Stress is a funny thing, it can cause intense desires for cake and have us slamming back cup after cup of coffee. As initially satisfying as this may be it is the worst thing we can do when faced with stressful situations. I know, I have been there!! As I mentioned in the previous post I used to work in a very stressful corporate position and I would escape stressful situations by eating coffee cake and drinking pumpkin spice lattes. (I know it is the season but we all need to cool it on pumpkin and sugar everything!)
In my case it led to severe adrenal fatigue which in short means that the adrenal hormonal system gets burnt out in trying to deal with mental, emotional and physical stress. The symptoms can include extreme fatigue during the day but difficulty sleeping at night, low overall energy levels, and intense sugar and salt cravings.
What about Cortisol?
It is crucial to talk about cortisol when it comes to diet and dealing with stress. Although cortisol could have an entire blog to itself, I will try to sum it up effectively.
What is cortisol? It is a very crucial stress hormone which plays many important roles including immune function, regulation of metabolism and maintaining homeostasis in the body. Cortisol is released in higher amounts throughout the day especially first thing in the morning and during exercise. It’s release gradually slows throughout our day and is lowest in the evening as we naturally “wind down”. The most important cortisol function for our topic is the elevated release during daily stressful situations.
The connection between adrenal fatigue and cortisol? These stressors (small or large) can accumulate in our bodies and eventually lead to nutrient deficiencies. Chronic stress will elevate cortisol levels and can lead to symptoms like weight gain, high blood pressure, sleep disturbances, mood swings possibly leading to anxiety and depression. NO THANKS!!
Enough with the bad stuff… let’s chat about taking action. What can we do to control stress through our nutrition?
Aside from the lifestyle factors we can dominate our stressful situations by having a kick ass diet.
My overall nutrition strategy is to add in the good stuff first! When it comes to stress there are definitely some things we need to get under control first. My first recommendation is to cut out simple sugars (sweets, baked goods, white bread, white rice etc.) and cut down on stimulants like coffee, tea, energy drinks etc. Over consumption of these simple sugars will cause imbalances in blood sugar levels which leads to ups and downs in energy levels throughout the day and can lead to adrenal fatigue.
Instead focus on fibre rich whole grains and vegetables, known also as COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES
- Brown Rice
- Oats (* increases serotonin levels- The feel good hormone)
These whole grains provide fibre and protein which will help to balance blood sugar levels and give you consistent energy levels throughout the day.
Amino acids (breakdown of protein) are also essential for nervous system function and dealing with stress. In particular L-tryptophan which is responsible for relaxing the brain (nuts and seeds, turkey, tuna, oats) also found in raw cacao (chocolate!).
Omega 3 fatty acids have been heralded for their amazing anti-inflammatory properties but they also play a really important role in decreasing cortisol levels. In addition to those roles they are a MAJOR player in proper brain function and mood regulation.
OK obviously I need to mention veggies…
Yada yada yada… eat your veggie! Why does everyone keep saying that? Well simply put because they are jammed packed with nutrients we need in order to deal with stressful situations.
There are some specific heavy hitter nutrients (vitamins and minerals) which need mentioning:
B-Vitamins help the brain transmit information through neurotransmitters in-particular dopamine and serotonin which are the “feel good” hormones.
- Vitamin B6 is important in assisting in neurotransmitter function and creating a calm mood as a result of increased serotonin levels. Foods rich in B6 include: bananas, legumes, carrots, spinach, eggs etc.
- Vitamin B12 aids in your body’s metabolism, it helps breaks carbohydrates into glucose, the sugar that helps your brain to function properly. Foods high in B-12: shellfish, poultry, beef and eggs
- Vitamin B5 helps to regulate our adrenal function and assists in the production of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Foods high in B5 are chicken, avocados, whole grains, and sweet potatoes
Antioxidants are very important for dealing with stress. During stressful situations there is a buildup of free radicals within our body. Antioxidants will help to combat damage associated with free radical exposure.
- Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and immune booster that is important for stress management. Foods high in vitamin C are peppers, citrus fruit, strawberries, and broccoli.
- Vitamin E is similar to Vitamin C in its fight against free radical damage. Foods high in Vitamin E are almonds, egg yolks, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts.
- Zinc is crucial for dealing with stress and lowering cortisol levels. Zinc is also a heavy hitter when it comes to our immune system. It is very common to get sick in stressful situations if our zinc levels are inadequate.
And last but definitely not least (it weird to have a favourite mineral?) They are all crucial for our well-being BUT I am in love with magnesium! (Did I just say that? – serious food nerd moment)
- Magnesium has many important functions and is actually one of the most common mineral deficiencies. Magnesium regulates calcium levels, calms the nerves, allows proper circulation and blood flow and helps to induce sleep and so on. Magnesium rich foods include: dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains and raw cacao (Chocolate- The real kind. NOT milk chocolate.)
So there you have it…good nutrition to the rescue again!
-Sylvie (OG Lifestyles)