Our Blog

Nutrition and Stress

Nutrition and Stress

Stress is often perceived as a negative thing, yet it can be both good and bad.

We all have an in-built stress response that enables a ‘fight or flight’ reaction when faced with a real or
perceived threat or danger. This stress response increases heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar,
and energy to muscles which can occasionally be useful – imagine if you were being chased by a
bear! In this unfortunate situation, you would need the capacity to run away as quickly as possible and
stress enables the body to do this. Then, once the threat (or bear!) has passed, these physical
reactions decrease and calm is restored.

However, the stresses of modern life can be ongoing, (e.g., poor work / life balance, multiple
deadlines, health concerns, relationship difficulties, financial worries), meaning the ‘off switch’ for our
stress response might not always be triggered. Such pressure in our day-to-day lives can lead to
chronic stress. Consequently, physical symptoms may occur including tiredness, disrupted sleep, poor
digestion, low energy, and sugar cravings to name a few!

When the body is stressed, it needs support and all too often we think that short-term gratification will
help. For example, we could have a mid-afternoon slump at work, and we may reach for a bar of
chocolate and a coffee to help ‘perk us up’. Or, when we’re tired after a busy day, we might feel we
‘need’ a takeaway and a bottle of wine. Sadly, these quick fixes are not the answer! In fact, what we
really need is sufficient nourishment to sustain our energy levels and support our immune system.
The immune system comes under immense pressure in times of stress. This might explain why we
sometimes feel under the weather once we stop being stressed – like during the first few days of a

There is truth in the saying, ‘We Are What We Eat’ because the body needs a vast array of nutrients
to fuel all biological processes. When there is an imbalance of nutrients, minor or chronic symptoms
can manifest such as poor immunity, lethargy, bloating, headaches – all of which can be experienced
when stressed. Good nutrition therefore supports good health and if we feel healthy, we’ll feel more
able to cope with stress!

Although, what we don’t want is to become stressed about the fact we might not be eating well!
Bear in mind that healthy eating is not about depriving yourself; it’s about swapping the wine /
takeaways / chocolate for foods that have more nutritional value and can help to sustain your energy
when you need it most – if you’re running on empty, you’ll be adding to the stress!

So, here are a few ‘easy wins’ you can incorporate into your diet:

  • Watch Your Sugar Intake: the aim is to avoid those blood sugar highs and lows – we need to
    keep our energy on an even keel when we’re feeling stressed! Be mindful of your ‘free’ sugar
    intake, (the sugars added to foods and drinks), including sugars in honey, syrups, agave
    nectar and fruit juices. Aim for no more than 7 level teaspoons (30g) per day. Get into the
    habit of checking food labels – anything over 22g sugar per 100g is high!
  • Avoid Simple Carbohydrates: these have the same effect as sugar! Swap white bread / pasta
    / rice for brown versions and introduce more beans, pulses, and whole grains. Eating more of
    these complex carbohydrates will help to maintain blood sugar balance throughout the day
    which, in turn, helps regulate insulin and stress hormones, support mood, and energy levels.
  • Go Easy on the Stimulants: a stressed mind does not need more stimulation! Avoid coffee
    after 3pm and don’t drink alcohol within 2 hours before bed, as both can disrupt sleep –
    something we certainly need more of when we’re feeling stressed!
  • Introduce Omega 3: this essential fatty acid has anti-inflammatory properties and has been
    shown to support brain health which is important because stressful times often call for
    increased mental acuity! Walnuts, chia and flax seeds, salmon, mackerel, and sardines are
    good sources of Omega 3.
  • Eat More Magnesium-Rich Foods: this mineral has a calming effect, supporting sleep and
    response to stress. It can be found in green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, brown rice,
    wholegrains, bananas, and pulses.
  • Think Variety and Colour: support your immune system with plenty of brightly coloured fruits
    and vegetables. Adding more colour and a greater variety of foods to your diet will broaden
    the range of available nutrients. Plus, the vitamin C found in many fruits and vegetables can
    help to regulate the release of stress hormones.
  • Perhaps the easiest route to eating more healthily is to begin by taking small steps – start gradually
    by introducing these ‘easy wins’ to your diet one at a time. When one becomes a habit, add another.
    This approach is more achievable (and less stressful!) than trying to change everything at once, and
    creating habits will help to facilitate a regular healthy eating pattern for the long term.

Remember, if we can eat a nutritious diet to support our bodies in times of stress, we’ll be better
prepared to tackle whatever life may throw at us…. including those bears!

Whether you have a particular health concern you want to address or if you simply wish to eat better,
Lissa will be offering a 10% discount off initial consultations in May. To find out more or to book an
appointment, contact: [email protected] or visit www.nutrileader.co.uk