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.
Especially after the popularity of Veganuary, veganism is hugely on the rise. Another term that is now floating around is 'plant based' which is used heavily in the groundbreaking new Netflix documentary The Game Changers. We take a look at the important distinctions between 'vegan' and 'plant based'.
Is Vegan the same as plant based?
The simplest answer to this is that no, vegan and plant based are not the same thing. All people who are plant based are vegan, but not all vegans are plant based. By extension, being plant-based is a sub-division of veganism.
It's important to remember that eating a vegan diet is not always intrinsically healthy, and that is where veganism and plant based differ the most. As a vegan, you are not eating any animal products or foods made with animal derivatives. This means no red meat, poultry, dairy, or eggs and is often done for ethical and environmental reasons rather than health reasons.
However, this means that a vegan could still eat unhealthy foods like potato chips, fries, and white bread. In fact, it would be easy for a vegan to be deficient in important vitamins and nutrients and to be more unhealthy than a meat-eater. As a vegan, you might try very hard to replicate all of your old favourites like cheese and meat but in doing so you could harm your health.
A lot of processed vegan alternatives like 'vegan cheese' and 'vegan burgers' contain a lot of chemicals and although they're better for animal welfare and the environment than eating meat, that's not beneficial to you. Always, the more natural the better. If you're a vegan, it's important to try and maintain a healthy diet and not just focus on eliminating entire food groups and replacing them with chemically-enhanced franken-burgers and sugary carbs.
On the contrary, those who are plant-based only eat foods that are, you guessed it, plant based. This means foods like beans, legumes, pulses, fruits, and vegetables. All of these foods are inherently healthy and therefore a plant-based vegan would expect to be more healthy than a non plant based vegan. Some plant-based eaters go one step further and follow a completely raw food diet, which means eating solely uncooked foods.
What do you eat on a plant based diet?
A plant-based diet is sometimes thought of as being restrictive, but it's absolutely not and if you try transitioning from being an omnivore to being plant-based, you may well discover a lot of new foods you've never tried before. On a plant-based diet, you only eat foods that are whole and natural such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds, beans, whole grains, and legumes. Of course, any plant based diet is open to interpretation and what works best for you.
It's important for vegans and those on a plant-based diet to get enough protein and vitamin B3, as these are the macro- and micro-nutrients that can be difficult to get enough of on a meat-free diet. There are plenty of plant-based protein sources that those on a vegan diet can enjoy, mostly from beans, whole grains, pulses, seeds, nuts, and legumes.
Read more: Healthy Vegan Brownie Recipe
Vegan grocery shopping list
This is what a typical vegan grocery shopping list might look like in order to enjoy a varied and balanced diet that is healthy and provides enough of the right nutrients.
- Black beans
- Wholewheat pasta
- Brown rice
- Almond/soy milk
- Coconut milk/coconut cream
- Green beans
- Kidney beans
- Vegan protein powder
From these ingredients there are lots of delicious and healthy recipes you can create, from homemade vegan beanie burgers to vegan protein mousse and tasty salads.
Thinking about going vegan? Check out our tips for going vegan
Want to try more vegan recipes? Try this vegan blueberry muffin recipe or this vegan ice cream sundae recipe.
Two of the most popular diet and lifestyle choices at the moment are following the keto diet and being vegan. Generally, a vegan or plant-based diet is very high in carbohydrates whereas the keto diet by definition is very low in carbs. So can you be a vegan on the keto diet? What can you eat as a keto vegan? We answer all your questions in our vegan keto guide.
What can you eat on a vegan keto diet?
Let's start with the basics. A vegan diet is one which omits any animal foods or foods derived from animals. This means no meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy. Some people believe a vegan diet is restrictive, but this isn't the case. Instead, what this leaves is an abundance of plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, lentils, and beans. All of these foods are intrinsically healthy as they contain high amounts of fibre, vitamins, minerals, and even protein, which can be a divisive subject for vegans.
The keto diet is a recently trending super low carb, high fat, moderate protein diet which promises followers rapid weight loss and health benefits. It is a somewhat controversial diet as there can be side effects such as keto flu and bad breath, however a lot of people swear by this diet for improving their lifestyle and losing weight.
