Nutrition for stress: can what you eat help you feel calmer?

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Unfortunately, stress is very much a part of normal everyday living. Stress affects everyone in different ways and can really affect quality of life. The good news is that the right nutrition can have a positive influence on the body and mind, particularly during stressful situations and for everyday life.

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Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top nutrients and foods to help keep you calm and reduce stress.

 

 

B Vitamins

These are key to the production of our stress hormones and for the health of the central nervous system generally. B vitamins are also used up during stressful times so they certainly need to feature highly in your anti-stress larder. Plus, they’re essential for helping the body release energy from food which can be very helpful when stress is sapping your energy levels.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

Make sure you’re eating plenty of B vitamins throughout the day as they’re water-soluble so are quickly excreted from the body. The great news is that they’re found in so many different foods. Wholegrain cereals such as oats (porridge for breakfast), eggs, beans and seafood (all great as part of a lunchtime salad), green leafy vegetables and other whole grains such as rice (salmon, brown rice and broccoli for dinner). They are certainly easy to incorporate into the daily diet.

Vitamin C

Another important nutrient that’s needed for production of stress hormones, but vitamin C also helps fight infections; the body is more susceptible to attack from viruses when stressed. Whilst vitamin C is found in lots of fruits and vegetables, especially peppers, berry fruits, citrus fruits and kiwis, it’s not that easy to eat enough when your body and mind are really stressed.

A rnage of colourful fruit and vegetables

To increase intake, why not make a daily juice with mostly vegetables and some added apple or pineapple for taste? Whilst there’s lots of negative press about juicing, mainly because it lacks fibre and beneficial enzymes, it can really increase your intake of vitamin C, which is much-needed during stressful times. You should also include plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables with your meals to gain benefit from all the other compounds naturally found in these foods. Plus of course, even more vitamin C!

Green Tea

Green tea contains an amino acid called theanine which helps promote the production of one of the brain’s calming neurotransmitters, GABA. In fact, even though green tea contains a small amount of caffeine, theanine helps balance out the stimulatory effect of the caffeine: when you’re stressed, excess caffeine can stimulate feelings of anxiety, worsening the stress response. Green tea also contains lots of antioxidants which help protect the body from infection, which can often become more prevalent during stressful times.

A cup of green tea

Look for pure green tea which is readily available in supermarkets or health food stores and drink around three cups a day for best results.

Green leafy vegetables

These are superfoods for many reasons. Not only are they high in B vitamins which support the nervous system, they’re also loaded with calming magnesium. In fact, magnesium is known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ because it helps relax muscles and creates feelings of calm within the body. Moreover, it’s used up more during stressful situations which means ideally we need to be taking in more.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

Broccoli, cauliflower, pak choi, kale and sprouts are all great for their magnesium content and are very quick and easy veggies to cook and include in the daily diet. For those who really don’t like their ‘greens’ then why not try adding broccoli and pak choi to stir fries? Try grilling kale with a little olive oil sprinkled with salt. Have a go at flash frying sprouts with bacon. It couldn’t be easier!

Natural yoghurt

The reason that natural yoghurt can really help manage stress levels is because it’s loaded with probiotics. These naturally feed your good gut bacteria, which in turn have a very positive effect on mental health and overall wellbeing. Additionally, dairy products contain B vitamins so you’ll be gaining double the benefit.

Natural yoghurt

Importantly, the yoghurt needs to be ’live’ to contain the beneficial bacteria, and natural; many fruit yoghurts contain lots of sugar which will have the reverse effect. Yoghurt is great added to your wholegrain breakfast cereal of choice, with some berries, or it makes an excellent snack on its own.

So try and make the right nutrition your first priority to help balance the stresses and strains of daily life.

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Female nutrition: five of the best nutrients for women

A group of women of all agesThe body needs a wealth of nutrients on a daily basis. In actual fact, it needs a whopping 45, including water! That’s not always easy to achieve everyday which is why a balanced and colourful diet, as well as some supplementation, is key for all-round good health.

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However, when it comes to female nutrition there are definitely some nutrients that women need to prioritise.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top vitamins and minerals for women to keep your health on top form!

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of haemoglobin which is the protein in the blood that carries oxygen around – clearly a fundamental body requirement! However, it’s also really key in the production of a range of hormones, particularly relating to mood.

Most importantly for women Vitamin B6 has a hormone-balancing effect. Many women have found relief from unpleasant symptoms of PMS, particularly breast tenderness and mood swings, by upping their intake. And for those ladies trying to conceive, vitamin B6 helps produce progesterone needed for the corpus luteum (the early stage of pregnancy) and for pregnancy to be maintained.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Whilst vitamin B6 is fairly widely available in foods including beef, poultry, fish, whole grains, nuts, beans and bananas, many women can still benefit from a top-up via a high quality multivitamin. Plus, it’s water-soluble so is quickly excreted from the body – even more reason it’s needed on a daily basis.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is affectionately known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because the sun is our best source and it is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight. Unfortunately for those of us living in the UK there is not enough sun around between October and April to ensure we get enough of this essential vitamin. One of the reasons why people (and especially women) can feel low in the winter months is due to a lack of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is also important for immunity and absolutely key for healthy bones and this becomes even more important for women as they approach menopause and beyond. Peak bone density is reached at around 25 years of age, therefore girls really need to be mindful of their vitamin D intake during their early years in order to prevent future problems. If good bones aren’t built in our younger years, they’re only going to deteriorate as we get older.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

During the winter months, we certainly can’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, and food sources (oily fish, eggs, cheese, dairy and fortified foods) contain very limited amounts. A daily supplement containing at least 10 micrograms is, therefore, essential. This is also the recommendation from Public Health England.

