature, yoga or swimming. Doing something creative and connecting with friends and loved ones also helps, and we can add some deep breathing, meditation and herbal teas to our days to keep that stress at bay.

Lucy Kelly, Nutritional Therapist