• Alison Cowell

Stress and nutrition

This is a subject close to home for me at the moment. Immigrating, selling a home and a business, setting up a brand-new life, renovating an old property, starting a new business and dealing with the health issues of ageing parents all in the space of a few months can place a little bit of stress on a person!

Stress means different things to different people; situations that some might see as exciting, others might view with anxiety and fear. (I won’t insult you by telling you ‘you can choose how you respond’ to life’s curveballs. Whilst that is true, it isn’t terribly helpful when you feel you’re at rock bottom).


There are many types of stresses that our bodies endure, including physical, emotional, environmental and chemical. Our response to stress is the same today as it has always been. When we perceive a threat of any sort, it affects our autonomic nervous system and our ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicks in. As a result, we release adrenaline to take on whatever the stressor might be. Over time, this can take a toll on our energy, weight, sleep and hormonal balance.


Whilst we can’t always control the stresses we encounter, we can help our body’s response to the impact is has and the damage it might cause.

Nutrition plays a vital role and happily there are many foods that naturally calm the system, reduce anxiety and encourage restful sleep., they include:

· Probiotics containing the strain lactobacillus-rhamnosus

· Spirulina (a good source of iodine, great for adrenal support)

· Porridge oats

· Bananas

· Cherries

· Dates

· Nuts

· Turkey

· Fish


Healthy snacks

Eating healthy snacks throughout the day, such as fruit, raw vegetables, yoghurt, nuts and seeds will keep your blood sugar levels stable and your metabolism functioning smoothly. On stressful days it is important to eat little and often to minimise peaks and drops in energy levels, and this includes eating a nutritious, filling breakfast in the morning. For some people, stress can make them skip or forget to eat their meals, and this increases the likelihood that they will reach for processed or sugary foods when they are hungry.

Complex carbohydrates

If you’ve switched to a protein-only diet, be careful that your mood and stress levels are not being compromised as a result! I saw many clients who reported feeling more anxious and stressed after eliminating this vital group of foods from their diet, but hadn’t made the connection. Eating whole, unprocessed carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, pasta and cereals, as well as oats and brown rice will help to enhance levels of serotonin - the mood-boosting hormone that helps you to feel happy and more relaxed. Low levels of serotonin in the body is linked to anxiety and depression, as well as poor quality sleep. In addition, complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly than refined, processed varieties, which can help stabilise blood sugars.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs)

Essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and 6) are vital nutrients, which help the body to function effectively - particularly the brain. EFAs also help to moderate the effects of psychological and physical stress. This is because they lower the release of glucocorticoids (hormones released from the adrenal gland) under stressful conditions. To get the right balance of EFAs in your diet, eat oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, as well as flax seeds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds.

Calcium-rich foods

Research into stress and diet shows that calcium may be able to help reduce certain symptoms, such as muscle tension and anxiety. Therefore, including plenty of calcium-rich foods in your diet (such as low-fat milk, yoghurt, sesame seeds, kelp, cheese, leafy greens and broccoli) may be beneficial. Eating these in the latter part of the day is thought to help with absorption

If you are feeling overwhelmed, do reach out and talk to someone.


Copyright © 2019 Alison Cowell

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