Omega-3s

Omega-3s are also called ‘essential fats’ and for good reason. The body can’t make omega-3 fats so they need to be eaten very regularly. This may not be good news if you don’t like oily fish as this is the best source. However, food supplements are readily available, plus flaxseeds, chia seeds, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds are all good sources.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Omega-3s are crucial for balancing hormones. Additionally, as they have a potent anti-inflammatory action, they can really help in cases of heavy and painful periods, fibroids, endometriosis and PMS. So stock up on salmon (wild if possible), sardines, mackerel or vegetarian sources of omega-3s, to keep your hormones in good balance.

Zinc

Whilst it’s key to overall health for both sexes, due to its role in around 300 different enzyme reactions, having sufficient zinc is essential for women.

Zinc has a potent anti-inflammatory effect so it can really help ease period pains. Plus, it’s essential for healthy egg production and regulating monthly cycles. Furthermore, for ladies suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), zinc helps dampen down one of the enzymes that indirectly encourages the unwanted hair-promoting hormone – one of the unpleasant side effect of PCOS.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

If you are struggling with skin problems, particularly acne, zinc helps to kill bacteria that promotes spots.

Good food sources are oysters and shellfish, red meat, poultry, nuts and beans.

Magnesium

The mineral magnesium, works in a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc in keeping women balanced hormonally. All these nutrients play key individual roles in our health (especially women’s) but they work particularly well as a team!

Another very busy mineral, magnesium is involved in many different enzyme reactions in the body. It’s especially helpful in cases of period pains, PMS and hot flushes; it works for women whatever your age. Importantly, it can help to relieve stress because it dampen downs the production of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Interestingly, magnesium is quickly depleted during times of stress, so even more is needed.A selection of green leafy vegetables

Eating a predominantly whole food and colour-rich diet (dark green leafy vegetables are rich sources of magnesium), will keep the body topped up with this very essential mineral.

So try to include these five key nutrients in your diet and keep your health on top form.

 

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

 

 

Nutrition Tips: top three minerals and how to get them

DOuble exposure image of a woman running and meditating to represent healthy lifestyle

The body needs around 45 different nutrients everyday (including water) – that’s a staggering amount! Most of that number is made up of micronutrients – vitamins and minerals that are essential for health.

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Although they’re only needed in trace amounts, their importance in supporting our bodily systems should never be underestimated.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares three of the most important minerals and how to make sure you are getting enough.

Zinc

Zinc is one of the hardest working of all the minerals. Obviously, all minerals are essential and have their own particular areas of expertise. However zinc gets really involved in so many aspects of our health because it’s responsible for around 200 different enzyme reactions. Enzymes are usually proteins that speed up all chemical reactions within body cells and are absolutely essential for life. So, zinc is pretty key to our existence!

Whilst zinc is involved in so many body functions, its key roles are keeping the immune system in good shape and in wound healing. Zinc is also involved in sensory functions such as taste and smell, skin health and sexual function (especially the production of male testosterone).

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

To give a little more detail, zinc is involved in protein production and cell regeneration, hence its role in wound healing. Zinc supplementation can improve taste and appetite which is especially important in the elderly and in some cases for supporting those with eating disorders. It is also needed for the production of male hormones and sperm plus it can help reduce an enlarged prostate.

Good food sources of zinc include oysters and other shellfish, red meat, beans, nuts, oats and pumpkin seeds.

Calcium

Calcium wins a place on the leader board because it’s the most abundant mineral in the human body. It’s primarily known for healthy teeth and bones because around 99% of it is found in one or the other. Interestingly, if too much is found in the blood stream, this can lead to calcification or hardening of the arteries; balancing calcium with sufficient magnesium (see below) helps to prevent this occurrence, however.

Calcium is also involved in muscle contraction, regulation of the heartbeat and blood clotting. However, its role in bone building is probably the most important, therefore adequate dietary intakes are essential. Unfortunately osteoporosis (the disease causing loss of bone mass), is becoming increasingly common, partly due to poor diet. It generally affects women in greater numbers than men and there is a genetic link.

A range of foods containing calcium

The best dietary source of calcium is dairy produce. However, bone loss can increase when the diet is too acidic and any high protein food can exacerbate this problem. Therefore, whilst it’s important to eat dairy produce (natural yoghurts are great) or use calcium enriched plant milks, eating other calcium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, all soya products plus nuts and seeds will create a good balance and help protect bone density.

