Great question Sam, and right now I know we all need as much help as we can get to help us manage our stress!
When considering foods for stress management, there are two key factors to address: one, keeping your blood sugar and insulin levels stable and two, ensuring maximum nutrient density.
Aka, the science behind being ‘hangry’! A high carb and high sugar diet leads us to have high insulin levels, which means we do not burn our food for fuel, and instead store it as fat. We will also experience the blood sugar rollercoaster of highs and lows in our blood glucose levels, leaving us at times feeling wired or experiencing a sugar high, quickly followed by a crash in energy and mood. This constant swinging between high and low blood sugar causes us to release cortisol (our stress hormone), as our body considers this (quite rightly) as a dangerous event. In addition, when our cortisol levels are high this can spike our insulin levels, setting us up for a vicious cycle of high insulin/high cortisol, which can lead to weight gain, fatigue and brain fog.
A high fibre, veggie packed diet with some great quality protein and goods fats in one of the keys to regulating blood sugar balance (and therefore cortisol release). As part of my Lean and Clean Program I recommend that every meal consist of 20-30g of protein, at least 2 servings (large handfuls) of vegetables, and 1-2 servings (tablespoons) of good fats, with 3-4 meals a day, every 3-4 hours. For example:
Breakfast: Breakfast Smoothie – 20g collagen powder, 1 tablespoon almond butter, 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed, 2 handfuls spinach, 1.5 cups almond milk
Lunch: Salmon and Avocado Salad
Mini Meal: Hummus and Veggie Sticks
Dinner: Zucchini Noodles with Chicken and Sugar Free Pasta Sauce
This will ensure our blood sugar levels stay stable throughout the day, whilst still giving enough time for gastric clearance (digestion of food), and ensuring we spend some time burning stored body fat for fuel.
Our body’s need an incredible number of vitamins and minerals to complete even just the basic metabolic functions that keep us alive. For a healthy immune, reproductive and digestive system, not to mention great hair, skin and nails, we need to ensure that our diet is as nutrient dense as possible, and that every calorie we consume counts.
In addition to this, at times of stress our body will ‘steal’ these much needed nutrients in order to make stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. For example, magnesium, a mineral that is used in over 300 essential processes in the body ( and that our diets are woefully lacking in) is needed in high amounts to make cortisol.
Great gut health is the first step to ensuring that we do not just have adequate, but abundant vitamins and minerals to thrive, not just survive. We could be eating the healthiest diet on the planet, but if we are not absorbing the nutrients from our food our efforts are wasted. We are not what we eat, but what we absorb. Time and time again when I am reviewing my client’s lab work I see signs of malabsorption of nutrients stemming from poor gut health.
Simple ways to improve our gut health include eliminating processed foods, taking a good quality probiotic daily, including GI healing foods such as bone broth and collagen and managing our stress levels! My 28 Day Guided Gut Healing Program is designed to heal the gut and rebalance the microbiome, ensuring optimum gut health and nutrient absorption.
Once we have great gut health we can focus on nutrient density (or bang for your buck) foods! The adage ‘Eat The Rainbow’ is especially true here, as by eating a wide range of brightly colored vegetables and fruit means we are getting a diet full of anti inflammatory foods plus anti-oxidants and phytonutrients, which are key as co-factors for our metabolic processes and to help with stress management processes.
When choosing your fruits and vegetables go for the varieties that are brightly colored, or have deeper hues – for example, deep green leafys such as spinach and kale, pink grapefruit and bright red tomatoes. Consider adding nutrient packed herbs and micro greens to your salads, and ensure adequate phytonutrients from dark brown and purple foods such as berries, purple cauliflower and broccoli, organic coffee and red wine, and my personal favorite, dark chocolate, which is also packed with stress relieving minerals calcium and magnesium!
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I’m a Holistic Nutritionist working in Boston, New York and London, and every week I answer one of your most pressing questions on gut health, weight loss, hormone balance, better sleep and more! Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org to have them answered on the site.