Nutritional stress and health
What's food got to do with stress? Nutritional stress is actually a major type of physical stress for 21st century man and woman as our bodies and organs gamely try to digest, assimilate and metabolise what we eat and drink.
Do you give your body toxin-loaded, chemically-constituted platefuls of food and expect it to cope without a grumble? Even if you eat relatively well, life goes at such a pace nowadays that you probably gulp down half chewed mouthfuls, putting strain on your digestive system. In fact, from your body’s point of view, you're putting we put it under enormous stress.
The dangers of breakfast!
First thing in the morning, for example, the alarm goes off and you drag yourself from a restful state. You reach for your first cup of caffeine and probably some highly processed food such as toast or sugar-loaded cereals.
But by the time you reach work, that sugary cereal may have shut down your immune system. The body can only work efficiently with about three teaspoons of sugar in the bloodstream at any given time. Anything over this and your immune system may be suppressed for anything up to six hours. (By the way, did you know that the govenment's recommended daily intake of added sugar is just 10 teaspoons for a woman and 14 for a man? But hidden sugar is everywhere and in such high quantities... for example, drink a can of cola and you've just gulped down 7 teaspoons without realising!)
Your body is also on high alert, thanks to the caffeine you drank. Caffeine stays in the body for six hours before it starts to deplete, all the time triggering the release of the stress hormone cortisol, preparing you for fight or flight and compounding your stress problem.
What’s the alternative?
Consider this quote from nutritional authors William Wolcott and Trish Fahey: “True good health is a state of dynamic wellbeing, one that is like that of childhood exuberance and joy, boundless energy, keen awareness of surroundings, positive emotional state and a natural love and zest for life.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? There’s just one place you get the energy for that sort of wellbeing – good food that contains proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
Eat a ‘rainbow’
There are 350,000 different forms of edible plants on this planet. How many do you eat in a week? A variety is essential as different types and colours of food contain different vitamins and minerals. And your body can actually get stressed by trying to break down the same food time and time again. So eat ‘a rainbow’ of food colours instead.
If you want a strong nervous system, boost your intake of vitamins B, C and E, together with minerals magnesium and zinc. The best source of these nutrients is from food, rather than supplements. So eat a balanced diet of meat, nuts, seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables and oily fish. If you need to snack during the day, try pumpkin or sunflower seeds and fruit, particularly bananas. Fresh organic food is the best source. If you can’t get fresh, frozen vegetables are a reasonable alternative as much of their nutritional content is retained.
An apple may help to keep your immune system strong and healthy. However it may come with added ingredients you didn’t anticipate. Intensive farming means widespread use of pesticides, so this is where organic food comes into action. Certified organic food does not get sprayed with chemicals and will give you nutrition compared to non-organic on a ratio of 1:30 (1 organic lettuce = 30 inorganic lettuces). Organic food is a great way to give your body the nutrition to fight stress and its affects.
Types of food
When you are out shopping, repeat this mantra: “Fresh first, then frozen”. Leave the tinned and processed alone. Go for whole foods, as fresh as possible. Read food labels and if a particular product contains an ingredient that you don’t recognise or probably wasn’t eaten 100 years ago, don’t eat it now. And also note how different food combinations work for you. Salads are good, but tomatoes may cause you an intolerance reaction. It’s often the foods we crave most that have this effect on us.
When you eat, have some protein with every meal/snack and have it first. By taking protein it stimulates glucags, which mobilises fat from storage and converts it to energy. By eating protein first this will also make you fuller so help control the amount you eat.
When stressed, we reach for quick fixes – stimulants like coffee, or foods high in fat or sugar. But this diet compounds the problem. Chocolate gives an initial sugar and caffeine buzz, but leaves you weary. Salty crisps dehydrate the body and brain and bring on fatigue. High fat meals raise stress hormones and keep them high.
Sugar, nicotine and alcohol also stimulate adrenaline in the body, another hormone released to prepare you for fight or flight. Chocolate contains sugar and caffeine – a double hit! Such stimulants can trigger a stress reaction even when no major external stress is present.
If you want to deal with stress, drink water. It hydrates every part of the body and brain and helps you to better cope with stressful situations. A good rule is to take a few sips every 15 minutes. The best source is room-temperature still water bought in glass bottles (some plastic bottles can leach chemicals into the water inside) or use a jug filter system that you fill from the tap.
If you want to keep your blood pressure low, avoid salt. Don't add it during cooking, and only use small amounts at the table. Try flavouring in other ways. Herbs, garlic, ginger, chillis lemon juice or wine all add terrifically to the flavour of certain types of food. And scrambled eggs are surprisingly good with pasta! The good news is that by cutting down on your salt you immediately start to reduce your blood pressure, whether or not it was high to start with.
Little and often
Don’t go more than four hours without eating; your body’s metabolism will start to slow. Eat before you are hungry to avoid overeating when you do sit down for a meal. And don’t skip meals - all you are doing is disrupting your blood sugar levels, slowing down your metabolic rate and setting yourself up for binges and sweet cravings.
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