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.
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.
It's hard to avoid the newest trend in town: fat is in, carbs are out. But is a high fat/low carb diet right for you? We explore why it might not be all it's cracked up to be.
Saturated Vs Unsaturated Fat
It's the most trendy thing in the world right now: the humble avocado. Why? Because it's high in 'healthy' fats (and because it makes for a cute emoji). Fat is enjoying a resurgence of late because, well, we need it to survive and the fact it has been demonised in the past is now being put into question. We need fat for a variety of natural bodily functions such as creating energy, absorbing vitamins and minerals, maintaining body temperature, and insulating the body's vital organs.
There are three types of fat: saturated, unsaturated (which is then sub-categorised into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and trans fat. Trans fat, otherwise known as hydrogenated fat, is completely synthetic and is never good for you; you could live your whole life without consuming it and you'd actually be better off for it. Saturated fat goes in cycles of scientists deciding it's bad for you, then declaring it's actually not bad for you, then changing their minds again ad infinitum. The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is found at a molecular level and refers to the way the hydrogen molecules are bonded together. Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature, things like butter and cheese. Unsaturated fats are more likely to be oils like olive oil and vegetable oil however it's also found in foods like fish and nuts.
Which type of fat is better for you?
What's interesting is that a lot of research surrounding which types is better for you is observational or anecdotal. For example, one study found that a group of people with heart disease had higher levels of saturated fat in their diets so it was decided saturated fat must equal heart disease. However, we all know that correlation does not equal causation and a study like this doesn't actually prove that the fact these people had consumed a lot of saturated fat is what caused their heart disease.
Similarly, when it comes to how healthy unsaturated fat is claimed to be, people often refer to the 'Mediterranean diet' and how the people of countries like Greece and Italy consume larger quantities of olive oils and fish so that must be why they're all so slim, tan, and healthy. However, when you visit these countries, you realise that these people are all so fit and healthy because they walk or cycle everywhere, live up steep hills so do a lot of strenuous exercise just to buy their morning newspaper, and are more likely to work a physical job than wilt in an office all day.
Coconut oil is a saturated fat yet it is enjoying real popularity at the moment due to its supposed health benefits. So, the jury's out on which fat we should consume and probably always will be depending on whose agenda is paying the most for advertising at the time. But what we are being told is that a high fat diet is awesome for you. But is it really?
The Keto Diet
The biggest fad diet of recent years is the keto diet. The Atkins diet reborn, this eating habit was first developed to help reduce seizures in epileptic children but people soon discovered it had more benefits than that. The keto diet is a very extreme diet and many followers will eat up to 70% fats in a day leaving only 20% for protein and 10% for carbs. Anyone you talk to who is a proponent for this diet will passionately and sometimes heatedly tell you about how much weight they lost by following it. So it must be great and the answer to your prayers, right?
Perhaps not. What a lot of keto-fans omit is that they also practise intermittent fasting as part of their keto diet. Intermittent fasting is a lifestyle that has been around for millennia and is a proven, healthy way of losing weight. So is it the high fat diet making these people lose weight or the fact they are objectively in a calorie deficit due to the fasting? I'd argue it's the latter.
The keto diet has a whole host of nasty side effects such as 'keto flu' and halitosis (bad breath). Why anyone would voluntarily go through this process is beyond me, but it's trendy and all your favourite Instagram influencers are doing it so it must work (that's a lot of people's thinking).
Why a high fat diet might not be right for you
This is the real reason you're here: to find out why a high fat diet might not be the saviour we all thought it would be. Put in simple terms, fat contains a lot more calories per gram than protein and carbohydrates; over double the amount in fact.
Fat contains 9 calories per gram. So 100 grams of pure fat would contain 900 calories (lovely thought, not.)
Carbohydrates and protein, however, contain only 4 calories per gram. So even though bread has been demonised by the anti-sugar, ant-gluten fanatics, it is objectively lower calorie than avocado gram for gram.
What this means is that on a high fat diet you cannot consume the same volume of food that you can on a lower fat diet. The volume of food you eat is just as important as how many calories you consume because it can affect you mentally. If you're only allowed to eat 1 avocado and a ton of butter in a day rather than a truck load of vegetables, rice cakes, popcorn and other low-calorie high density foods, you're going to feel hard done by and importantly: hungry.
