Recent years have seen a heightened state of stress and looking after ourselves is more important than ever. We may not be able to change the situation but we can limit the effect that stress has on our nervous systems, and nutrition is a key component in your toolkit.
Emotional and physical stress, whether short or long term, can trigger many health conditions. Stress exacerbates nutrient deficiencies with increased requirements and desire for less nutritious foods, leading to a whole range of negative effects such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic and immune dysfunction, and depression (Yau & Potenza, 2013)
A healthy gut is more resilient to stressors and toxins. Prolonged stress contributes to leaky gut, leading to many different chronic health problems, diseases, and also the development of autoimmune conditions, for which stress can also be a trigger.
It all starts with the gut
Start by eating to support gut health, since our gut bacteria are affected by our stress levels. Reducing stress is critical for gut health but we can manage the impact it has too. Including plenty of prebiotic fibre sources and probiotics is a great way to reduce the impact of stress on the gut.
Great sources of prebiotics include leafy and wild greens such as dandelion and chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, alliums (onions, garlic, leeks), asparagus, bananas, oats, apples, konjac, burdock and jicama roots and flax seeds.
Fermented food and drinks such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kim chi, kefir, miso, and kombucha are all great ways to improve the good bacteria in the gut, which become depleted by stress.
Increasing nutrient density can improve your resilience to stress, meaning that stressors in your life have less of an impact (Singh, 2016).
Whether you choose animal sources, pescatarian or plant-based sources, ensuring you are getting enough protein is essential for replenishing amino acids for replenishing neurotransmitters to ensure adequate mental and physical recovery.
Omega-3 fats help protect your heart which works harder under stress. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are powerhouses, as well as the seaweed and algae they eat. Other plant sources include flaxseed, chia, and walnuts.
Vitamin C and other antioxidants help combat damage that occurs from stress and toxins. Load up on fruit and vegetables such as citrus, berries, kiwifruit, broccoli, tomatoes and peppers (capsicum).
The family of B vitamins become depleted under stress and they’re the ones that regulate so many important processes in the body. Bananas, avocados, almonds are all great sources.
Magnesium is more widely accepted as we embrace salt baths for restoration and muscle recovery. Getting plenty of magnesium rich foods such as leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains is super helpful for stress too.
Improving the quality of foods in your diet, no matter what eating pattern you follow, lays a solid foundation of health that enables your body to cope better with greater stress levels. We can support our bodies by nourishing them to help prevent long-term effects as much as possible.
Yau, Y. H., & Potenza, M. N. (2013). Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva endocrinologica, 38(3), 255–267.