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Feeling stressed? Part 1: How nutrition may support you.

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

This blog post comes in two parts. This post focuses on stress and nutrition, and the second part on the psychological, emotional and spiritual impact of stress, and what we can do to assist ourselves.

Being surrounded by the fear, anxieties and negative thinking can mean that we feel more stressed and anxious than is normal. The demands of work, home life, health issues, or financial worries can leave us feeling under pressure most of the time. At times like this we may reach for alcohol or ‘comfort’ foods (such as sugary and fatty snacks, chocolate etc) which we perceive help us deal with the stress we feel. However, eating a healthy and varied diet is never more important than when we feel under pressure, and may help the body to deal with physiological changes that emotional and/or physical stress brings.

Here are a few tips to help you on the right path:

  • Eat small, regular meals to help support blood sugar balance and ensure a good level of nutrient intake. Stress responses use up a large amount of nutrients therefore a varied diet is essential. Include a high amount of vegetables for their antioxidant capacity ( 5 or more portions per day is ideal) and try to have some raw vegetables each day, either as a salad or a snack (e.g. whole carrot, sliced pepper, cucumber or a stick of celery). The fibre content of vegetables may also help to support digestive function, which usually slows or becomes sluggish we when feel stressed.

  • Always have breakfast. Avoid sugary cereals, white bread and pastries. Instead choose either eggs on rye toast, porridge (made with whole oats or quinoa flakes) topped with chopped fruit/nuts, a smoothie made with coconut yogurt/avocado, non-dairy milk (oat, nut or rice milk are good for a change), green leafy vegetables and your choice of fruit. Or, if you have no time, just have a natural bio-yogurt or coconut yogurt and a piece of fruit with some ground seeds. Making an 'Overnight oats' or smoothie the night before for breakfast if mornings are busy, is a great way to ensure you eat breakfast. See recipe for overnight oats below.

  • Stress depletes the body of nutrients, especially vitamins C, B5, zinc and magnesium, so at lunch time top these up by including broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, dark, green leafy vegetables, brown rice, whole grains, lentils, fish and eggs in your meal.

  • Avoid eating refined carbohydrate and sugar where possible as this may disrupt blood sugar control and put unnecessary pressure on the adrenal glands (which control our stress hormones). When blood sugar drops too quickly the body releases adrenaline and cortisol to stabilise it once more. Therefore keep your intake of white bread, white pasta and rice, biscuits, cakes, pastries to a minimum or as an occasional treat. Replace with low GI or GL carbohydrates which help support blood sugar balance and provide sustained energy release. Try wholegrains such as oats, barley, rye, millet and also brown rice and quinoa.

  • Avoid alcohol during the day and limit your intake in the evening to a small (i.e..125ml) glass or two of red wine. Alcohol depletes the body of nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and B vitamins which may protect us from the effects of stress. Aim for at least 2 alcohol free days per week.

  • Remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day – a dehydrated body cannot function properly!

Lemon & blueberry overnight oats with pistachios

Taken from Ready, Steady Glow by Madeleine Shaw.

Serves 2

150g rolled oats (gluten free oats if you are gluten intolerant)

350ml almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)

1 tbsp of honey (or maple syrup if you are vegan)

1 tsp vanilla powder or extract

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

100g blueberries

1 tbsp chia seeds

2 tbsp raw unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped

2 tbsp toasted coconut flakes or pumpkin/sunflower seeds

In the evening, mix the oats with the milk, the honey (or other natural sweetener), the vanilla, lemon zest, cinnamon and a little pinch of salt. Divide between 2 bowls or containers you are using. Store in the fridge, covered, overnight.

Mash the blueberries in a bowl or blender with a little more honey if you like, and the chia seeds. Transfer to a bowl, cover and let it sit overnight in the fridge. 

In the morning, top each bowl of oats with the pistachios, coconut flakes or seeds and the blueberry jam. 

The oats and jam will keep for 2 to 3 days in the fridge, so you can prep a few bowls for the week ahead. You can play about with the ingredients as you wish e.g. use another type of berry or fruit, different milk or nuts.

The physiological effects of stress may lead to (or contribute to) numerous short term or chronic health problems. For more information on how Nutritional Therapy may help to deal with stress and anxiety related disorders, please get in touch via my website or email:


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