If you're someone who is prone to extreme hunger, binge attacks, or just doesn't have the steely, inhuman self control of pristine Instagram models, a high fat diet might not be right for you. High fat foods are easy to over-consume and you can't eat as much of them. Snacks like nuts are a big one for many people: they're told they're healthy, so they eat fistfuls every day and then wonder why they're gaining weight. A similar phenomenon started happening with peanut butter when that was enjoying its heyday on social media.
We need all three dietary macronutrients to maintain a healthy diet: fat, carbs, protein. They all play their own part and have their own benefits. If eaten in moderation, anything can be healthy. Taking things to the extreme is never a good idea and cutting out whole food groups is not sustainable. Depending on your fitness training and goals, you might need more of one macronutrient than the other, but it should never be as extreme as 60 or 70% of just one macronutrient.
Traditional 'junk food' such as cookies, cakes, and doughnuts contain trans fats which is one reason why they're so unhealthy, plus the obvious fact that they contain no vitamins or minerals and are often very high in sugar and calories. It's not because they're 'carbs'. Vegetables are carbs after all!
High-fat foods are calorie-dense meaning you can't eat as much volume. Unprocessed carbohydrates like fruit, vegetables, popcorn, brown rice, and beans can be just as healthy for you and you can eat more volume of them because they are lower in calorie pound for pound. Ultimately, balance is always key!
Inflammation can affect us in many different ways, from swollen joints to bruising and even immobility. These are some foods which are proven to have anti-inflammatory properties and could help to make you healthier.
Turmeric is the main ingredient used in curry powder and is often used as a natural colourant due to its vibrant yellow hue. Studies have found that turmeric is more effective than a placebo at reducing inflammation and swelling in arthritis patients, so it's useful for more than just brightening up your food! It is the yellow pigment curcumin that gives turmeric its meany health benefits and while more research still needs to be done, it's fair to say that turmeric is worth adding to your diet for its anti-inflammatory properties.
There are lots of easy ways you can add turmeric to your daily diet, even if you're not a big fan of curry! Health food brand LoveRaw have a delicious Turmeric Chai Latte as one of their many vegan, plant-based offerings which is a delicious way to subtly add this spice to your day and reap its many health benefits.
Garlic is often referred to as a 'superfood' due to its numerous health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and guarding against common illnesses like the flu. However, garlic is also another food which can reduce inflammation and help you to recover better after exercise. In the same way that taking a cold shower after a workout can reduce swelling and improve recovery, anti-inflammatory foods like garlic can work with your body to reduce pain and immobility. Research shows that synthetic anti-inflammatory drugs can have negative side effects, but garlic actually has many positive benefits such as being anti-bacterial, anti-rheumatic, and indeed anti-inflammatory.
Garlic is highly potent when raw, but unfortunately cooking it in order to make it more palatable does destroy many of the compounds which give it the best health benefits. There are ways to get raw garlic into your diet, such as taking garlic pills, which can be easier on the gut and prevent dreaded garlic breath!
Ginger is another highly potent and flavoursome food which has many health benefits when consumed raw. Not only does it have proven anti-inflammatory properties, it can also be used as a guard against nausea, with people historically drinking ginger ale to calm an upset stomach. According to research, ginger is superior to a placebo in treating vomiting, nausea, and inflammation. It has even been found to reduce the effects of morning sickness in pregnant women.
While it may be tempting to start eating more than your fair share of sticky ginger cake or tasty gingerbread, it is best to get this superfood into your diet in its raw form. An easy way to do this is by drinking ginger-infused tea as this means you are not consuming too many extra calories and still reaping all its wonderful health benefits.
Studies have found that the acetic acid found in various types of vinegar not only reduces inflammation, it can even help with weight loss and prevent over-eating. Inflammation can be chronic if you are overweight or obese so the fact that consuming vinegar could potentially reduce both inflammation and over-eating makes it a win-win!
Vinegar is something that is fairly easy to introduce into your diet, such as sprinkling apple cider vinegar over salads or even just putting more vinegar on your chips, although this is of course not an ideal way to be more healthy!