What’s Eating you? – What to eat to help reduce stress levels
Unless you have a unique ability to time travel or escape to a different planet, it is impossible for you to have escaped the current global problems relating to coronavirus. In fact there is just no escaping it. It dominates the television, papers, radio and impacts our daily lives, work, financial status and freedoms and very unusually, EVERYONE is affected in some way by the sudden invasion of this unseen and frightening force. The uncertainty and anxiety this has bought to each and every one of us will have certainly had an impact on our stress and anxiety levels and is likely to continue to do so for some time to come.
With currently no known end in sight and the prospect of continued isolation from friends and family, which is an alien concept to most humans, this in itself is enough to cause stress levels to rise. But despite living in a time where panic seems to be the default setting for many, now is the most important time to remember that although we cannot control what is going on outside, we can always control what goes on on the inside. Taking control and managing our stress levels is something we can control, and by doing so it will allow us to handle this unprecedented situation much better and more healthily, which will allow us to come out the other side of it far less scathed.
Suffering stress, especially prolonged stress, is detrimental to health and causes a variety of biological responses in the body. These include increasing blood pressure, raised blood sugar levels, raised stress hormone levels of cortisol and adrenaline as well as a faster heart rate, non of which have a positive effect in the long term. One big way that we can help manage our stress and anxiety levels is by making sure we make the correct choices when it comes to our diet and the foods we eat. People cope and react to stress very differently, some people lean to food as a crutch, whilst others lose their appetite all together and struggle to eat, so managing stress is not a one size fits all. We definitely need to be more mindful of that fact now, seeing as we are locked down with people we may not be used to spending so much time with, which in itself can lead to stress increasing.
So how can the foods we eat help manage our stress and anxiety levels? There are many foods out there shown to have a biological impact and this includes having an impact on stress and the biological responses it causes in the body. So let’s see what you should be eating during lockdown to make you feel slightly less stressed and anxious.
Most green vegetables contain the B vitamin called folate. This is really important when it comes to stress and the low mood it can bring with it, as this little vitamin promotes the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical in the body, which when released causes feelings of pleasure, motivation, reward and helps focus our attention. It also has a significant part to play in regulating our body movements. When we eat foods high in folate it ensures dopamine is released in healthy amounts in the body, providing us with this more positive and uplifting outlook, which is needed at times of stress. Vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and other green leafy vegetables provide good sources of folate as do beans and pulses too. When our bodies don’t get enough folate, dopamine levels are much lower, which means that motivation and enthusiasm can be severely lacking and again not what we want at times of stress.
Pasta (the right sort only!!)
Since Coronavirus gripped the nation and panic buying set in, it seems the shelves have been stripped of pasta, which must mean many people are sat at home with their cupboards bursting with it. Well this is good news if you opted for wholegrain pasta. Wholegrain pasta, as well as other wholegrain foods such as bread, oatmeal, beans and certain cereals, are examples of complex carbohydrates and these are your friend at times of stress. These carbohydrates cause a steady release of serotonin in the body (known as the happy hormone), so when serotonin is released we feel happier and more positive. Complex carbohydrates, compared to white refined carbohydrates, are digested far slower and therefore do not spike blood sugar levels like white refined carbohydrates do. Maintaining and stabilising blood sugar levels is really important as stabilised blood sugar levels lead to more stabilised moods. This means stress levels can be better controlled and energy levels will be better sustained with the consumption of these higher fibre, complex carbohydrates.
Acerola is not something you will usually find on the fresh fruit and veg counter of your local store and is native to the West Indies, but this little cherry type fruit is an extremely rich source of vitamin C and can be purchased online in powder or juice form. Acerola juice actually has thirteen times more vitamin C than the equivalent portion of orange juice and when it comes to stress, intake of vitamin C is vitally important. Studies have shown that people who have high levels of vitamin C, do not show the expected physical or mental signs of stress when subjected to stressful situations. They also showed that those with higher vitamin C levels recovered faster from stress. One of the bodies stress hormones, cortisol, is also impacted by vitamin C. The more stressed we are the more cortisol is produced in the body and this has a negative impact on things such as immunity, concentration levels, appetite and blood pressure. In some studies vitamin C has shown to actually prevent the expected increase in cortisol levels during times of stress, as well as prevent the known signs of physical and emotional stress too. Other good food sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, blueberries, broccoli, strawberries, kiwis, peppers and fresh chilies so make sure some of these are part of your diet.
