This week’s question is about foods that relieve stress, and it comes from one of my Private Coaching clients, Sarah, an American who currently lives in London who is struggling with pandemic stress:
Hi Jenny, with COVID 19 stress here in the UK, and election stress in the US, I’ve found that my stress and anxiety levels have been through the roof recently! Is there a certain type of diet for anxiety that you can recommend? Thanks, Susannah.
You’ve heard me sing the praises of adequate protein for managing hunger and boosting metabolism, but did you know that ensuring adequate amounts of protein in your diet can improve your mood too? When I originally ran Sarah’s 3 day diet log through my nutrition software (part of my Private Coaching service), it showed that her intake of protein was low.
When we consume protein, it is broken down into amino acids, which the body uses not just for the repair and growth of muscle, but also to create neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit signals throughout the nervous system (in fact even the receptors that the neurotransmitters act on are made of amino acids). Dysfunction of neurotransmitters can lead to mood and mental health disorders, for example reductions in levels and activity of norepinephrine and serotonin have been reported in persons with depression (1).
I suggested Sarah add more protein to her diet by starting her day with a protein based healthy breakfast smoothie, and include protein as part of both lunch and dinner (see sample day menu below for more details).
Upon further review of Sarah’s food log I noticed that her intake of Omega 3 fats were low.
An adequate and balanced intake of fats in the diet is essential for brain health and mood, as approximately 60% of our brain is made of fat, with DHA (a type of Omega 3 Fatty Acid) making up 30% of our grey matter. EPA (another type of Omega 3 Fatty Acid) is important for keeping the cell membrane fluid, which can affect how energy and nutrients get into our cells, how waste products are removed from the cells, and how signaling from chemical messengers such as neurotransmitters is conducted.
Great dietary sources of Omega 3 fats include flaxseed, walnuts, sardines and salmon (see sample day menu below for more details).
Keeping blood sugar balanced is key for a calm, steady mood – we all know that feeling of being ‘hangry’! When reviewing at Sarah’s food log her diet was high in free sugars. Free sugars are defined as ‘those added to food or those naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices, but exclude lactose in milk and milk products’ (2) and low in fibre. A diet high in free sugars and low in fibre can cause imbalanced blood glucose levels (swinging from high to low), and when blood glucose is low this can lead to anxiety and fatigue, two symptoms Sarah had mentioned she would like my help with.
The inclusion of healthy carbohydrates in the diet can also help the uptake of tryptophan across the blood brain barrier, which is why I recommend low GI foods for my clients struggling with mood and anxiety, and one of the reasons why I recommend a carb ‘cycling’ approach following my 8 Week Lean and Clean Program.
In addition to removing the free sugars from Sarah’s diet I suggested she increase her fibre intake through the consumption of vegetables and low sugar fruits, and include clean, complex carbohydrates such as sweet potato, quinoa and wild rice (see sample day menu below for more details).
Two key vitamins for stress that Sarah’s diet was low in were Vitamin D and Vitamin B9.
Vitamin D helps activate the release of neurotransmitters, and low levels of Vitamin D have been linked with depression (3). As Vitamin D is so essential for health I recommend all of my clients have their levels checked, either as part of their annual physical, or through an at home test with Let’s Get Checked (click here to access their tests and use code ‘JENNIFERH’ for a 20% discount).
Great food sources of Vitamin D include salmon, sardines, cow’s dairy (for those who can tolerate it), tuna, eggs and shiitake mushrooms.
B9, also know as folate or folic acid, is a vitamin necessary for the formation of ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters, including tryptophan and serotonin. Healthy foods that contain B9 include leafy greens, beans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, liver, seafood and eggs.
All of my Private Coaching clients receive a 3 day sample menu, including recipes, specifically designed to their nutritional needs and goals.
Here is Day 1 from Sarah’s 3 day menu:
Breakfast: PB and J Stress Relieving Smoothie: 1 serving vanilla grass fed beef protein (I like Equip Foods) with 1/2 cup strawberries, 2 handfuls baby spinach, 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed, 1 tablespoon sugar free peanut butter and 1.5 cups unsweetened almond milk.
Lunch: Salmon and Avocado Salad
Mini Meal: Apple and Sunflower Seed Butter
Dinner: Quinoa Bowl with Roast Vegetables and Toasted Walnuts
My 1, 3 and 6 Month Private Coaching Programs include a full dietary and lab work analysis, sample meal plans, supplement suggestions, personalized workout programs and VIP access to me. The 3 Month Package is the most popular, and more information can be found below:
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