In general, people following a keto diet eat a lot of animal products as these are naturally high in fat and low in carbs. Foods like steak, eggs and dairy fit the keto diet easily, however they are not vegan.
So what can you eat on a vegan keto diet? In fact, you have lots of options! Some of the tastiest vegan foods are naturally high in fat, such as coconut products, avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds. These days there are lots of coconut-derived products which have been developed as the vegan lifestyle becomes more popular. You can now buy coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut flour... the list goes on. This one ingredient will be the staple of your vegan keto diet.
Other foods suitable for the vegan keto diet include avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, and oils. Most of these foods are whole plant-based foods and are therefore very healthy.
Is vegan low carb possible?
Yes, a vegan low carb diet is definitely possible. While a traditional vegan or plant-based diet is naturally high in carbohydrates, it is still possible to follow a low carb vegan diet. If you are careful with what you eat, plan your meals, and keep an eye on your calories and macros, you have plenty of options of things you can eat on a vegan keto diet.
A vegan keto diet can be very healthy as some of the healthiest fats are vegan, such as oils, olives, nuts, seeds, and avocado. You can supplement these foods with coconut products to round out your options and create delicious vegan keto recipes.
In general, the keto diet requires getting up to 90% of your calories from fat. As there are so many healthy fats which are vegan, this shouldn't be a problem.
Vegan Keto Recipes
There are plenty of delicious vegan keto recipes available online which can keep your diet healthy, varied, and tasty. Try some of these vegan keto recipes to find out for yourself!
Vegan Keto Avocado Pops
Chocolate Keto Protein Smoothie
The Zone Diet was developed by American medical researcher Barry Sears. Its main aim is controlling the hormones of the body by eating lean protein and unprocessed foods in order to achieve weight loss. While the logic makes sense, does this diet really work? We take a closer look.
How Does The Zone Diet Work?
The Zone Diet is pretty complicated, and to follow it properly you would need to do a lot of research into macronutrients, hormones, and blood sugar.
When following the Zone Diet, meals are split into 'blocks'.
7 grams of protein = 1 block. 14 grams = 2 blocks. 21 grams = 3 blocks.
9 grams of carbs = 1 block. 18 grams = 2 blocks. 27 grams = 3 blocks.
1.5 grams of fat = 1 block. 3 grams = 2 blocks. 4.5 grams = 3 blocks.
A one block meal would consist of one block of protein, one of carbs, and one of fat. There are then two block meals which are two portions of each, three block meals which are three portions, and so on. The blocks work on the rule of consuming 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat at every meal.
Followers of the diet are encouraged to eat at regular intervals in order to keep the hormone levels balanced and to weigh out their food. The Zone Diet classifies carbohydrates by the Glycemic Index which rates them according to how quickly they raise the blood sugar. Slowly-absorbed carbohydrates have a low GI rating (55 or below), and include most fruits and vegetables, milk, some wholegrain cereals and bread, pulses and basmati rice. The Glycemic Index is usually used by diabetics to manage their insulin levels.
The logic of controlling the body's hormones in order to lose weight and stay healthy is a great one. Many people do not realise the effects that their nutrition has on their hormones and the effect that those hormones have in turn on their mood, weight, and other lifestyle factors. The Zone Diet focusses on three key hormones: glucagon, insulin, and eicosanoids. Glucagon tells the body to release stored carbs at a steady rate which stabilises blood sugar levels. Insulin is the storage hormone and an excess can cause excess weight gain. Eicosanoids control various other hormones in the body.
This diet also encourages people to weigh their food and eat at regular intervals which are excellent healthy eating habits. The macronutrient split is not as harsh as other people may insinuate, as 40% carbs is really not that low.
For a start, this diet is probably too confusing for most people to follow, and when people can't understand something they won't stick with it. Another major flaw with this diet is that it classifies carbohydrates in a way that would tar tomatoes with the same brush as rice or pasta, even though they have a completely different effect on the body. This diet implies that a portion of vegetables would count towards as many carbs as a bowl of porridge or something similar, which simply isn't true.
