We look at how stress and nutrition are related, how stress can lead to over (or under) eating, the serious health issues you could develop due to prolonged stress, and how in turn your diet can potentially reduce your stress levels. Which foods help stress? How does stress affect our eating behaviour? These questions and more will be answered in this informative article on stress and nutrition.
How can stress affect eating behaviour?
Stress is widely thought to lead to overeating. While in the short term you may experience a reduction in appetite, over the long term many people are led to overeat as a direct result of stress. One of the reasons for this is that the stress hormone cortisol can lead you to crave sugar, fat, and salt. These foods trigger certain hormones which lift your mood and make you feel better, but only temporarily. This behaviour is then learned, and your body realises that by eating foods high in sugar, fat, and salt, you will start to feel better so you crave them more. However, this is clearly a vicious cycle and one that is best avoided as early as possible.
According to research, women are more likely than men to reach for food during times of stress. In fact, men are found to crave alcohol and cigarettes during times of stress more than food. However, this means that as a woman, you may end up binge eating to deal with stressful times and situations.
What does stress do to your digestive system?
When we are stressed, blood is directed away from the centre of the body and redirected to the brain and limbs to support the natural ‘fight or flight’ response. What this means is that you will have less blood in your gut to help with food absorption and you may be left with indigestion and heart burn. This decreased blood flow to the gut also decreases the metabolism as the body essentially ‘shuts down’ to preserve itself.
Prolonged stress can lead to several serious health risks such as peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and acid reflux. If you are suffering from any of these issues, it is possible that stress is a leading cause.
Which foods help stress?
Thankfully, there are some foods which can help to reduce your stress levels and improve your wellbeing. Vitamin B-rich foods like salmon and broccoli are proven to reduce stress while dark chocolate is proven to lower levels of stress hormones in the body meaning you will be not only less stressed but overall more healthy too.
There are also lots of ways you can manage stress with exercise, as working out releases feel-good hormones called endorphins which are proven to reduce stress, not to mention the fact that a tough gym workout can be a great way to relieve stress physically by doing boxing or something similar.
How to stop stress-eating
Follow these tips in order to stop stress-eating and get your diet back on track.
Coffee raises your heart rate and can lead to anxiety and insomnia. You may think that drinking a cup of coffee at a stressful time is helping you to be more alert and focused, but it is actually doing the opposite. Cut back on the caffeine as much as possible, and don’t drink coffee after lunch to prevent your sleep being affected.
Get a stress ball
Instead of reaching for the sugary snacks to get you through a stressful situation, redirect your energy elsewhere, such as a stress ball. By squeezing a soft ball or clicking a fidget gadget, you can release your nervous energy without damaging your waistline.
Get to the root of the stress
This is probably the best way to combat stress-eating: get rid of the source of the stress. If it is your work that is stressing you out, try compartmentalising your workload by writing lists and prioritising important tasks that need attention right away. If it is a certain person who is stressing you out, try talking to them or discussing the issue to get to the root of the problem. If it is someone you don’t know very well, it may be worth cutting ties if their impact on your life is damaging your health.
One of the most popular new year's resolutions is to give up alcohol for the entire month of January, commonly known as 'Dry January'. Over 3 million people in the UK take part in Dry January each year, but what are the benefits of giving up alcohol?
The 20th of January is said to be the day when most people give up on their pledge to go dry for January, caving in by having a pint with friends or reaching for that glass of wine at the end of a tough day. A study found that people who do stay dry for the whole of January end up drinking less for the rest of the year than they would otherwise. So is it beneficial to stick at it and keep alcohol at bay?
Benefits of giving up alcohol
1. No hangovers
Possibly the most obvious, but hangovers can completely ruin your day and it's doubtful there's anyone out there that likes getting them! They are the bane of any drinker's life and they can have you out of action for a few hours or even a few days. Spending your weekend suffering from a hangover means you can't get other more productive things done, so by reducing your drinking and not being hungover so much, you will increase your productivity and overall quality of life.
2. Reduced risk of getting cancer
Drinking alcohol is linked to many forms of cancer, including mouth cancer. By reducing your intake, you are reducing your risk of developing these life-threatening illnesses. Cancer is the second most common cause of death behind heart disease, so it makes sense to cut down on your drinking in order to improve your chances of living a long and healthy life.
3. Better athletic performance
You're unlikely to find a professional athlete who is a heavy drinker. Alcohol slows your reaction times and can slow the recovery of your muscles. Alcohol is also a powerful diuretic meaning you're more likely to be severely dehydrated which in turn leads to muscle cramps and increased risk of injury. If you want to perform well at the gym or partake in a marathon or Ironman, you will definitely benefit from not drinking.
4. Better appearance
Another side effect of the diuretic properties of alcohol is that the dehydration can lead to dull, lifeless skin and sunken or swollen eyes. If you want bright, healthy-looking skin and an attractive appearance, reducing the amount of alcohol you drink can make a huge difference. There are lots of benefits of staying hydrated on a daily basis, so make sure you always have a water bottle with you as a reminder to drink more water.
