Top tips to cut down on your stress

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 January, 2011, 12:00am

Kylie asks: What can I eat to relieve my stress?

Wynnie says: We're all born with an instinctive stress response: whenever we're exposed to potentially harmful or dangerous situations, stress hormones are released into the bloodstream that cause an instant 'fight or flight' response. Most of us live at such a fast pace these days that, instead of using this response in emergencies, we activate them daily.

Eating the right balance of foods and avoiding certain ones (such as caffeine) can help boost our immune system and enable our bodies to deal with everyday stresses.

So what can you eat to beat stress?

1 Antioxidant-rich foods Vitamin C is required to make adrenaline. A lack of this vitamin reduces the activity of cells in the immune system that destroy harmful bacteria and viruses, thus making us more vulnerable to colds, flu and other diseases. Stress depletes vitamin C and other antioxidants, such as vitamins A and E and selenium from the body.

Citrus fruits, which are rich in vitamin C, can help prevent the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Boost your immune system by including oranges, mixed berries, nuts and kiwi fruits in your daily diet.

2 Complex carbohydrates All carbs stimulate the brain to make more serotonin - a feel-good chemical that promotes feelings of calmness and happiness. Complex carbs, such as wholegrains, wholewheat breads, brown rice and pasta, are better choices than processed carbs because they are broken down more slowly, stabilising blood sugar levels and providing a steady supply of serotonin.

3 B vitamins These vitamins are needed by the body to convert food into energy and to maintain the nervous system. Any deficiency can lead to feeling irritable, tired and depressed. Make a habit of getting enough B vitamins by eating a wide variety of foods each day, including wholegrain cereals, fruits, leafy green veggies, yogurt, beans and peas.

4 Magnesium This mineral regulates levels of cortisol and keeps it under control during times of stress. Replenish your magnesium levels naturally by eating dark, leafy green veggies such as spinach, Romaine lettuce, broccoli or kale in stir fries, salads, sandwiches, casseroles, soups or stews. Supplement your intake with tofu, nuts, wholegrains, which are also rich in magnesium.

5 Omega 3-rich foods Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and fresh tuna, are rich in omega 3 fats, as are walnuts, tofu, soy beans and flaxseeds. These kinds of foods help your brain to release serotonin. Omega 3-rich foods also help to keep levels of stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, in check.

6 Comfort foods These are foods that soothe the psyche by triggering childhood memories and feelings of safety, comfort and nostalgia. They often include things like chicken soup, dumplings, congee and mashed potatoes. Studies have shown that eating comfort foods can boost levels of serotonin and reduce amounts of stress hormones.

Regular exercise is an important stress buster, which helps release 'feel good' endorphins in the blood stream, lifting your mood, cutting stress-hormone levels and leaving you feeling more calm and relaxed.

Kylie's diary

Breakfast: Toast, cheese and tomato or bacon and avocado sandwiches, or cereal with milk or yoghurt and kiwi fruit

Lunch and dinner: Rice, chicken, fish, beef and/ or pork dishes, vegetables

Snacks: Grapes, pears, bananas, sometimes chocolate

Drinks: Water and the occasional hot chocolate

Exercise: 30-60 minutes at the gym every day, Pilates or yoga occasionally

Wynnie Chan is a British-trained nutritionist. If you've got a question for her or would like to be featured in this column, e-mail