Stress can make us crave junk food and increase our levels of fat-promoting stress hormones that lead to weight gain around the tummy, hips and thighs, says Charlotte Watts, author of The De-Stress Effect. These ten foods are proven to relieve stress
When you’re under stress, sleep may suffer and you can find yourself waking with a start in the early hours – a common high stress symptom. Celery contains tryptophan which helps the body create the brain chemical serotonin, essential to sustaining a positive mood and sound sleep. A few stalks with some sugar-free peanut butter as a bedtime snack can help sleep quality and keep your blood sugar levels constant throughout the night to prevent sudden night-time waking.
Long-term stress affects immunity, which is why you might catch any bug going when the pressure is on. Garlic contains potent antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties that help support an immune system lowered by stress and it can also help reduce tissue and joint inflammation which increases in the face of stress. Crush two cloves and add it to a vegetable medley of peppers, tomatoes and onions with some fresh oregano, lemon and a drizzle of olive oil and roast for 20 minutes and serve with grilled salmon or chicken breast.
3. Cabbage (and it’s cousins)
Nutrient super-rich cabbage – along with other cruciferous vegetabls such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, pak choi, horseradish and mustard leaves – contains sulphur compounds called glucosinolates that help our livers detoxify stress hormones. Eating more cruciferous vegetables can also help PMS sufferers as they can help fight a stress-related condition known as ‘oestrogen dominance’ that may be behind pre-period mood changes. Eat them cooked though – steamed or sauted in some olive or coconut oil – as raw they can interfere with thyroid function which may be compromised when you’re under stress.
Eat cabbage and its cousins cooked though, as raw they can interfere with thyroid function
If chronic stress is leaving you exhausted, licorice may help the function of your adrenal glands. These are two small kidney shaped glands that sit above your kidneys that make stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin to help get you through those deadlines and challenges. But their ability to do pump out those hormones is finite and when your adrenals become exhausted, so do you. Try replacing coffee (an adrenal gland depletor) with licorice tea for adrenal support during stressful times (it’s fabulously stimulating, so not after 2pm) and try quality licorice from health food stores as an occasional sweet treat.
You may know chamomile as a pre-bed soother, which it does by raising the amino acid glycine to help calm a stressed, heightened nervous system. But is also increases levels of a substance called hippuric acid that helps fight infection, super-important when you’re stressed. Drinking chamomile tea after meals may also help regulate digestive issues like stomach cramps and constipation – common symptoms for those with stress-related Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
6. Dark chocolate
If you’re feeling guilty about your chocolate fix, don’t. Stress increases out cravings for sweet, fatty foods and when this happens, having some dark chocolate may help. Research has shown that a 40 gram bar a day can help us cope with stress. Chocolate may release ‘beta endorphins’ in the brain that help us cope with stress and it also contains a chemical called PEA phenylethylamine (PEA) that is said to evoke feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Look for raw chocolate such as cacao nibs or dark chocolate that’s at least 70 per cent cocoa.
When you’re under stress, your body and brain go through certain vitamins faster. Nuts are great sources of such nutrients – B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and omega oils – that are all quickly used up when stress strikes. Nuts naturally balance blood sugar levels and have been shown to reduce sugar cravings, regulate appetite and support metabolism. But don’t be scared of the fat in nuts. Studies shown those with nuts in their diet are more successful at weight management! Have a handful of almonds, walnuts or Brazils mid-afternoon to keep stress-related cravings at bay.
8. Olive oil
You probably know about its potential for cardiovascular protection, which is vital as stress is now a proven underlying cause of heart disease. But a newly discovered compound in olive oil known as oleocanthal has now been shown to have the same anti-inflammatory effects as ibuprofen without the side-effects. Choose extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil and drizzle it on salads and vegetables but avoid cooking with it as heating can damage the delicate fats present in olive oil (opt for cold-pressed coconut oil or rapeseed oil for cooking instead as they have ‘high melting points’ that can withstand heat).
9. Oily fish
Oily fish contain omega 3 oils in forms called DHA and EPA (look on the label for these). DHA is needed for good sleep and mood and EPA can help reduce stress-related inflammation on our cells. They also contain B vitamins, zinc and magnesium needed in higher levels during stressful times and can help reduce stress-related sugar cravings. Best sources include 2-4 serves of mackerel, anchovies, salmon, trout or sardines a week (we’ve left tuna off the list as although it’s rich in omega-3 oils, it’s also high in toxic mercury – associated with headaches and insomnia).
Famed for their antioxidant content, berries contain compounds that may help prevent the premature ageing often seen with chronic stress. They also temper the release of sugars into the bloodstream after eating which makes raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries the best sweet choice if you feel you just have to have that dessert or sweet snack. Unlike other sweeter fruits, they cause little fermentation and gas in the bowel and, as chronic stress impairs digestion, this is helpful if you’re under pressure.
Read Charlotte’s Calmista blog on Healthista.com
The De-Stress Effect (Hay House £12.99) by Charlotte Watts is available from amazon.co.uk. To sign up for a free newsletter and podcast support and for de-stressing videos and other help log on to de-stressyourlife.com