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.
Diet teas are still increasing in popularity despite most of us not really knowing if they actually work or not. They're often endorsed by celebrities and Instagram stars, but do fat-burning diet teas really work?
The world of advertising has seen a shift over the last 10 years and now, instead of traditional advertising, many celebrities and influencers promote products on Instagram. It's no secret that health and wellness products are being advertised to us through this medium, and some celebrities even slip up and make it obvious they've been told what to post and with what caption. One of the most popular products that is pushed by celebrities and Instagram stars these days is detox tea. These so-called 'fat-burning teas' claim to facilitate rapid weight loss and promise to detox your body. But what does this mean? And does it work?
Do detox teas work to lose weight?
While it's true that certain natural 'superfoods' can help you burn fat, it has not been scientifically proven that these 'skinny teas' or 'teatox' products can help you burn fat. What actually happens is you are told by the company to follow a healthy diet and rigorous exercise regime and to drink the tea on top of this. What this means in reality is that you are following a healthy lifestyle that you could follow anyway without purchasing expensive teas.
Are detox teas good for you?
Being aware of the vast benefits of green tea is nothing new, and it's true that certain teas are great for your health, but you do not need to buy a specific 'teatox' brand in order to lose weight. As always, following a healthy diet and exercising regularly is the best way to stay fit, healthy, and happy.
You may well have heard personal trainers trying to hammer home the point that you don't need to drink tea in order to detox. Your body detoxes itself naturally using the kidneys and toxins are passed out of the body through urine on a daily basis. The concept of a detox through diet is fairly unnecessary, and can easily be achieved by limiting the amount of processed and sugary foods that you eat.
Detox teas can also have negative effects on your health, such as nausea, cramps, and even diarrhoea. These teas may make you lose a lot of water weight, which will make you appear lighter and less bloated, but in reality you have not actually burnt any fat, and will bloat back up after a few days.
Best detox teas
The best way to detox is naturally, by eating less unnatural food and exercising more to burn fat. Some natural teas do work to help make you healthier and have real benefits. The best detox teas are green tea and white tea. If you do not like the bitter taste of green tea on its own, try our superfood spinach smoothie recipe which includes matcha green tea powder and lots of spinach, both of which are fantastic for your health.
As always, there is no quick fix to weight loss and it is important not to seek a shortcut for dieting. Eating whole, natural foods and following a sustainable training regime will help you see the results you want without any adverse side effects.
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.
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.
If you're trying to lose weight, improve sporting performance, or improve your physique, knowing about macros could help you. We're here with everything you need to know about this important aspect of fitness and health.
What are macros?
The word 'macros' in a fitness context is short for 'macronutrients' and refers to the three building blocks of our food: fats, protein, and carbohydrates. Every food in existence is made up of varying ratios of these 'macros'. Macronutrients aren't what makes a food inherently 'healthy' or 'unhealthy' – for that we instead look at micronutrients which refers to vitamins and minerals. Fruit and vegetables are rich in micronutrients which makes them healthy, whereas junk food contains little to no micronutrients which is why it's unhealthy. Of course, this isn't the only thing that makes junk food unhealthy, but it explains that it's not unhealthy just because it's high in fat or carbs.
Sub-categories of macronutrients include fibre and sugar, which are classed as carbohydrates, and alcohol, which is sometimes referred to as 'the fourth macro'. Macros have set calorie amounts – 1g of carbs contains 4 calories, as does 1g of protein, while 1g of fat contains 9 calories. This is why foods high in fat are naturally higher in calories, but not necessarily more unhealthy. For example, nuts and seeds are very calorific because of their fat content but they are very good for our health. Just don't eat too many in one go!
Ultimately, weight loss or weight gain is dictated by your daily calorie intake vs expenditure, however looking deeper at counting your macros can help you make sure you're getting enough of the right nutrients as well as improving your fitness and sporting performance. Someone who is slim due to not eating lots of calories may seem healthy, but if they're not eating the right combination of macros and micronutrients, they aren't really healthy at all.
Each macronutrient is important for our health for a different reason. Fat is important because some vitamins are can only be absorbed by our bodies when we consume fat, it also insulates us and helps our brains function properly. Carbohydrates fuel us while protein repairs damaged muscles and promotes new tissue growth. No single macro should ever be vilified and we need all of them to have a healthy, functioning body. The ratio you choose will depend entirely on your lifestyle and fitness goals.