Additionally, this diet encourages people to cut corners. One source states that if a snack bar were to contain 8g of protein, 29g of carbohydrates, and 6g of fat, you would only count the carbs and so this snack bar would be a '3 block carbohydrate' which we can clearly see it isn't. The block system over-simplifies counting macronutrients, and rounding down 8g of protein and 6g of fat to zero is not a good habit to get into as it'll lead to overeating and frustration.
While the roots of this diet make sense, the execution is very poor and it risks leading people into bad habits. For those who have no prior understanding of nutrition, macronutrients, or hormones, this diet would be far too complicated and could lead to them becoming wildly misinformed. Weight loss and healthy living do not have to be complicated! Eating healthy, whole foods in moderation and not exceeding your daily calorie allowance is all you need.
Health and fitness can be a tricky minefield to navigate as advice is always changing and something that is considered healthy one week can be demonised the next. We bring you our top 4 foods that are and always will be good for you and should be staples in your diet.
1. Forest fruits: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries
Most people will agree that fruit is healthy and is very good for you. Various fruits have health benefits ranging from anti-inflammatory properties, promoting healthy skin, hair and nails to helping keep you regular thanks to the fibre content. However, some fruits are vastly more healthy than others and sugar in fruit is always a controversial topic.
Some fruits contain a lot of sugar and not much else – not many vitamins or minerals and therefore do not have the health benefits of others. Take plums for example, they contain 10g of sugar per 100g (roughly 7g of sugar per plum) and only 1g of fibre. They do not contain any calcium, vitamin D, Iron, Vitamin B6 or Magnesium and they only contain tiny amounts of Vitamin C and Vitamin A. Therefore, from a purely health-based perspective, there is not much point eating them.
This is where forest fruits come in and why they are top of our list. Fruits like strawberries, blueberries and blackberries could be considered the healthiest fruits out there due to their superior vitamin and mineral content, relative low sugar content (compared to other fruits), and high fibre content. Take strawberries for example, they contain only 5g of sugar per 100g, so half that of plums. They also contain 100% of your daily recommended intake of Vitamin C per 100g. Meanwhile blueberries are packed full of antioxidants which are proven to be great for your health as they offset the negative effects of oxidisation on our bodies (kind of like how rust affects metal).
So, if you're keen on fruit and want to make it part of your healthy lifestyle, opt for these forest fruits and you'll be on to a winner.
2. Dark green vegetables: spinach, broccoli, kale
Another group of foods which are objectively great for your health and can be eaten in abundance is dark green vegetables. Foods like spinach, kale, and broccoli are unrivalled in their health benefits and you should definitely add them to your diet.
In this modern age, it can be easy not to get enough Iron into your diet. For women especially, Iron is vital for health as it keeps your energy levels up and boosts your immune system as well as helping to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are thoroughly rich in Iron and will help you feel energetic and full of life, not to mention keeping your blood healthy too.
These dark green vegetables are very low in calories for their volume so you can load up easily without worrying about high sugar or calorie content. Additionally, spinach is as rich in calcium as dairy despite products like milk and cheese being marketed heavily for this benefit. Spinach is also one of the best sources of dietary magnesium, which is necessary for energy metabolism, maintaining muscle and nerve function, regular heart rhythm, a healthy immune system, and maintaining blood pressure.
Guidelines state that we should try to eat one or two portions of oily fish per week due to the health benefits. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which are great for heart health as well as being a good source of Vitamin D.
Other types of fish include white fish such as cod, plaice, haddock and tilapia. White fish is low in fat and high in protein making it a healthy choice and could even be better than fatty meats like beef.
Shellfish such as prawns, lobster, mussels and scallops are rich in minerals such as selenium, zinc, iodine and copper which can promote a healthy immune system, prevent high blood pressure, and promote increased brain function.
Fish is one of the healthiest foods on the planet due to its low fat content, rich mineral content and high protein content.
Oats are among the healthiest grains on earth. They're a gluten-free whole grain and a great source of important vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. Studies show that oats and oatmeal have many health benefits including weight loss, lower blood sugar levels and a reduced risk of heart disease.