In this day and age, most of us are prone to feeling continuous stress. We worry about our jobs and children; we stress over finances, deadlines and relationships. And unfortunately we tend to reach for junk food. But high-calorie or sugary foods only trick us into thinking we feel better. Eating healthy food can actually offer some real stress relief.
Here are 7 diet strategies that will help you deal with stress:
- Dark chocolate. What?! Yes, a small square of dark chocolate can be a good and delicious tool for stress reduction. It has been found to improve mood by increasing serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain. But it needs to be dark and a small quantity.
- Foods rich in vitamin C will help your body deal with the effects of stress. So enjoy lots of fresh vegetables and a bit of fruit as well. Some champions: blackcurrants, kiwi’s and red peppers.
- Drink plenty of water, at least 1-1.5 litres. Be careful with caffeine! Stimulants such as tea, coffee and energy drinks may provide a temporary energy boost, but they reduce energy levels and deplete nutrients in the long term. Herbal teas are fine.
- Eat less refined carbohydrates – biscuits, cakes, pasta, sweets… They spike your blood glucose and that causes even more stress. Whole grains are fine, as are proteins. You’ll actually need more protein in times of stress. Focus on meat, eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds.
- When you’re stressed you’re using up a lot of magnesium. Include plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds to supply adequate levels of it. Magnesium also helps with muscle tension and cramps.
- B vitamins are vital for everybody and especially need to be replenished on a daily basis when you’re experiencing stress and anxiety. Sources rich in B vitamins include whole grains, meats, fish, poultry, milk, eggs, peas, beans and vegetables.
- Eat healthy fats and avoid the unhealthy ones. Healthy fats are olive oil, coconut oil, organic butter and avocado oil. Fried foods are a big stressor for your body so are better out of your diet – anyway!
And 5 lifestyle practices that help:
- Try to keep a good routine in your day. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day and also have your meals at regular times. Your adrenals like that and it helps you to make better choices
- Meditation has gone mainstream. And there’s a lot of research pointing out the benefits. You don’t have to sit for an hour, doing ten minutes is already bringing your stress levels down. There are some great apps available, like Calm, 10% Happier and Headspace
- Having some me-time works great to lower stress. Do something you like for ten minutes and your stress levels start to go down. Listen to music, do some colouring, go for a walk in nature… What’s your favourite thing to do to relax?
- Movement and exercise are brilliant but over-exercising causes a lot of extra stress for your body. How would you know? If you need to sleep for an hour after exercising or are just exhausted you may have been taking it too far.
- Eat at least one meal at the table, if possible with company and without devices. It’s all about togetherness, which takes us out of our fight-and-flight reaction. Feeling connected makes us happier and more relaxed.
I see clients with chronic health issues and also teach classes. Do you want to know more about me? Have a look at my website: evelinerodenburg.co.uk, I’m also active on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/evelinerodenburg.co.uk/)
During the cold and dark winter months I have been enjoying a warming and nourishing drink: my healthy hot chocolate! And I’m happy to share my recipe.
The inspiration came around at a time where I decided to stop drinking caffeinated coffee because I wasn’t sleeping well. At the same time I was looking for a mid morning snack with a good amount of protein to keep me going without an energy dip. The idea was it would prevent a snack attack later in the day.
So this is what I came up with. I make my healthy hot chocolate with my homemade cashew nut milk, raw cacao, collagen powder, maca powder, a pinch of sea salt and a bit of maple syrup.
In case you didn’t know yet, raw cacao powder is so much nicer that the regular stuff. It has a delicate chocolate taste. It is much less processed than cocoa powder or chocolate bars. Cacao is thought to be the highest source of antioxidants and of magnesium of all foods.
Collagen powder has many health benefits. It improves the health of your skin and hair, reduces joint pain and degeneration. And since it heals and seals the protective lining of your gut as well it helps to heal leaky gut.
One of the benefits of maca root is that it increases fertility in both men and women. It’s a hormone balancer,and a booster for the immune system.
