Feeling stressed? The food you eat can help you take the edge off of it. Ok, so a piece of broccoli is not going to magically make all of your problems melt away, but diet can be a very powerful tool in the management of stress. Remember, stress can have a huge impact on our physiology, and it is at this stage that diet can enter the arena. It can help to minimise this damage, and also to clean up the mess. Here’s how to reduce stress with some simple nutrition choices:
Magnesium to Reduce Stress
First on the list to reduce stress is the mineral magnesium. This vital mineral, that is often massively deficient in the modern diet, by the way, is involved in over 1000 chemical reactions in the body. It is an important nutrient during times of stress because it can help us to feel physically more relaxed.
Magnesium works alongside calcium to regulate muscle contraction and relaxation. Calcium is involved in contraction, magnesium in relaxation. Increased magnesium intake in times of stress can help us to feel physically less tense. It is common during bouts of stress to hold tension in our muscles, particularly in the shoulders and neck. Extra magnesium can help us just relax the tension a little.
Opt for dark green leafy vegetables as they are the prime source of magnesium – it is a fundamental part of chlorophyll. You can also consider supplements of around 400-500mg several times a day.
B Vitamins to Reduce Stress
B vitamins are also one of the top things on the list when it comes to managing stress related burn out with diet. They are a group of interdependent nutrients that regulate many aspects of neurological health. It would be easy to fill a book with their many roles in this context, so I’m going to keep this brief. Their roles include:
B1 – Thiamin:
- Maintaining the health of nerve cells
- Mood regulation
- Enhanced concentration
B3 – Niacin:
- Mood regulation
- Energy production (stress can zap your energy rapidly)
- Blood sugar regulation
B6 – Pyridoxine:
- Neurotransmitter production, including serotonin, the feel-good chemical.
- Well documented as a vital component in maintaining long-term neurological health.
- Involved in serotonin production.
This is just a very brief glimpse of why they are a vital part of the picture. Best dietary sources include whole grains, yeast extract (love it or hate it), offal and red meats. Supplements are also a great idea in modern times and I use a B100 complex daily.
Step off the roller coaster
The blood sugar roller coaster that is. The last thing you need in times of stress is your blood sugar to hit the floor. This will take your mood down to rock bottom and your ability to cope with even the smallest of challenges will be reduced.
Keeping blood sugar levels stable consists of two main practices.
The first is making sure that all of your carbohydrate staples, like bread, rice, pasta etc are the whole wheat or multigrain varieties. These are much higher in fibre and therefore take much longer to digest. This means that their sugar is liberated more slowly and your blood sugar is drip fed rather than carpet bombed.
The second part is food combining. Always make sure in each meal that you have a good quality protein, a good quality low glycaemic carbohydrate, and some good fats. This will further slow down the digestion of the meal and keep blood sugar stable for hours, not to mention the broad cross-section of nutrients it will deliver. What does this look like in practice? Think egg on multigrain toast for breakfast, or maybe porridge with nuts and seeds. Lunch could be a salad with quinoa and some salmon, tofu and vegetable soba noodles etc. Dinner could be roast chicken with sweet potato wedges and wilted greens. You get the picture. This way of eating will keep you feeling full, blood sugar stable and most importantly keep your mood stable and keep you in a position to more effectively deal with life’s challenges as you aren’t trying to scrape yourself up off the floor.
Ok, so dusting off my old Medical Herbalists hat for a minute, there are a class of herbs that can be golden nuggets in times of stress. These are the adaptogens. This terminology stems from Russia, and whilst meaningless in scientific terms, describes a class of botanicals that influence the stress response. They vary greatly but all share the common factor of bringing down the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause disturbances in digestive function, energy production, growth and repair, and immunity.
My favourite of these is Siberian Ginseng. Reishi mushroom is another corker. Do some research, read up on them and consider giving them a try. Ultimately, nothing, short of renouncing modern life and joining an Ashram will take stress away, but a few simple steps with your nutrition choices can at least minimise its potential to wipe us out.