Stress and diet – whats the connection?

Stress and diet – whats the connection?

Stress is without a doubt one of the biggest drivers of ill health in our modern society. Diet and lifestyle can adversely effect your ability to handle stress appropriately.

How does what you eat effect your stress levels?


How does your gut microbiome effect stress

What you eat directly  influences your gut microbiome and therefore your moods and stress levels. A well functioning digestive system with healthy gut microbiome supports metabolism and the absorption of essential nutrients.  When your gut function is impaired, your body responds to stress by sending a signal from your brain to your gut. This causes you to experience IBS and other gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, reflux and wind.

A study from UCLA shows  that signals can travel the opposite way as well from our gut to our brain.

 “‘Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut,’ [Dr. Kirsten]Tillisch said. ‘Our study shows that the gut–brain connection is a two-way street.'”

How does stress contribute to tummy fat?

  • Stress triggers the release of cortisol, an adrenal hormone, that regulates our carbohydrate metabolism. When your stress and cortisol levels are high, the body resists weight loss. Your body thinks times are hard so it encourages your body to store fat—especially visceral or tummy fat, which  surrounds your organs. This releases fatty acids into your blood, raising cholesterol and insulin levels and paving the way for heart disease and diabetes.

Essential nutrients for handling stress

  • Having adequate amounts of protein in your diet every day to support cortisol, neurotransmitter, and hormone production is essential to your ability to cope with stress. Protein and fat are the building blocks to every cell in your body. Foods like turkey, eggs, oysters, nuts, milk and salmon contain trytophan (a precursor to serotonin) that increase our production of serotonin  making us feel happier and better able to cope.
  • Essential fatty acids are used in the construction of every cell in the body including neurotransmitters. Not consuming enough good fats in your diet can have a negative impact on our moods and affect hormone production. Omega 3’s can influence your mood and behaviour by contributing to the integrity of the cell membrane which plays a role in brain development and function. Foods rich in Omega 3’s are fish, seafood, flax seeds and nut oils.
  • The Vitamin B family and minerals such as zinc, iron and folic acid are beneficial to feeling good.  Foods rich in these nutrients include liver, vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, and parsley, seafood, whole grains, greens, nuts and meat.
  • Having a healthy gut microbiome is important for nutrient metabolism. Pre and probiotics are important in establishing a healthy microbiome. Fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso are recommended.

Foods to avoid during hard times

  • Caffeine can exagerate the effects of stress on your body. It increases your blood pressure and heart rate. It can also interfere with sleep patterns exacerbating stress.

A study by researchers at Duke University Medical Center shows that caffeine taken in the morning has effects on the body that persist until bedtime and amplifies stress consistently throughout the day.

  •  Poor blood sugar balance can contribute to mood swings, anxiety and depression. Refined sugar from processed foods releases into the blood stream too quickly causing insulin to spike which alters your blood sugar levels. The more your blood sugar levels fluctuate, the more likely you are to react adversely to life’s stresses.Whilst sugar can temporarily make you feel better, over time more and more is required to achieve the same effect. Sugar can be addictive and stimulate cravings in much the same way as heroin.
  •  Alcohol can sometimes seem like an easy solution to calm the effects of stress and make you more relaxed. However alcohol is a depressant that can contribute to depression and anxiety. It also elevates blood pressure and blood sugar. Alcohol, like sugar can also become addictive needing more to achieve the desired effect.

To find out how to improve your gut microbiome and enhance your stress handling ability please contact

Kerri Abbott Naturopath and Nutritionist 

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