Six Tips for Eating Well When You are Stressed

With almost double the number of Google searches for “Gut Heath” in the last 12 months, there is no doubt that we are all interested in the gut!  We have high hopes for future research into its links to chronic conditions, immunity, weight management and mental health.  And we are beginning to see signs of how the food we eat can play an integral role in to how well our gut functions and our overall wellbeing.

‘Stress can have a big impact on our health and diet’.

In today’s fast-paced society, juggling work, childcare and other responsibilities can sometimes make us feel like we are drowning in stress – which can have a big impact on our health and diet.

Not only is it easy to let our diet take a back seat during busy times, but stress increases our levels of a hormone called cortisol, which has two main effects: it increases our appetite and makes us store more fat. All this leads to unwanted weight gain.

If you find yourself reaching for junk foods to get a comfort hit of sugar, fat or salt, try a few of these hints to keep your stress eating under control:

  • Load up on fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are jam-packed with vitamins and minerals to keep your body happy and hopefully stress-free. Green leafy vegetables are rich in folate which is associated with mood regulators such as serotonin.

Fruits, meanwhile, are a great source of vitamins and antioxidants and will give you enough of a sweet treat to tame your sugar cravings.

  • Choose wholegrains

Wholegrain products contain fibre, which isn’t present in their white and refined counterparts. Wholegrains are low GI foods, which means they are digested slowly and release a slow, stable energy supply. This allows us to feel fuller for longer and push on through the day, without any ‘sugar crashes’.

  • Pick the good fats

Oily fish such as salmon and tuna are rich in long chain omega-3 fatty acids, which can make us feel less stressed and keep cortisol levels at bay.

  • Eat foods containing tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid obtained from the diet, and is used to make our happy hormone, serotonin. Serotonin has a mood-regulating effect in the brain which may help alleviate stress through an improved mood. You can find tryptophan in foods such as nuts, seeds, red meat, chicken, fish and legumes.

  • Avoid highly caffeinated drinks

Although coffee or energy drinks may give you that instant recharge you need to get through the rest of the day, it may not be the best choice for stress management. Caffeine has been associated with increased anxiety and impaired sleep. If you spend all night tossing and turning, then you will wake up in the morning feeling more exhausted and stressed.

Instead, reach for a hot cup of herbal tea as your afternoon pick-me-up. It will make you feel warm and relaxed!

  • Stay away from the refined carbohydrates and sugars

When you’re stressed, it’s tempting to reach for the cakes in the tea room, or the tub of ice cream hidden in your freezer. Although the instant sugar fix may calm your cravings in the short term, these ‘empty calories’ will do little more than increase your jean size.

For your sweet fix without the sugar crash, try a bowl of hot oatmeal with some fruit and maybe a little honey drizzled over the top. Oatmeal is a complex carbohydrate that keeps your brain happy with its slow release of energy, while also being packed with fibre to keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Food Swaps to Try:

Swap seasoning with salt for herbs and spices or aromatics such as garlic, ginger and green onions

Swap vegetable oil, butter and margarine for extra virgin olive oil

Swap ice cream for low fat yoghurt topped with fruit

Swap a packet of chips for popcorn flavoured with spices or vinegar

Tips for quick, healthy home cooking

With so many food outlets and meal delivery services at our fingertips, it is too easy to opt for convenience when stressed, rather than the healthier option of cooking a meal at home.

However, there are plenty of ways you can make healthy home cooking quicker and easier:

  1. Purchase pre-cut ingredients: Fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen), and proteins (fish, meats and poultry) are easily available from major supermarkets. No need to peel or chop – just give them a quick rinse and you’re good to go.

  2. Cook in bulk: Make large batches at the start of the week and freeze portions so that you always have a healthy meal on hand. Cooking methods such as oven-roasting or slow cooking are convenient methods of cooking that require little to no attention.

  3. Get a helping hand: If you have partners or kids around to help, why not ask them for a hand in the kitchen? This not only takes the workload off you, but a good chance to bond and spend time together.

On board for cooking at home but not sure what to do? Check out our recipe bank to get you started.

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References

  1. Barbadoro P, Annino I, Ponzio E, Romanelli RM, D’errico MM, Prospero E, Minelli A. Fish oil supplementation reduces cortisol basal levels and perceived stress: A randomized, placebo‐controlled trial in abstinent alcoholics. Mol Nutr Food Res 2013;57(6):1110-4. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/doi/full/10.1002/mnfr.201200676
  2. Bourre JM. Dietary omega-3 fatty acids and psychiatry: mood, behaviour, stress, depression, dementia and aging. J Nutr Health Aging 2005;9(1):31-8. http://www.bourre.fr/pdf/publications_scientifiques/253.pdf
  3. Bradbury J, Myers SP, Oliver C. An adaptogenic role for omega-3 fatty acids in stress; a randomised placebo controlled double blind intervention study (pilot)[ISRCTN22569553]. Nutrition Journal. 2004 Dec;3(1):20. https://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/pmc/articles/PMC538287/
  4. Koopmans SJ, Ruis M, Dekker R, van Diepen H, Korte M, Mroz Z. Surplus dietary tryptophan reduces plasma cortisol and noradrenaline concentrations and enhances recovery after social stress in pigs. Physiol Behav 2005;85(4):469-78. https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/science/article/pii/S0031938405001940
  5. Rogers PJ. A healthy body, a healthy mind: long-term impact of diet on mood and cognitive function. Proc Nutr Soc 2001;60(1):135-43. https://www-cambridge-org.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/922E117A057B6F1B65FF420657099522/S0029665101000167a.pdf/healthy_body_a_healthy_mind_longterm_impact_of_diet_on_mood_and_cognitive_function.pdf
  6. Rosch PJ. The stress‐food‐mood connection: Are there stress reducing foods and diets?. Stress Medicine 1995;11(1):1-6. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/doi/epdf/10.1002/smi.2460110102
  7. Smith A. Effects of caffeine on human behavior. Food Chem Toxicol 2002;40(9):1243-55. https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/science/article/pii/S0278691502000960

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