Tips for giving up alcohol
There are lots of practical ways you can give up alcohol or drink less without feeling deprived or completely changing your lifestyle. It can feel like the lives of everyone around you revolves around alcohol and that if you don't drink, you'll become a social pariah, but this needn't be the case. Here are some top tips for giving up alcohol in a practical and sustainable way.
1. Stop having alcohol with food
It's very common to have a pint of beer or glass (or bottle) of wine with dinner, especially when dining out with friends. Drinking too much red wine can lead to depression, addiction, and even stroke. When having dinner out with friends, order a glass of tap water instead of your usual tipple, or if cocktails are usually your thing, many restaurants now offer refreshing and appetising mocktails which will satisfy the craving and can be just as fun.
2. Tell your friends what you're doing
By enlisting the help of your friends and having them on your side, giving up alcohol will be much easier. How many times have you had a drink simply because a friend bought it for you or because you were coerced into it? By telling your friends that you intend to drink less or give it up completely, they can help you by reducing temptation and supporting you when you feel like caving in.
3. Set realistic, achievable goals
Setting goals is a great way of achieving something you want, whether it's at work, in your personal life, or to do with fitness. By setting a SMART goal you are far more likely to succeed. A SMART goal is a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and has a time frame. A good SMART goal for giving up alcohol would be: "I will not drink any alcohol for four weeks and if I achieve this, will reward myself with a spa day." This goal is specific as it gives detail, measurable as you can keep a note of any alcohol you do drink, realistic as it is not too extreme, and has a time frame of four weeks. It even includes a reward at the end which is another great way to stay motivated.
We live in an age where food wastage is unprecedented and the modern conveniences of pre-packaged foods combined with ever shortening expiry dates means we throw away and waste a third of all food produced worldwide. Take a look at how you can eat healthily and cut back on waste, two things very close to our hearts here at Sundried.
Be savvy with expiry dates
Unfortunately, for those trying to stick to healthy eating it's the fresh fruits and vegetables which expire the quickest while the artificial junk food lasts for months or even years thanks to its many additives. However, it's important to be savvy when it comes to expiration dates so that you don't waste food for no reason.
Many foods have 'sell by' dates as well as 'use by' dates. The sell by date is simply a marker for the supermarket or store and you don't need to throw away the food by this date. Even some expiration dates can be taken with a pinch of salt as the food will last a lot longer, especially if refrigerated in some cases. You can also freeze foods which are close to their expiration dates to help them last longer.
Of course, with foods like meat and fish you should exercise caution as rotten meat can make you very ill. However, fresh fruit and vegetables will often last a lot longer than their expiration dates indicate and you can use common sense to decide if the food is still edible, for example by looking out for mould. Some UK supermarkets like Lidl don't even include use by dates on their fruit and it's down to you to decide if it's still okay to eat.
More processed products like bread, bagels, and wraps often last a lot longer than their expiration dates may say as they often have additives to lengthen their shelf life. Unless there is mould growing on your bread, you should be okay to eat it even if it's past the use by date.
Tip to reduce food waste: Don't throw away food simply because it's close to, on, or past its expiration date.
Use your common sense to decide when a food is past its best rather than sticking rigidly to expiry dates
Avoid pre-packaged foods
Enter any supermarket and the closest aisles to the door are always stocked with pre-packaged food. Shops are now selling more convenience foods than ever, with inventions like packaged smashed avocado and stir fry kits with ready-chopped vegetables.
Many of these packaged foods are more expensive than their wholefood counterparts because you are paying for convenience. But do you really need to buy smashed avocado in a plastic packet? Can't you just buy a whole, fresh avocado with no packaging whatsoever and smash it yourself?
These pre-packaged foods are adding single-use plastic unnecessarily and causing a lot of damage to the planet as well as being more costly to you as the consumer. Avoid them at all costs and stick to the real thing.
Tip to reduce waste: Always choose fresh, whole foods and don't put them into single-use plastic bags – they have their own natural packaging in the form of skin!
Why buy avocado in a wasteful plastic packet when an avocado comes in its own natural, biodegradable skin?
Make use of leftovers
A lot of food waste is created when we buy or cook too much and then throw away what we can't eat. Instead of making huge portions according to a recipe and then throwing away what you can't eat, you can save the leftovers to have for lunch or dinner the next day or even for the rest of the week, especially if you freeze them.
Planning your meals for the week ahead is a great way not only to reduce food waste but also to improve your health. By having a meal plan in place, you are less likely to just grab a ready meal or order a takeaway and you can make sure you have the right ingredients in the right quantities from your weekly shop for your meals.
Tip to reduce waste: Plan your meals at the beginning of the week and use leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day.
Knowing what meals you're going to have throughout the week means you can buy only what you need without wasting any, saving money as well as food waste.
Make use of store cupboard staples and canned food
It's something many of us are guilty of doing at one time or another: you grab a plastic bag of pre-packaged lettuce from the supermarket with the intention of eating healthier and making salads for lunch, you never eat it and instead it's left to wilt in the fridge, then you eventually throw away the slimy remains at the end of the week. Is this something you can relate to?