Which macro split should I use?
One of the most extreme macro splits that is popular at the moment is the keto diet. People following the keto diet aim to enter a state called 'ketosis' whereby the body uses fat for energy instead of carbs. The most common keto macro split is 70% fat, 25% protein, 5% carbs, but some people are known to have gone as extreme as 90% fat with only 5% reserved for each carbs and protein.
Keto is a very extreme diet and the long-term health effects have not been conclusively studied. For the average person, it is definitely better to follow a more traditional macro split.
Macros for weight loss
The average adult when trying to lose weight should focus primarily on their calorie balance – how many calories you eat versus how many you burn on a daily basis. Being in a calorie deficit is the only way to lose weight, and how much of a calorie deficit you're in will dictate how quickly you lose weight.
A safe and well-trusted daily deficit of 500 calories will see you lose around 1lb per week. Any weight loss diet must be sustainable for it to work and for you to see real results. Therefore, an extreme macro ratio will not be helpful. Instead, you'll want to opt for a very sensible macro split of 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat. This will ensure you are getting enough of each macro and will not feel deprived and can still eat delicious, filling foods such as brown rice, quinoa, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. It will also ensure you still have plenty of energy and can exercise safely.
Macros for bodybuilding
When bodybuilding or powerlifting, an athlete will need more protein than the average adult due to the necessity to build more muscle. A classic macro split for bodybuilding or powerlifting is 40% protein, 40% fat, 20% carbs. Like the keto diet, this is a relatively low carb diet, albeit nowhere near as extreme. Another high protein macro split which is more balanced is 40% protein, 30% carbs, 30% fat. Both of these ratios would be beneficial for someone who lifts heavy weights regularly (5-6 times a week) and doesn't do much cardio (such as running).
If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)
A diet/lifestyle often touted on social media is something called IIFYM – If It Fits Your Macros. This is the idea that so long as the foods you're eating fit your daily macro outlines, you can eat whatever you want. As touched upon above, some foods are far inferior to others due to their lack of real nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fibre).
People who promote IIFYM claim they can eat chocolate, pizza, fast food, and porridge oats smothered in peanut butter every day without any negative side effects, and are often in very good shape themselves. Unfortunately, the truth is this isn't possible for the average adult. Without adequate fibre, vitamins, and minerals, you will become very unhealthy very quickly and will suffer from all number of health issues from constipation or diarrhoea to headaches, lethargy, and vitamin-deficiencies.
While it's true you could maintain your weight on an IIFYM diet, you would not be getting the nutrients you need from junk foods like chocolate, chemical flavour drops, and other products popularly pushed by these social media stars. This is one to be avoided by most people.
James Mitchell @iifymitch regularly posts photos like the above on Instagram, but eating half a bar of chocolate on top of porridge oats for breakfast every day is not a good idea for anyone.
How to count macros
Once you have decided on the best macro ratio for you, you need to know how many calories you should be eating in a day. The easiest way to do this is using a TDEE Calculator. Your TDEE is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure and takes into consideration your daily activity level, your age, weight, gender, and other factors which will affect how many calories you burn on a daily basis.
Once you know your TDEE, you can adjust your calories in accordance with your goals. As mentioned above, if you're looking to lose weight, you should take 500 calories off your TDEE. If you want to pack on muscle, you should add calories.
So let's say your TDEE is 2,000 calories and you want to lose 1lb a week. Your daily calorie goal will be 1,500 calories.
If you've chosen the sustainable weight loss macro split of:
- 40% carbs
- 30% protein
- 30% fat
40% of 1,500 is 600
30% of 1,500 is 450
This will equate to:
- 600 calories from carbs
- 450 calories from protein
- 450 calories from fat
As we know, there are 4 calories in 1g of carbs and protein and 9 calories in 1g of fat. So that means our macros would be:
- 150g of carbs
- 112g of protein
- 50g of fat
You will need to keep a food diary and track exactly what you're eating so that you know what macros you are consuming. The easiest way to do this is with an app like MyFitnessPal as everything will be automated to make it easier.
It may seem like a lot of work at first, but once you have a routine in place and you know the calories and macros of the foods you eat most, you will find it much easier to count your macros.