Magnesium

Magnesium is the perfect partner to calcium in the bones, although only around 60% of the body’s magnesium is found there. The rest is found in muscle (hence its importance in muscle function) and soft body tissue and fluid. Magnesium is another very hard-working mineral and, just like zinc, is involved in numerous enzyme reactions, as well as a number of other really important functions.

Marginal deficiency of magnesium is actually quite common since it’s mainly found in whole foods and green leafy vegetables – another reason we need to be eating our daily greens! Low levels can make women more susceptible to Pre-menstrual Syndrome (PMS) and menstrual cramps. Additionally, high blood pressure, muscle aches and pains, poor sleep and tiredness can all be caused by low magnesium intakes.

A range of foods containing the mineral Magnesium

The other problem is that it’s easily depleted by alcohol intake, the contraceptive pill and taking in too much calcium. It’s all about balance. The best way to try to ensure you’re getting enough is to try to eat primarily low glycaemic foods which are generally wholegrains, pulses and nuts and seeds. And, of course, those wonderful dark leafy greens should also feature very regularly on the plate.

So make sure you are getting enough of these hard-working minerals in your daily diet to support all these bodily systems.

 

 

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Top nutrition tips to winter-proof your diet

Close up of woman with wooly hat and scarf to represent winter

With the onset of colder weather, our thoughts naturally turn to the approach of winter. Unfortunately, we tend to be more susceptible to nasty bugs at this time of year and through the winter months. However, with a few dietary ‘tweaks’ you can winter-proof your diet to keep your body in good health all season long.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her tips on what’s good to eat and what’s best to ditch during the winter months.

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LOVE LEMONS!

Most people enjoy eating citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits and tangerines, but avoid lemons because of their sharp flavour. However, their high vitamin C content can really help to support the immune system and they’re great at encouraging the liver to detox.

Fresh leons and lemon tea with root ginger on a wooden background

There are so many ways they can be incorporated into the daily diet; squeezed over grilled fish, added to salad dressings, drizzled over a morning pancake or added to a warming drink with ginger and honey. And for those with aches and pains, lemons also help balance the body’s natural alkalinity, so all the joints move a little smoother.

EAT YOUR GREENS

Spinach is obviously a green-leafy vegetable whose virtues are often extoled. However unlike other similar vegetables, spinach is high in oxalic acid which interferes with the absorption of certain minerals: oxalates tend to deplete iron and calcium, both of which are essential through the winter months to support the immune system and the muscles, joints and bones. But the good news is if you cook spinach this breaks down the oxalic acid, resulting in loss of fewer nutrients – so always go for steamed or sautéed spinach, especially during the winter months.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

There are of course also plenty of other green vegetables to choose from such as broccoli, kale cauliflower and sprouts, all of which should be readily eaten during the winter months for their very dense nutrient content.

SWEETEN WITH MOLASSES

When the temperature drops, we naturally tend to crave more sugary and carbohydrate-based foods. Clearly, we need to be mindful of this. However, molasses, which can be found in health foods stores, are a really good way of adding some sweetness to dishes. They actually have quite a strong flavour, so not too much is needed but they’re packed with the mineral iron to help keep energy levels up.

Roast leg of lamb with trimmings

Molasses can be used in sweet or savoury dishes; think pulled pork, lamb shank, game pies or chicken meals, in pancakes, flapjacks, or sticky toffee pudding (for a real treat).

AVOID WHITE SUGAR

Sugar is everywhere – often in foods you wouldn’t expect – and it is important to remember that it contains no nutrients at all. In fact, it may even impair absorption of essential nutrients. During winter-time the body is often under attack from infections, therefore the immune system needs to be in good shape. So it makes sense to take in good calories from health-giving foods rather than empty ones found in cakes, biscuits and pastries. It’s good to get into the habit of reading labels; many processed foods, cereals and those labelled ‘low-fat’ have much more sugar in than we realise.

FLAVOUR WITH GARLIC!

Garlic is a super food! It works naturally to fight invading viruses, bacteria and fungi. Therefore, it makes sense to include it in dishes as much as possible. Plus, of course it’s totally delicious and versatile.

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Garlic can be added to almost any savoury dish but it works especially well in soups, stews, lamb dishes, potato dauphinoise and stir fries. The more you eat, the better your immune system will cope during the winter months.

CUT DOWN ON DAIRY

Dairy products including milk, cream, cheese and yoghurt are not great for your respiratory system as they tend to encourage the production of mucous and nasal congestion, generally. With the threat of colds ever present during the winter months, it makes sense to reduce dairy intake where possible. There are so many dairy alternatives in the form of nut milks, oat, rice and soya. Why not try out a variety and see what works for you? Plus, you don’t need to miss out on yoghurt as there’s plenty of dairy-free ones readily available in the supermarkets.

A range of milks made from nuts

And if you’re missing some spread on your sandwiches, then why not use some hummus for a much healthier and tastier option?

So with a few easy dietary tweaks you can prepare your body to fight the oncoming bugs and be winter-ready!

 FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts