Your diet can have a significant effect on your ability to manage stress and stay calm. Here’s how to adapt it to combat stress.

Stress has become a constant companion of our modern, fast-paced lifestyles, and while a little stress has its benefits, a few of us have more than just a little, disallowing any of these benefits to be seen. There can be many side effects of chronic stress long term stress can lead to poor dietary choices, hormonal imbalance, weight gain and digestive issues.

We have all been there. After a stressful day, we don’t crave a veggie-packed salad or a handful of raw nuts, and most of us will go straight for the tasty high-sugar and high-fat options. After a stressful period, the human body can go into ‘recovery mode’ where increased appetite and food cravings become more rampant. Simultaneously, metabolic rates drop to conserve energy, so we hold on to the calories consumed rather than utilise them as energy. Every so often this might not impact our health but mixed with chronic stress this could lead to longer-term health conditions.

We caught up with nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr from personalised healthcare service bioniq LIFE who offers her expert advice on how to combat stress with good nutrition.

1. Manage caffeine intake

When we consume caffeine, we stimulate a cortisol (our stress hormone) response. In small amounts this can be beneficial, leading to increased energy and alertness – hence the use of caffeine by many of us worldwide! However, for those of us who have pre-existing high-stress levels, the addition of caffeine to our cortisol levels, can heighten our stress further.

The recommended limit for daily intake of caffeine is 400mg, this could equate to four espresso shots or eight cups of medium stewed green/black tea. If you are concerned about your stress levels or notice an adverse effect when you consume caffeine, I would advise reducing your caffeine intake but avoid going cold turkey. When we cut out caffeine abruptly, we may be left with withdrawal symptoms that include headaches, nausea, mood changes and shakes.

2. Balance blood sugar levels

When your blood sugar levels go on a roller coaster ride throughout the day, your mood and stress levels can follow suit. You may feel irritable, moody, tired, struggle to concentrate and experience cravings for sweet foods. To maintain optimal blood sugar, I would advise ensuring you are eating healthy meals regularly, avoiding foods which are high in sugar and refined flours, such as white bread and pasta, and substituting refined carbohydrates for wholegrain alternatives which are higher in fibre and unprocessed, such as starchy vegetables, brown rice, quinoa, beans and oats.

3. Don’t skip breakfast

You may think that you are not hungry, that you don’t have time for breakfast, that you don’t need the extra ‘calories’, or that lunch will come around soon enough. But, skipping breakfast can make it harder to maintain stable blood sugar levels which can lead to decreased energy, concentration, productivity, mood and adversely impact stress levels. You might be sick of hearing it, but breakfast really is the most important meal of the day and it will only cause detrimental impacts if you choose to skip it.

4. Prep your meals

It is common that many people will go out for lunch to fast food places and restaurants that serve less-than-optimally-healthy foods. While this might save time, it can leave you feeling lethargic, unproductive and in the long run, can impact your nutrient intake and stress levels. Taking a few minutes in the evening or morning to bring in breakfast/lunch can set you up for the day. You don’t need to go overboard, simply pack a Tupperware/lunch box with leftovers from your dinner the night before and you’re good to go. Even if you do this a couple of days a week, it would be an improvement, rather than eating every lunch out.

5. Detox at your desk

You might have all the will power in the world, but if you have a bag of your favourite, go-to sweet food in your direct eye line, when stress comes crashing in, you are going to reach for that food and potentially demolish the whole thing. The reason for this is that when we are stressed, we are more likely to mindlessly snack. For this reason, I would recommend trying a desk detox by removing all of the temptations on your desk, as this is not good for anyone at the best of times. Instead, I would advise keeping raw nuts, a pot of edamame beans or a small bar of dark chocolate in your office draw for safekeeping!

Feelings of stress can originate from being deficient in certain vitamins and minerals that impact our energy, mood and hormones. When we are stressed, the production of stress hormones can eat into our reserves of the very nutrients which can often help us! While we can aim to eat well-balanced meals when possible, it can be difficult to know whether we are getting the precise nutrients our bodies need. To combat this, I would suggest using a supplement service which ensures your body is obtaining the nutrients and vitamins you could be deficient in.

More information

Bioniq Life uses functional testing to understand these exact health requirements. Through blood testing, Bioniq checks key nutrients that can contribute to stress resilience and mood such as Magnesium, Vitamin D and Blood Glucose levels.

From these results, Bioniq engineers a personalised supplement to help optimise your health. Bioniq LIFE then tracks your progress and amends the formula so that your body is receiving exactly what it requires as you progress. In addition to providing a personalised supplement service, you will also have access to consultations with a qualified nutritionist to discuss your progress and general health, as well as a personalised dashboard to see your results and healthcare recommendations. (RRP £250 available to buy from the Bioniq website.