Eat your way to a much less stressful, healthier life

Roisin Armstrong at the launch her of new book. Picture by Bill Smyth
Roisin Armstrong at the launch her of new book. Picture by Bill Smyth

Once upon a time, it was only metal that could be stressed out. Now, it seems as if most of us at one time or another are feeling the strain.

Survey after survey shows that a growing proportion of us are feeling “stressed”, indeed it is described by some as a ‘21st-century plague’.

This is something Roisin Armstrong, hears all too often.

As a kinesiologist, acupuncturist and food author, with a special interest in nutrition and how foods affect people’s physical and mental wellbeing, she understands all to well how prevalent stress-related illness is.

Roisin said: “I see patients on a daily basis with stress related problemsin my Holywood, Belfast and Portglenone clinics.

“Stress can lead to sleeping problems, sweating, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating.

“You may feel anxious, irritable or low in self-esteem, and you may have racing thoughts, worry constantly or go over things in your head. You may notice that you lose your temper more easily, drink more or act unreasonably.

“You may also experience headaches, muscle tension or pain, or dizziness.

“Stress causes a surge of hormones in your body. These stress hormones are released to enable you to deal with pressures or threats – the so-called “fight or flight” response.

“Once the pressure or threat has passed, your stress hormone levels will usually return to normal. However, if you’re constantly under stress, these hormones will remain in your body, leading to the symptoms of stress.’’

Roisin pointed out that stress can be more than an overwhelmed feeling, it can have a physical basis.

‘‘Feeling stress can, in part, be related to deficiency of various nutrients in our bodies. The food that we eat dictates our nutritional status and provide the basic blocks for our bodies to manufacture the hormones and neurotransmitters which keep our moods positive, allow us to sleep well and keep our brains functioning.

‘‘For example, we need all the B vitamins, sourced largely from fruit and vegetables, to stabilise our central nervous systems, which controls how we cope with life’s difficulties and challenges, and we need magnesium for over 300 enzymatic reactions that go on everyday, and we need omega 3’s to prevent depression and allow clear thinking. We totally are what we eat, it is the basis for everything, not just physical but emotional health too.’’

Roisin has put together her top 10 guide to keeping stress at bay.

1. Cut out sugar: Bin the buns, cakes, biscuits and milk chocolate. To help make the break, take a daily supplement of chromium, it makes cutting out these foods a lot easier.

2.Protein: Have a small amount of protein with every meal. This helps to stabilise blood sugar and stops the spiking which increases our stress. Choose foods like avocado, (high in protein, omega 3’s and most of the B vitamins - so important in strengthening your nervous system and helping you to be calm). Cottage cheese, is not only high in protein, but it oozes vitamin B2 and B12. Fish is a wonderful source of omega 3 and zinc, which the body utilises rapidly when under stress. You can also take choline, which is a subsidiary of vitamin B which helps to boost the memory.

3. Eat wholegrains. But be very particular on your choices. New research suggests that gluten found in rye, wheat and barley may be part of the problem. A molecule, called gliadins, found in the gluten of these grains can inhibit the production of serotonin, the brain chemical famous for its capacity to increase our feel good hormones, improving mood, sleep and helping to prevent depression. Choose wholegrains like oats, which have positive effects, like increasing the production of serotonin. Oats are also rich in the B vitamins and of course porridge is an aphrodisiac, the net result of which is the greatest stress reducer of them all.

4. Fermented: Increase fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir. These are rich in beneficial bacteria that can radically improve your gut health, which in turn impacts your mood. Your gut has recently been found to act as your second brain. We now know that it is created from identical tissue to your brain, and that it contains larger amounts of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is associated with mood control. One of the most commonly used probiotics, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, has been found to have a marked effect on GABA levels in certain brain regions. This chemical appears to have the effect of slowing the firing of neurons in the brain allowing a calming and anti-anxiety effect. So next time you are in the dairy isle, choose a probiotic which will help the whole family’s health.

5. Tea break: Research suggests that the process of putting the kettle on has psychological repercussions on our brains, which help reduce anxiety just in the simple act of making a cup of tea or coffee. All teas, black, green and white all have catechins, a type of antioxidant that are important in maintaining our cells, which can suffer when we are stressed. Tea also contains polyphenols, flavonoids and amino acids have been found to have positive effects on neurotransmitters in the brain.

6. Curry cure: Try to incorporate curry into your diet. Turmeric, a flavourful yellow spice, is known to protect the neurons in the brain and may enhance mood and quite possibly help with depression!

7. Eat a kiwi! One of these little fruits contains about 85% of our daily vitamin C needs. This powerful antioxidant has been found to reduce the production of the stress hormones like cortisol and of course vitamin C boosts the immune system.

8. Scrummy sushi. This popular snack food of raw fish, rice and seaweed provides protein and carbohydrate in perfect proportions in the rice. It is rich the omega 3’s found in the oily fish used, whether it is salmon, tuna, mackerel or even the vegetarian option of avocado.

9. Omega 3! Take a daily supplement of omega 3. One piece of research from Brain Behaviour and Immunity showed a drop of 20% in anxiety levels among medical students taking omega 3’s. We know too, that this amazing oil has an antidepressant effect.

10. Purple berries like blueberries and blackberries are full of anthocyanins, which is used by our brain in the production of dopamine, a really important neurotransmitter that controls mood, co-ordination and memory. Broad beans are also very important for the production of dopamine.

*Roisin Armstrong is the author of Porridge is an Aphrodisiac which is aimed at making healthy-eating fast, easy, inexpensive and fun. The book is also a great source of information on the basic vitamin and mineral content of commonplace foods and how our bodies benefit.

It is published by Shanway Press (price £13) it can be purchased at www.shanway.com, by emailing sales@shanway.com and from Bannside Pharmacy, Portgleone or Sheey’s Bookshop in Cookstown.