Can nutrition help beat stress?
Stress - we all know what that feels like, but what is actually happening in our bodies and how can nutrition help?
When we’re under pressure, we produce a hormone called cortisol from our adrenals glands - two tiny but very important organs that sit on top of our kidneys. The main job of cortisol during times of acute stress is to help flood our body with glucose for energy so that we can face our stressor - the ‘flight or fight response’, back when we were cave men and women this was an essential reaction to help us get away from danger - a great big tiger for example! At times like this we also produce adrenaline that gives us that ‘rush’ feeling and helps us stay alert and focused.
However if we are constantly feeling the strain, our body is continually producing cortisol - this can lead to an increase in blood sugar levels and an ‘inflammatory state’. Cortisol also affects the body’s ability to use insulin which is responsible for maintaining normal blood glucose levels and over time cells can become ‘insulin resistant’ and may lead to weight gain.
As well as helping us cope with stress, cortisol is the body’s most powerful anti-inflammatory, so over time if we get stuck in a chronic stress cycle, our cortisol reserves can become depleted, we also become more prone to picking up coughs and colds and other nasty bugs because our immune system is suppressed.
If you’re feeling stressed it’s important to ensure that you eat protein containing meals regularly to keep your blood sugar on an even keel - in the short term eating 3 meals and 2 snacks may be helpful. Steer clear of refined foods like white bread, pasta and rice which can ‘spike’ our blood sugar and base your carbs on whole grains which release energy more slowly and keep sugary foods and caffeine to a minimum.
Remember stress isn’t always bad, ’eustress’ is the term given to good stress, like feeling exhilarated after a promotion or those butterflies you feel on a date, or even the thrill of a ride on a rollercoaster 🎢