You need to be realistic with your meal plans and make use of food that can sit in your cupboard until you need it. Many of the most healthy foods available will last a long time; foods like rice, pasta, quinoa, lentils, nuts, seeds, oats... the list goes on. Other healthy foods such as beans, peas, and chickpeas can be bought in cans and will also last months if not years in your cupboard. Try finding recipes that use the ingredients you have in the cupboard instead of buying things you don't need and then wasting them.
Tip to reduce waste: Stock your cupboards with healthy dry and canned goods instead of constantly buying fresh food which goes off before you get a chance to use it.
A staggering 1 in 6 children eat fast food twice a day in Britain while 57% of Americans admit to eating junk food at least once a week. We know that junk food isn't good for us, but most of the time we just can't help ourselves. Try our healthy food swaps to help you eliminate junk food from your diet and follow our tips to learn how to stop craving it.
Swap potato crisps for vegetable crisps
Crisps (or chips as the Americans call them) can be the downfall of many people. These salty snacks are always popular, and crisp brand giant Walkers produces an incredible 10 million packets of crisps every single day. However, the salt and fat content of this snack can be very high and they can cause unwanted health issues such as acne and weight gain.
Instead of reaching for a packet of crisps when you get the craving, reach for a packet of vegetable crisps instead. Brands like Emily Crisps produce delicious vegetable snacks which are just as tasty as your favourite crisps but instead will contribute to your five-a-day and will help you boost your vitamin and mineral intake for the day.
If you do get constant cravings for salty snacks, it could actually be because you're dehydrated or that you have an electrolyte imbalance. Before you give in to the craving, try drinking a glass of water and wait a while to see if the craving subsides.
Swap takeaway pizza for homemade pizza
Takeaway pizza is one of the nation's favourite and our consumption of takeaway pizza has grown by almost half since 2006. However, takeaway pizza contains a lot of added sugar and salt and an inordinate number of calories. Ever feel sluggish and bloated after eating a takeaway pizza? Try making your own!
By making your own pizza, you know exactly what has gone into it and you can even use it as an excuse to increase your vegetable intake by including things like peppers and spinach to make it even healthier.
If you are craving something carb-rich and starchy like pizza, it could mean you are suffering from a low mood or even depression. We tend to crave carbs when our body wants an energy boost, or even just when we are feeling cold, so try taking a hot bath to solve both of those problems at once by relaxing and warming your body.
Swap sweets for fruit
We all know that too much sugar is bad for us and that there is lots of added sugar in many of the foods we enjoy. However, sometimes you just feel like grabbing a bag of sweets (candy to our American cousins) and enjoying the flavour. When you want to grab a bag of sweets and release your inner child, try having some fruit instead. While it's true that fruit is still high in sugar, it contains far less than your average branded bag and you will benefit from the vitamins and minerals. Additionally, certain fruits like apples contain pectin which is a natural appetite suppressant, so you are less likely to continue on to a full-blown junk food binge.
If you constantly crave sugar, it could be because you're already eating too much and your body is becoming dependant upon it to release serotonin. Try cutting out foods which contain a lot of added sugar and beware of foods which seem healthy but actually aren't. By reducing the amount of sugar you have each day, your blood sugar level will have a chance to re-balance and you won't get so many severe cravings and mood swings due to blood sugar spikes and drops.
Swap donuts for energy balls
Our final healthy food swap is for donuts. These delicious sugar-laden snacks can be all too easy to overindulge upon and it's easy to see why. With their melt-in-the-mouth texture, the body doesn't have much of a chance to realise you're getting full, and so we tend to overeat and suffer the consequences. If you are partial to enjoying donuts, try swapping for energy balls instead. Brands like Boost Ball and The Protein Ball Co create delicious protein balls which are full of healthy, natural ingredients and will satisfy your cravings much better than donuts. Not only this, the high protein content will mean you're not left still feeling hungry after eating them!
If you're constantly craving melt-in-the-mouth foods, it could be because the food industry has geared it that way. Try to get out of the vicious cycle by quitting cold turkey, and adhering to the healthy food swaps outlined above.
Chocolate brownies are a classic indulgence. Soft, stodgy, and moreish – they can be a difficult craving to ignore! Which is why we're bringing you this fantastic healthy brownie recipe, which is vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, and even high protein. It's a delicious recipe and will make the perfect post-workout snack without the guilt.
- 2 medium, overripe bananas
- 1 cup smooth peanut butter
- 1/3 cup protein powder (use plant-based for vegan)
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4. Line a small square baking dish with parchment paper or grease well. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, mash the banana with a fork and then mix in the peanut butter. Whisk until fully combined.
- Stir in the protein powder and cocoa powder with a spoon. Pour the batter into the greased/lined pan.
- Bake for 12-20 minutes or until cooked through.
- Cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting.
- Cover the leftovers and store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Enjoy cold or at room temperature.