Nagging finances can be hard to tune out. If you are feeling the pressure, changing your diet could help to reduce the stress levels
It is four years since the start of the global financial meltdown and we are all feeling the pinch, working harder, for longer hours.
Little wonder, then, that a study has found that levels of finance-related stress have doubled in the same period. Anxiety, weight gain, depression and insomnia are just some of the symptoms. And while worries about our finances may be the cause, nutritionists believe our dietary habits could be making things worse.
When we're under pressure we tend to eat more processed foods and ready meals, and often turn to caffeine-rich coffee and cola to keep us going. But according to nutritionists, this can leave us less able to cope with stress, as well as compromise our immune system.
By making a few simple changes and eating the right foods, you'll have the ammunition to fight the energy-draining effects of stress – and this may even help lower your stress levels in the future.
Five Steps To Combat Stress
1. Can the cola (and coffee)
A cup or two can give you a short-term energy boost, but ultimately coffee, tea and cola will simply aggravate stress, escalating your feelings of anxiety. That is because caffeine directly affects your brain and central nervous system, producing changes in heart rate, respiration and muscle coordination – hence that jittery feeling you get when you drink too much caffeine.
2. Don't skip meals
When you're busy, it is easy to miss a meal, but doing so deprives you of the energy you need to function at your best. Do this regularly, and you may be missing out on essential nutrients, such as iron. Even a slight iron deficiency can leave you feeling irritable and tired, as it decreases the amount of oxygen going to your tissues and brain. And never miss breakfast. Your first meal of the day is arguably the most important. After eight hours' sleep your blood sugar levels will be low, and with no breakfast to boost them, your brain function becomes diminished and energy levels slump.
3. Don't cut carbs
Research shows that eating meals with a high carbohydrate-to-protein ratio increase our intake of the amino acid tryptophan, which is required to manufacture serotonin, a brain chemical that makes us feel content. High-carbohydrate meals also help keep levels of the stress hormone cortisol under control. To combat stress, eat complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, starchy vegetables, beans and lentils, and avoid simple carbohydrates such as sweets, white bread, chocolate and sugary, fizzy drinks. These provide little in the way of nutrients and are likely to put you into a cycle of energy highs and lows, which can lead to even more stress on your body.
4. Get your fats straight
Not all fats are bad, and during times of stress it is doubly important to eat the right sort. Saturates found in red meat, full-fat dairy and other animal products and trans fatty acids found in processed and fast foods usually in the form of partially hydrogenated oils, can suppress your immune system and raise levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.
However, olive and some vegetable oils and the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, mackerel and other cold-water fish will not aggravate the stress response.'
5. Pop a pill
If you are about to enter a stressful period, take a supplement. The top three stress busters are vitamin C, the B-complex vitamins and magnesium, which will boost your immune system and provide added energy to help fight fatigue.
Feed A Cold?
When it comes to staving off common winter viruses, a snack really could be the best form of defence. Stay healthy all season with our guide to foods that will boost your immune system
We have all heard the old wives' tale that you feed a cold and starve a fever. But actually it's not what you eat when you are sick that counts – it's how you take care of yourself during the cold and flu season in the first place.
The problem with winter is that during the colder months the airborne viruses responsible for ill health have a head start. We tend to spend more time indoors in poorly ventilated rooms, providing germs with the perfect conditions in which to spread.
Our ability to fend off these infections is determined by the efficacy of our immune systems – and this is where what we eat comes in. Unfortunately, the comforting treats we all turn to in winter – foods high in sugar and fat, as well as alcohol – actively work against our health.
The good news is that there are foods that strengthen and boost your immune system, and many of them are inexpensive winter ingredients.
The secret is to eat a balanced diet rich in key nutrients. Here are the six staples that can help keep you fighting fit until spring:
FRUIT Opt for vitamin-rich seasonal oranges, mandarins and satsumas, as well as berries, grapes, kiwi fruit, lychee, mango and pineapple. They are all good sources of vitamin C, which cannot be stored by your body but is an important nutrient for a healthy immune system. It's a myth that you need to take large amounts of vitamin C supplements (in fact, high volumes can produce stomach pains and diarrhoea). A daily intake of 60mg is the recommended dose, which you can get by eating five to six servings of fruit and veg a day. Choose yellow and orange-coloured fruit and you will also ensure that you're getting plenty of flavonoids, or vitamin P, which have antioxidant properties.
GARLIC Many people believe that garlic is a powerful immune booster, stimulating the production of infection-fighting white cells. Its health-giving properties are thought to be due to the natural compound allicin, which gives garlic its smell. Eat a small amount of raw, crushed garlic, or use it fresh to add flavour to soups, pasta sauces, stews, pies and stir fries.
WHOLE GRAINS In addition to being a rich source of fibre and slow-release energy, these complex carbohydrates also contain immune system-bosting selenium, a trace element that increases the activity of natural killer cells. As well as eating whole-grain rye, wheat, buckwheat and barley breads, try brown rice.
SEEDS AND NUTS A great source of the antioxidant vitamin E. Foods rich in this vitamin include pine nuts, sunflower seeds, seasonal hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts and chestnuts, as well as parsnips, potatoes, pumpkin and squash, which are also in season now.
VEGETABLES Many winter veg staples – including pumpkin, Swiss chard, sweet corn and Brussels sprouts – are high in zinc, a trace element that increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells. Studies have shown that even when you have a cold, zinc can help lessen the severity and length of the infection. Other good dietary sources include dairy foods and beef.
FISH The omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are thought to have a host of health benefits, including helping to fight disease. It's recommended we eat two to four servings of fish a week, at least one of which should be oily. If you don't eat fish, you can get omega-3 from walnuts, flax seeds, beans, olive oil, or soya products.
Did You Know?
Oatmeal is also a cholesterol-lowering food. Start your day with a warm bowl.