Maca is considered an adaptogen, which means that it helps the body naturally adapt to stressors like a busy schedule, demanding job, or illness, for example.
I notice that when I consume maca it gives me energy, like coffee would do, but without the crash afterwards. It makes me feel more grounded and alive. It helps me with restoring my hormone balance and it elevates endorphins, the feel good hormone. On top of that maca is its relatively high in protein, fiber, calcium and magnesium!
Healthy hot chocolate Recipe:
- Half a mug of nut milk or coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon raw cacao powder
- 2 tablespoons of collagen powder
- 1 teaspoon of maca powder
- a pinch of sea salt
- 1 tablespoon of maple syrup (or use a few drops of liquid stevia)
- Pour the nut milk in your mug and then add water to top up.
- Pour this milk and water in a saucepan and add the powders and the salt.
- Heat it up, using a whisk to stir.
- Add the maple syrup and pour into your favourite mug when hot.
- Retreat into a quit place where no-one can find you and enjoy!
Depression and anxiety are on the rise. In the UK we experience them ten times as often as in 1945.
Antidepressants like Prozac are among the most widely used medications. Where is seems easy to solve the problem by popping a pill, quite a lot of people don’t really feel better after six months. And it can be really challenging to come off them. I’ve been there myself: it took me four years! This is one of the reasons why there are many who don’t want to take antidepressants.
Prozac or turmeric?
Interestingly, a recent study called ‘Efficacy and Safety of Curcumin in Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial‘ researched the claim that the spice turmeric would work as an antidepressant.
In this study, 3 groups of 20 participants with major depression according to a commonly used scale, received either Prozac, Prozac + 1g of oil-based curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, or just curcumin alone for 6 weeks. The combination group had the best results (77.8%) followed by the Prozac (64.7%) and the curcumin (62.5%). But these differences were not statistically significant. Are you getting that? The curcumin was just as effective as Prozac! And the authors emphasized curcumin’s high degree of safety up to dosages of 12g a day.
We have been taught that depression is a chemical imbalance. It’s supposed to be the result of a deficiency in chemicals called neurotransmitters, like serotonin and norepinephrine. But most of the theories about neurotransmitter deficiencies as the cause of depression have never been proven. What we dó know is that study after study is showing us that inflammation is an underlying cause of so many of the medical conditions we are experiencing, and that there really is no separation between the immune and nervous systems.
Turmeric is a root, actually more properly called a rhizome. It looks a bit like its cousin, ginger root. That is, until you cut it open and you see the bright yellow inside! One of the benefits of turmeric is that it is strongly anti-inflammatory. And turmeric is one of the champions: it both prevents inflammation and fights it once inflammation takes hold.
Other ways in which curcumin can affect depression are that it reduces oxidative stress – the damage caused by free radicals – and it calms down the adrenal stress response system.
Try it out
Curcumin is easy to get and absorbs relatively well. I use it in my practice in a form called Meriva, but you can use any good quality curcumin extract. I typically start with 500 mg twice a day. It is safe to use while you are on an antidepressant medication, so it is something you can use if you are trying to work with your doctor to wean yourself off of an antidepressant. You can also use a couple of teaspoons of turmeric powder in your cooking or in your smoothies. For better absorption add some ground black pepper. Or drink some ginger turmeric milk before bed!
I love making soup. I feel it sustains me and warms me in winter – and that’s what it feel like right now!
Over time I have learned that it takes five tastes to make a really nice one: salt, sweet, sour, spicy and fat. The salt can come from a good quality salt, like a sea salt or a pink salt. Or a good quality bouillon powder. The sweet part for me often comes from caramelising onions or leeks (my husband can’t eat onions!) or from using sweet vegetables such as carrot, sweet potato, beetroot, parsnips or squash. Adding a bit of sour often makes the taste come alive: I mostly use tomatoes or lemon juice. Just a bit of the latter.
I don’t like hot spicy food but I do like a soup having a little ‘kick’. Fresh ginger is great for that, or a pinch of cayenne or black pepper. And a bit of good quality fat makes a soup SO much better. That could be a lump of butter, some ghee or coconut oil or some coconut milk. Using a bone broth with some animal fat is the best. Don’t be afraid of using good quality fat: we need it, it’s healing and it doesn’t make you fat.
