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Eat To Beat Stress

What is the secret to powering through the corporate working day? Writer and qualified Nutritionist Vanessa Furlong suggests the type of fuel we take on board during the day has a huge influence on our personal levels of energy.

Managing the stress that comes with the increased pressures of everyday life can be a challenge for even the most seasoned executives. While the ideal solution would be to remove the stress, this is often not an option. Fortunately, there are a few dietary strategies that can help you to perform at your best every day.

1. Boost your Brain Power with Breakfast

Grabbing an extra 15 minutes sleep or rushing to the office early to squeeze in some quiet work time may seem more appealing than taking time for breakfast, but consider this; Research shows that people who have breakfast are more focussed, and have better mental performance and memory compared to people who miss breakfast. The mechanism by which breakfast improves cognitive performance is through the delivery of glucose to the brain. Glucose is the brain’s primary source of fuel and although the brain accounts for only two percent of the body’s weight, it consumes more than 20 percent of the body’s energy.

In addition to its effect on brain performance, eating breakfast is also associated with positive mood, calmness and decreased feelings of stress. This may help to explain why people can become tired and irritable when they miss breakfast. A nutritious breakfast is generally low in fat, high in carbohydrates providing energy to help re-fuel the body after a night’s sleep.

Why not try

• A bowl of high-fibre cereal with a piece of fruit

• A low-fat banana smoothie

• Poached eggs on toast

• Low fat yoghurt with fresh fruit or muesli

• Baked beans on wholegrain toast

2. Feel Good with Fibre

Dietary fibre is an important part of a balanced diet due to its role in maintaining a healthy digestive system but recent research suggests that people who eat a high fibre diet are also happier and more energetic than those with low fibre diets. While the exact mechanism is not established, researchers speculate that this effect is due to improvements in digestion and better removal of waste products from the body or an increase in the number of friendly bacteria in the body. Chewing your food slowly will also help to stabilize blood sugar levels, which helps to prevent mood swings.

Breakfast is a good place to start when you are trying to increase the fibre in your diet. High-fibre cereals and breads can make a significant contribution to your intake.

Why not try

• High-fibre breakfast cereals and breads

• Dried beans and lentils

• Nuts and seeds

• Fruit and vegetables

3. Re-charge your Adrenal System

The body’s adrenal system helps our bodies cope with stress by releasing hormones that bring the body back into balance. This process is commonly referred to as the “Fight or Flight” response. Under normal conditions, the adrenal glands secrete small amounts of stress hormones, including adrenaline, cortisol and norepinepherine, in response to stress. However, during prolonged periods of stress, the body must produce greater quantities of these hormones to maintain balance. As a result, the body requires greater amounts of B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc and magnesium. If the body’s increased nutrient needs are not met, adrenal function can become compromised leading decreased energy and inability to cope with stress.

Why not try

• Vitamin B2 can be found in fortified cereals, milk and dairy products, eggs, lean beef

• Vitamin B5 is found in peanuts, sesame seeds, pecans, walnuts and avocado

• Good sources of Vitamin B6 include wheat germ, wheat bran, cod, turkey, beef and banana

• Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, berries, broccoli and capsicum

• Magnesium is found in wholegrain cereals, peanut butter, leafy greens and mixed nuts

• Rich sources of zinc include oysters, yoghurt, red meat and wheat germ

4. Stock up on Serotonin

Known as “the feel good” hormone, serotonin is a key neurotransmitter responsible for regulating alertness, mood, the wake/sleep cycle and appetite. Not surprisingly, low levels of serotonin cause anxiety, fatigue and inability to concentrate. Three common causes of low serotonin levels are chronic stress, poor diet and excess alcohol intake. While work-related pressures may be out of your control, you can boost your serotonin levels by seeking out foods rich in the amino acid L-Tryptophan, which is the pre-cursor to serotonin. Equally important is an adequate supply of Vitamins B6 and Folic acid, vitamin C and iron, which assist in the production of serotonin.

Why not try

• Milk, eggs turkey, beef, cheese, soybeans and sunflower seeds are all rich sources of tryptophan.

• Vitamin B6 is found in wheat germ, wheat bran, turkey, beef, bananas and leafy greens

• Rich sources of folic acid include fortified cereals, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, peanuts and chickpeas

• Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, berries, broccoli and capsicum and helps to increase iron absorption from plant-based (non-haem) iron.

• Rich sources of iron include red meats, fortified cereals, leafy greens, nuts and seeds.

5. Clear the Mind with a Cup of Tea

While it may be tempting to reach for an energy drink or coffee to help get you through the afternoon, the benefits provided by them are short-lived and can either cause you to crash and burn in the case of high sugar drinks or feel anxious and jittery in the case of coffee. Fortunately, there is another option: Tea. Not only is it packed with protective antioxidants, but research shows that drinking 2-3 cups of tea a day helps keep the brain in a relaxed yet alert state. L-Theanine, an amino acid found in all teas, is thought to achieve this effect by stimulating alpha waves in the brain.

Why not try

• Green tea

• Black tea

• Ice tea

• Oolong tea

Following a nutritious diet is one way to help manage the challenges of today’s fast paced life. If you’ve been successful at managing the pressures of your hectic lifestyle through these or any other strategies, I’d love to hear your suggestions. E-mail me at vanessefurlong@Gmail.com.

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