Foods to Beat Stress & Enhance Performance

Feel stressed, overwhelmed and unable to shift those extra pounds?  Stop crash dieting – it’s probably making matters worse. Instead tackle the stress with my stress busting foods.  

With our 24/7  lifestyles and erratic eating patterns is it any wonder many of us feel stressed out on a daily basis. This can interfere with sleep patterns, blood sugar, thyroid function, result in sugar cravings which ultimately leads to weight gain. While we may not be able to avoid stress altogether eating the right foods can support our adrenal health making our bodies more resilient to stress.  When I worked on the BBC programme The Truth About Stress we focused on making changes to the diet to support adrenal function, balance blood sugar and boost mood. Below you will see some of the key foods we focused on in the dietary changes .

Stress & Weight Gain

The adrenal glands which sit on the top of our kidneys control our response to stress by releasing certain hormones. On-going stress whether physical (e.g. exercise), mental or emotional will trigger the release of certain hormones including cortisol. High cortisol increases levels of fat and sugar in the bloodstream providing us with additional energy to cope. The trouble is this additional energy is then re-deposited as fat – particularly fat around the tummy.

Changes in cortisol levels can also explain why many of us start craving cupcakes when under pressure.  Cortisol raises insulin, an excess of which can lead to fluctuating blood sugar levels resulting in sugar cravings, low mood, irritability and fatigue.  Longer term cortisol can prevent insulin working efficiently which can prompt the body to hang onto fat especially belly fat.

Cortisol can interfere with weight loss in other ways too.  High levels of cortisol can interfere with thyroid hormones which in turn influence metabolic rate.  Stress can also compromise your ability to digest food resulting in bloating and indigestion.

Reducing stress is not always possible but including foods to support adrenal health can help. Stress rapidly depletes your body of key nutrients particularly vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, calcium and essential fats. So choose nutrient rich foods which are high in protein and healthy fats to keep blood sugar levels more balanced.

Check your eating patterns too. A number of studies have shown that mindful eating and stress-reduction techniques can stop you from  gaining weight and belly fat.

Why You Need to Take Stress Seriously

Daily stress and anxiety not only wreaks havoc with our overall wellbeing and outlook on life, but also shortens our lives by contributing to heart disease, diabetes, and cognitive impairment.

Cortisol, being a catabolic hormone (a hormone that breaks down tissues), when out of balance and unregulated, can have detrimental effects on body composition. Moreover, too much cortisol can suppress the immune system while too little can result in inflammation.

If you like exercising remember that overtraining can initially lead to excess cortisol and muscle break down while depressed cortisol levels can leave you prone to injuries and inflammation. In fact overtraining is also linked to gut permeability problems too.

Poorly managed stress also contributes to anxiety, insomnia and impaired concentration. Supplements rich in Theanine can be helpful to address anxiety and difficulty focusing.

Lemon balm is a common garden herb closely related to mint. It has been prized in traditional cultures for its capacity to induce sleep and mild sedation, as well as for its memory-enhancing properties.Lemon balm and rosmarinic acid also boost levels of the relaxation-inducing neurotransmitter called GABA in the brain meaning it can be useful for treating anxiety.

If you want to find out your own cortisol levels saliva testing is one of the best laboratory tests to identify your own daily patterns. Please contact the clinic for a one to one consultation to discuss your individual needs and diet.

Here are some top foods to include

Green Tea –  Green tea contains an amino acid L-theanine which has a relaxing effect on the body. It is also rich in antioxidants shown to raise metabolic rate making it easier to burn fat. A number of studies show that green tea extract can boost the burning of fat and the effect is even stronger when exercising Drink 3-5 cups a day

Eggs –A great protein food eggs and rich in the amino acid tyrosine, which is a building block for thyroid hormone and needed for the production of adrenalin and noradrenalin produced by the adrenals.  They also contain B vitamins and iodine to support metabolism and energy production.

Kale –   Leafy green vegetables are a great source of magnesium an essential mineral for adrenal health.  Magnesium is often rapidly depleted during times of stress and if you struggle with sleep it may be particularly valuable as it is well known as a relaxing mineral. Aim to get 1-2 cupfuls daily

Alaskan Salmon –  A good source of omega 3 fats which are essential for cell membrane health. By improving cell function you can improve cognitive function and the stress response. Omega 3 fats are also known to support metabolism and lower inflammation.

Pumpkin seeds: Packed with stress-relieving magnesium plus protein and healthy fats to keep those cravings at bay. Try toasting a few in a little tamari soy sauce for an energising snack

Avocado. Rich in B vitamins particularly pantothenic acid (B5) which is particularly important for adrenal health. Its creamy texture may help reduce cravings and being rich in monounsaturated and protein can help satisfy appetite too

Berries. Vitamin C is present in high concentrations in the adrenals and a deficiency can interfere with its function. Berries are an excellent source and being a low glycemic fruit make a healthy snack too.

Sea Vegetables: If you love sushi then you’ll love the fact that sea vegetables are rich in magnesium and calcium, two important minerals for relieving stress and promoting relaxation. They are also rich in iodine to support thyroid function and metabolism.

Cinnamon:  If you suffer with energy dips or sugar cravings add this spice to your morning latte. Cinnamon helps improve the transport of glucose into the body cells rather than encouraging it to be stored as fat.

Maca Root and Powder (Flour)

Maca.  A fantastic super food for stress.  This is a Peruvian root that can be bought in powdered form from health food shops. It has long been used traditionally to support the body in times of stress and can easily be added to smoothies and desserts.  It is also nutrient dense rich in protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and B vitamins.

Chocolate. Dark chocolates a well known stress buster and increase the production of “feel-good” chemicals called endorphins as well as being one of the best sources of tryptophan, the body converts to serotonin, our happy neurotransmitter. It is also an excellent source of magnesium to help calm the body plus plenty of brain protecting antioxidants. Just choose the dark stuff!

Yogurt & Kefir.  It may seem strange but the bacteria in your gut might be contributing to stress. Research has shown that the brain signals to the gut, which is why stress can inflame gastrointestinal symptoms but equally imbalances in your gut can affect your mood. Studies have shown those including probiotic rich foods like yogurt daily were able to handle stress and reduce anxiety more effectively than those without probiotic rich foods. Probiotic rich foods like yogurt and kefir provide beneficial bacteria that are only good for digestive health, but can also improve our mood. It is thought these friendly bacteria may decrease inflammation in the gut and brain as well as increasing levels of tryptophan, an amino acid involved in the production of the mood boosting neurotransmitter serotonin.



Oats. Carbohydrates can help the brain make serotonin. But instead of reaching for a sugary fix, go for complex carbs.  Oats provide plenty of soluble fibre to balance blood sugar, preventing energy dips which can lead to irritability and mood swings. They also provide plenty of energising B vitamins to support adrenal health.