Could what you eat be causing you more stress or could it help calm you in a crisis?
Your nutrition impacts your mental wellbeing in so many ways, it would be very difficult to squeeze this all into one post. As it’s Mental Health Awareness week, let’s just focus on one thing you could do, starting right now, to remove a cause of mental stress and one thing you can do to help to calm the mind.
Remove a major cause of stress by watching your sugar and carb intake
We’ve heard a lot about sugar and low carb this or grain-free that. But how might this affect your mental health? When we are under mental stress or suffering from low mood or anxiety, what we eat can actually make things worse. Food should always be helpful, nourishing and supportive, never stressful. It should not make a tough situation harder to deal with.
When we eat sugar, we often get a lift. Our brain tends to like sugar as it is a very efficient fuel for brain cells to use. We might get a brief stimulant effect but if the source of fuel is fast burning sugars or refined carbs (the white stuff, the white bread, pasta etc), the energy will quickly dwindle. We can enter a nose dive on the blood sugar front, making us feel even lower than we did before eating. This can increase irritability, anxiety and reduce our tolerance for stress. If these are feelings that were there before, having a blood sugar crash can make us feel even worse.
While the desire for a pick-me-up can be hard to resist, it is better in the long run to try to fuel yourself with foods providing more sustaining energy like proteins, healthy fats and combine with small portions of complex carbohydrates. Good quality proteins include fish, chicken, turkey, lentils, beans, cheese, natural yoghurt and the healthy fats are the avocados, hummus, oily fish, olives, nuts and seeds. Try to make sure that you always have a good portion of protein or fat with your snacks and meals. In fact, think protein first – the carbs will usually follow.
Try Magnesium to calm the mind
Mental stress and anxiety are clearly multi-factorial and no one nutrient or food will be a silver bullet. However, making sure you are getting enough magnesium is recommended for anyone suffering from mental stress. Affectionately termed ‘Nature’s Tranquiliser’, magnesium is especially helpful for those who feel anxious and restless. It can help to support restful sleep which is restorative and essential in coping with stress. Try taking an Epsom salt bath before bed or using a magnesium spray on the soles of the feet.
In food, magnesium is found primarily in nuts and seeds, also some fish, pulses and leafy green vegetables. It is one of the most common deficiencies identified in our clinic with approximately 60% of patients who test their red cell stores of magnesium being below the normal range. Try to include a handful of nuts as a snack daily and include a tablespoon of mixed seeds in breakfast, yoghurt or salads.
Magnesium is a very safe nutrient to supplement with at levels in and around the RDA (about 300mg is good). Most multi-nutrient complexes will only contain small amounts as it comes as a fairly big compound which makes it hard to fit it in to tablets along with lots of other nutrients. Make sure you take magnesium citrate which is much more readily absorbed than magnesium oxide. Start on a low dose; powder forms often have a laxative effect so try it out to see if it suits you. Capsules or tablets may be gentler on the stomach.
Ciara Wright PhD DipNT is Director of The Wellness Crew and Glenville Nutrition
Yoga Soul Academy is a proud partner of The Wellness Crew, bringing mental well being to your workplace.