There are so many great foods that can help ease our stressed bodies and minds. It’s also incredibly important to remember that a diet full of rules and restrictions may be another stress added to your already burdened mind, especially when food is scarce or variety is limited. Just eat and try to get in those nutrients where you can.
If you are interested in finding some foods to help your body combat stress (this is by no means an exhaustive list), here are my top five…
That lovely dark purple pigmentation of blueberries is due to antioxidants called proanthocyanidins, which are responsible for protecting our cells (particularly in the brain). They also feed some of our most beneficial gut bacteria, essential for creating calming neurotransmitters.
Such a good one to have in your feel-good arsenal. Whilst it isn’t caffeine-free, green tea contains comparatively less than coffee. It also contains an amino acid called L-theanine, the building block to GABA, our calming neurotransmitter. The perfect yin and yang, it gives you a kick of alertness but also calms the mind without causing drowsiness. Find it a little bitter? Play around with brands and types, or brew for less time.
Pumpkin seeds are tiny powerhouses of minerals and nutrients. They are rich in magnesium, a vital mineral used by every cell in the body, and one that is relied upon by the hypothalamus to keep our stress response in check. Add to that good levels of potassium (which helps regulate our blood pressure), zinc (responsible for brain-cell development), and B vitamins (vital for maintaining a healthy nervous system), you can begin to see why these little fellas are a stress buster.
Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of the amino acid tryptophan (a building block for serotonin, our happy neurotransmitter) and another called glutamate (a building block for GABA, that calming neurotransmitter mentioned before). Toast them lightly in a dry pan and sprinkle a tablespoon over a soup or your morning porridge, or just eat them straight up as a snack (just let them cool first!).
Dark Leafy Greens
Hate to be that cliché, but dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, spring greens, chard, mustard greens and rocket have too many stress-busting benefits not to mention. They are rich in folate, a deficiency of which can suppress the production of SAMe (a naturally occurring compound in our bodies that helps produce serotonin and dopamine, our feel-good hormone) and are a great source of magnesium.
No, not that powdered potato you remember fondly (or with shudders) from your childhood. This S.M.A.S.H. is a handy acronym for sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring, all rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Current UK guidelines are two portions of oily fish per week. Are you hitting that? If not, a good quality Omega 3 supplement taken daily is a quick win for your brain health.
Eat with pleasure and freedom and yes sometimes that may look like a family-sized bar of chocolate! After all, chocolate (especially the super-dark kind, high in cocoa) contains magnesium, which reduces stress and in times like these a little pleasure can go a long way.
Charlotte Faure Green is a registered Nutritionist who provides one to one sessions in her Brighton based clinic (when we’re not in lockdown!) or online. She helps stressed bodies and minds regain balance through real-world sustainable changes. You can find her on Instagram @charlottefauregreennutrition, or contact her through her website at charlottefauregreen.com.