Have you seen the gluten free shelves in the supermarket expanding? Many people are aware of their gluten sensitivity or even have coeliac disease. And the gluten-free food industry is eagerly stepping in. Which doesn’t mean that gluten free products are necessarily healthy: they’re almost always highly processed and contain lots of sugar, soy and processed oils.
So what to do if you want or need to go an a healthy gluten free diet? Here are some tips to help you transition:
- Shop on the outside aisles of your supermarket. That’s where the healthy foods are usually located. So stock up on organic fruits and vegetables, lean meats and eggs among others.
- Read labels! When you buy packaged foods, it’s important to understand what they contain. Foods that include wheat, rye, spelt, barley, or kamut contain gluten. Also, look for words like “spices,” “flavoring,” “modified food starch,” “maltodextrin,” “glucose syrup,” and “citric acid.” These can all contain gluten. Be sure to read the ingredients list and also the “contains” section of food labels.
- These are the grains you can eat: quinoa, teff, buckwheat, brown rice, millet and amaranth. If you want to try oats, look for the gluten free ones. They’re not more processed than the regular ones, just grown and rolled in a safe way.
- “Gluten-free” doesn’t necessarily mean ‘healthy‘. Especially stay away from gluten-free cakes, sweets and biscuits. They contain often loads of sugar and processed flours and are low in nutrients.
- Don’t buy any ready-made sauces and dressings. Make your own so you make sure they are healthy and without any gluten, sugar or processed ingredients.
- Go back to the kitchen and prepare your own meals. Chopping your veg and preparing your meal is a great way to unwind from a busy day. And it’s a lot cheaper as well!
- Find some great websites and blogs. Cooking healthy and delicious meals is so much easier now with all the inspiration you can find online. I love the Deliciouslyella blog. Her recipes are also dairy and refined sugar free. Mynewroots is another great and very creative one. And if you love baking, have a look at Livia’s kitchen. Start with two or three easy meals at first. Once you feel comfortable, move of to more challenging or time-consuming recipes.
- Get prepping. Make a big pot of soup and freeze it in portions. Make a batch of your favorite snacks with a friend. So that when you’re tired or uninspired you won’t be reaching for the not-so-good stuff.
- Know which alcohol to avoid. Gluten-free alcohol includes cider, wine, sherry, spirits, port and liqueurs, but remember that beer, lagers, stouts and ales contain varying amounts of gluten.
Over to you! What are your top tips for going gluten free?
Did you know that cooking your own meals actually helps your digestion?
When you start thinking about what you’re going to eat, when you chop and sauté an onion, roast some seeds for your salad, slow-cook a stew with spices… Your kitchen fills up with lovely aromas.
Thinking about food, hands-on preparing and smelling it sets off a cascade of processes. And they are key for gut healing.
The hypothalamus in your brain signals to the medulla oblongata in the brainstem. The medulla’s response is sending out nerve impulses, which travel down the big, wandering nerve – the vagus nerve – to stimulate more saliva production, increase the secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach and pancreatic secretions. Together, they help with optimal digestion.
Then taking time to bless your food in some way or another prepares you to eat. As you might know we have two different modes of our nervous system: sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest). If we’re in sympathetic mode we’re ready for action. Our body focuses on sending more blood to our muscles and lungs so we can jump or run into action is case of a threat or emergency. It makes sense that the body isn’t focusing so much on digestion.
When you eat in a stressed state, your digestion only works on half it’s potential – or less!
So what happens if you eat when you’re stressed out, upset, have a difficult conversation or reply to some work emails during your meal? You will not break down the nutrients very well and that can result in acid reflux, bloating, burping, stomach pain and the like.
It doesn’t take long prayers or meditations to get to the rest-and-digest mode. Blessing your meal can be as simple as sitting down on the table and taking a few seconds to look at the food you prepared and appreciate it.