Hello my little lightbulbs!
How’s your week been?
With most exams over and summer getting well underway I’m hoping that you’re feeling good, and after our food for motivation post, motivated! It seems quite fitting for the time of year to talk about stress as it can be a time for a lot of pressure and/or change: the end of the academic year, changing seasons, horrific laws being introduced in the world… there’s plenty going on for you to feel overwhelmed, stressed, and maybe even a little defeated.
There’s a lot of advice on stress. Exercise, drinking herbal teas, taking time for yourself, talking things through, or writing out your thoughts are just some of the very useful pieces of advice that I try and implement in my own life. Another strategy, one that I’m learning more and more about as the year goes by, is nutrition. What are you eating both when you’re stressed and just habitually week by week?
You might be a stressed-out chocolate gobbler like me, you might eat very little when you’re stressed or have your own stressed-out eating ritual. Whatever your go-to, I’m not going to look at what we eat during our high-stress moments; I won’t be demanding that you catapult your Dairy Milks out the window whenever you feel stressed out or sprint to the nearest fruit shop. Instead, we’re going to chat about the long-term, and how you can add certain foods into your diet to build up resilience against stress hormones in the body.
Bessel Van Der Kolk M.D, the author of The Body Keeps the Score, tells us how detrimental stress can be for the body. It’s something that I think is often played off – when you’re riddled with headaches, nosebleeds, fatigue, illness, and mood swings, we often palm it off with the ‘it’s just stress’ comment. I’m guilty of this myself and I’m aiming to be more conscious of removing the ‘just’. Stress is a serious thing and something that we can reduce with focus and dedication, no matter what kind of life you lead.
Food for Stress
While there are some benefits to short bursts of stress – boosting productivity, finishing tasks that you’ve been avoiding, making difficult decisions- it’s very easy for stress to build until it becomes an unhealthy glob just hanging onto us as we go through the day. Feeling burnout, fatigue and overwhelm are just some signs of stress and they can come around after work or school, after that difficult assignment or project is completed. Only you know yourself well enough to decide your limit, but more often than not, we let stress build until it becomes unhealthy, detrimental, and even dangerous.
There are lots of remedies out there (few that work without consistency- so don’t think a chamomile tea once every blue moon is going to save your stressful days). I’m going to talk about foods that you can eat to help chemically combat that pesky cortisol! We’re going to cover Vitamin B6, Vitamin B3, and Magnesium!
Vitamin B6 plays an important role for the neurotransmitter GABA, a messenger that inhibits neuronal excitability and also regulates muscle tone. In other words, when you’re freaking out about work or relationships or just overthinking generally; GABA is that friend who puts things into perspective and helps you to get a bit less hysterical. Specifically, GABA blocks certain nerve signals in the brain to reduce fear, anxiety, and stress.
Some foods that contain B6 include:
Bananas, whole-grain foods, ricotta cheese, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, green peas, avocado
Salmon and yellowfin tuna also contain B6 but, as these are being overfished, finding plant-based alternatives would be best for the populations and for the environment in general. There’s a really cool watermelon tuna recipe from @NoMeatDisco I’ve been meaning to try for a while!
Recipe ideas: Spinach and ricotta tortellini/ravioli, smashed avocado on whole-wheat toast
Vitamin B3, also known as niacin works to stabilise mood, improve nerve health, and control blood sugar levels and digestion. A form of B3 that may be familiar to skincare enthusiasts is niacinamide! An amazing article for those wondering about the science behind Vitamin B3, its functions and benefits, can be found here – this article sources further studies too if you found yourself interested.
Foods with B3 are:
Peanuts, brown rice, mushrooms, avocado, potatoes, poultry, liver
Recipe ideas: Brown rice buddha bowl, chicken satay
Maybe a more well-known nutrient related to stress is magnesium. You might have noticed magnesium bath salts or magnesium supplements at the shop, advertising a better quality of sleep and there seems to be good reason for it! Work has been done to find that low magnesium correlates to poor sleep hygiene; as well as other issues such as migraines, hypertension, and osteoporosis (studies at the bottom of this post)!
Foods with magnesium include:
Spinach, swiss chard, cashews, almonds, peas, beans, tofu, yoghurt, soy milk
Recipe ideas: Blended cashew linguine (vegan version of carbonara), stirfried veggies with fried tofu
Remember- it’s all about consistency. One smashed avocado on wholegrain toast isn’t going to dissolve all of your worries, but a mindful and steady inclusion of stress-reducing nutrients will help lessen the impacts of stress on the body. I’d also stress that taking a mindful approach to what you’re eating, not simply for the macro-distribution, but for the role that all of the vitamins and minerals are playing in keeping your body functioning in its healthiest capacity, is one of the best things you can decide to do. I’ll chat a little more about this in later posts but educating yourself on your personal bodily needs and having the power to serve those needs is an insane act of self-love.
I proper got into this post and spent a lot of time researching because I don’t want to be chatting absolute bubbles! Some of the resources I’ve used are listed below. If you have any other studies or de-stress foods that work for you- share with the group!
I hope that you continue to have an amazing summer, that you have some lovely weather, and manage to make plans that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside!
Diet and mental health, Mentalhealthfoundation
Food and mood, Mind
GABA: What it is, functions and disorders, Verywellhealth
Vitamin B6 reduces stress and anxiety, Vitamins-nutrition
Why you need B vitamins when you’re stressed, Holland&Barrett
Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) for anxiety: a secret weapon against stress?, Shutupmind!
Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing?, BMJ
Food for thought: mental health and nutrition briefing, MentalHealthFoundation
How magnesium can help you sleep, Sleepfoundation
The role of magnesium in sleep health, Nationallibraryofmedicine