Food Mood & Stress

Stress-related absence increased in 2018 for nearly two-fifths of organisations. That is according to the CIPD’s Health & Wellbeing at Work report, which also cites that 83% of organsaitions have observed presenteeism in their workplace.

So what’s that got to do with food?

The more scientists discover, the more they find that our diet and microbiomes have a massive impact on mood, stress levels and overall wellbeing. 

So, think about it, are your food habits helping you towards peak performance, or leaving you lagging behind work colleagues?  

 
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The Food-Mood Connection

For a basic understanding of the microbiomes you can read this article. 

Right now, let’s focus in on food and the absorption of nutrients related to your mood and stress.

The cells lining your gut produce 90% of your serotonin, the neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of wellness and happiness. This is not to say that diet can prevent all mood disorders or ‘fix’ mental illness, but your gut plays an undeniable role in mental health. 

The 3pm Dip

Ever experienced that mid-afternoon dip? 

Hormonal imbalance caused by high blood sugar and a post-carbohydrate crash could be a contributing factor.

As Innerfit’s nutritionist Kristy says: “insulin’s job is to remove excess sugar from your blood. Stress, alcohol, artificial sweeteners and caffeine also increase insulin. Continuously high insulin levels can deplete your happy neurotransmitter, serotonin, and low serotonin levels are linked to food cravings, low mood and depression”.

When we eat refined carbohydrates like white bread, cakes, and biscuits, or drink fruit juice, the body quickly breaks this down into sugar. This naturally leads to a rise in insulin levels in the bloodstream. 

When it comes to stress, caffeine intake is worth a closer look. Studies have shown that caffeine increases cortisol at rest. Drinking coffee, for example, recreates the human stress response.

Everyone is different. Some people will feel the effects more than others. But continuously fuelling your day on coffee breaks is not a long term strategy if you want to avoid stress.

 
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The Food-Brain Connection

The human brain is nearly 60% fat. What we eat has a huge imact on cognitive performance. Fatty acids are among the most crucial molecules that determine your brain's integrity and ability to perform. Omega 3 fatty acids, for example, have been found to be crucial for brain health and their consumption may decrease the symptoms of depression. 

Vitamins and minerals are equally important to healthy brain function. Zinc, for example, helps regulate blood sugar, hormones and nervous system functioning. Lack of zinc has been implicated in impaired DNA and protein synthesis during brain development as well as postnatal depression. 

Put simply, you are what you eat. Your brain is no different.

 
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Some Practical Tips
As Innerfit nutritionist Kristy explains, there are a number of ways you can improve your diet to help boost your mood and beat stress. Some ideas for you:

  • Carbohydrates - Swap white for brown to help manage bloog-sugar and insulin levels, including foods like: brown rice, wholegrain, sourdough and rye bread, wholewheat pasta and lentils

  • Caffeiene - Maintain low cortisol levels and go for one more de-caffeinated coffee than normal

  • Fibre - Increase your fibre intake to help support your gut by eating more vegetables at each meal and whole fruits instead of juice

  • Protein & Healthy Fats - Include protein and healthy fats to slow down the release of sugar into your blood, such as: avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds. For omega 3 fats, look for oily fish like: sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, herring. Vegan sources are walnuts, chia and flax seeds

  • Zinc - Include foods rich in zinc to help support cognitive function, such as: pumpkin seeds, lamb, chickpeas, cashews and full fat organic yogurt

What does this mean for me? 

Next time you are feeling stressed, try and ask whether your diet is helping or hindering you.

Remember that in addition to refined foods, alcohol, artificial sweeteners and caffeine can all impact stress levels too. Whenever possible try to eat more wholegrain foods, fibre, vitamins & minerals as well as healthy proteins and fats. 

The food we eat needn’t be complicated! 


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Chris Pinner