With so many fires still burning around Australia, and in areas where the aftermath of
the worst fires in our history have left many people suffering from acute stress and/or
PTSD, in this week’s article we look at how we can attempt to reduce stress through
diet. Notice I write to attempt to because in reality, I don’t believe that cutting out soft
drinks will magically pack up all our cares away, however, I know when we control the
internal influences which exacerbate stress, such as diet, it enables us to cope
The trouble with diet and prolonged stress is that when we are stressed, we tend to want to eat the types of food that make us more stressed and agitated. Whoever heard anyone in the height of agitation ask for a serve of broccoli? No one right?
When stress persists, the body produces cortisol and raises insulin levels and it’s
these two hormones which researchers believe affects our food choices.
Cheer me up chips, chocolate and cake seem to be the order of the day as these high fats, high sugar foods seem to have a feedback effect that helps to temporarily dampen stress-related responses and emotions. Alcohol also is a short-term fix to
help us forget our troubles.
The problem is that both alcohol and sugar rob the body of B group vitamins which
play a key role in energy production and controlling our nervous system. When we’re
stressed our body burns through B group vitamins faster than it would ordinarily do
therefore it’s important to eat more of the foods that are rich in B group vitamins and
less of those which deplete us of them.
There are eight types of vitamin B vitamins which collectively serve, amongst other things, to convert carbohydrates into energy, and regulate the nervous system, brain function and digestion. B group vitamins are water-soluble and highly unstable which means they need to be replenished every day from our diet.
So, what should we be eating?
Remember that plate of broccoli? I’m afraid to say that the very foods you least feel like eating are the foods you should be eating. A diet with the least amount of ultra-
processed foods and the most amount of fresh natural foods is the answer.
Fresh vegetables with particular emphasis on green leafy vegetables, cauliflower and
broccoli, mushrooms, citrus, beans, including canned and cooked-from-dry legumes
and pulses, wholegrain cereal, bread, pasta and rice, nuts and seeds and animal
products including eggs, dairy, red meat, offal, chicken, pork, fish and yeast (yes you
can throw vegemite into the basket too).
These foods pretty much sum up the components of an all-round healthy diet, but it
doesn’t hurt to consider eating for a function: In this instance to manage stress.
Make a conscious choice to drink more water and cut out soft drink, minimise the
amount of highly sweetened foods and alcohol and eat a healthy diet and you have
the dietary support you need to be better equipped to manage stress.
Beyond that, there are other ways to relieve stress without turning to food, Meditation and mindfulness practice. Studies show that meditation, mindfulness practise and yoga can help to reduce stress. They may also help people become more mindful of food choices and reduce the impulse to grab some high fat/sugar comfort food.
Overall exercise can blunt some of the negative effects of stress. Some activities, such as yoga and tai chi, have elements of both exercise and meditation.
Social interaction and support
Perhaps more important than diet, meditation and exercise is the comfort you can get from being amongst friends, however, like diet, when we seek comfort in the worst type of foods, we often withdraw from social situations despite knowing that being amongst people is the very things we need.
Even if you don’t feel like it, try and get out to meet people or phone and friend. Or if you’ve noticed that someone you normally see is absent from social situations, reach out to them and invite them out for a coffee and a chat to find out if they are OK. However big or small, everyone is fighting their own battles and with friends around we can together try and put them out.