This specific type of mushroom really is a ‘magic’ mushroom, but in a good and legal way!! Shitake mushrooms have been used for centuries in ancient medicine for their health boosting properties and not only do they have fantastic immune boosting benefits, which is of course a big bonus during this coronavirus pandemic, but it can also help manage stress levels too. Shitake mushrooms are high in Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid), which is excellent at reducing stress symptoms. Vitamin B5 helps to support the action of the adrenal glands as well as contribute to the production of anti-stress hormones. Stress actually depletes the body of Vitamin B5, so it is important to replace what is lost by consuming foods that are high in this vitamin such as shitake mushrooms. Other good food sources of it include salmon, avocadoes, sunflower seeds and sundried tomatoes all of which can be easily incorporated into snacks or meals. Some studies also show that vitamin B5 can ‘down-regulate’ excess production of cortisol so can help control this stress hormone even in times of stress.
It may be that the supermarkets have suffered from some empty shelves in current times, but fear not because it is almost certain they will still have seeds available. Seeds of all variety including pumpkin, sunflower, flax and chai are a great source of magnesium and this mineral gets depleted in the body at times of stress, yet is vital for us to function healthily. Deficiency in magnesium can cause anxiety fatigue, muscle pain and a heightened disposition to stress, so topping up your magnesium levels daily is important to help reduce those stress feelings, especially as tiredness will only makes us feel worse.
Other Top tips for reducing your stress levels:
• Don’t turn to caffeine – caffeine is a stimulant, which is not what you want when you are stressed. Not only does it increase cortisol levels but it also depletes another hormone called adenosine that has a calming effect.
• Don’t comfort eat – with the majority of people now working from home, comfort eating is now easier than ever before. Remember though that the process of eating does not erase our feelings, whatever food we may reach for in the hopes of finding comfort, our emotions will not improve by eating it and will very often leave us feeling much worse
• Exercising – it’s now widely known that exercise positively impacts mood by releasing endorphins and also reduces the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, so what better prescription for stress than this. Even in a small confined space there are many gentle exercises that can be done. Why not look on the internet and gain inspiration from the many exercise classes now available for free online.
• Nature – although we are now limited to the time we are able to spend outside and where we are allowed to venture to, most of us can still get outside locally, or in the garden. Research shows the huge link between being outside in nature and reduced stress levels and improved mood. For those who are self-isolating or with no garden, studies even showed that just looking at photos of nature improved wellbeing and mood significantly and there are plentiful nature videos and pictures on You Tube to help induce feelings of calm.
• Take one day at a time – Stress and panic are induced by fear of the unknown and unfamiliarity. Focusing too far ahead in time will create more uncertainty and not help to reassure. Just focus on today, one day at a time and don’t allow your mind to race ahead or panic as this will only induce further stress.
With the uncertainty of current times, it is not an easy job to remain stress free, but changing your diet and lifestyle to incorporate some of the foods and advice mentioned above is something you can control easily and which will help. Fear, panic and anxiety is highly contagious itself, and when we are living in close proximity to other family members we need to try and ensure these feelings are as diluted as possible so we are not living in an environment where these feelings feed off each other. If you have a de-stress method that really helps you we would love to hear about it so why not share it on our Planted social channels, where it may help someone else who is struggling at this difficult time.
• Diet and stress, 2014. Psychiatric Clinics of North America
• Tryptophan hydroxylase-2: An emerging therapeutic target for stress disorders, 2013. Biochemical Pharmacology
• Vitamins, Minerals and mood, 2007. American Psychological Association
• Magnesium in Depression, 2013. Pharmocological Reports
• Medicinal and Therapeutic Value of the Shiitake Mushroom, 1993, Advances in Applied Microbiology