This month Hayley Pedrick is back to give us more good advice on how to nourish our bodies to support our minds. As the world changes around us, we must change with it, or we will not survive for long. With this in mind and in the spirit of resilience, we asked her advice on what specifically we can eat to help us adapt and thrive through the tough times. Hayley is an experienced Nutritional therapist with clinics in both Harley Street and Kingston Upon Thames. She is also the director of Habitude which will be launching soon.
“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin
Diet is often the first thing to go out the window when you’re under pressure. Let’s be honest, it’s all too easy to reach for the takeaway menu after a late night in the office. Take a moment to imagine that your body is a pricelessly-sleek, state-of-the-art machine. You wouldn’t put plain unleaded fuel in a Ferrari, would you? You’d use the premium stuff. The same goes for how you need to treat your machine in times of stress – greater nutrient demands on the body require premium, nutrient dense, food choices and a likely top-up of performance boosters such as certain amino acids and micronutrients – to give you a bit of extra jet, so to speak. But more on those later…
Often mindfulness and meditation are recommended in times of stress to help increase our resilience, and while there is evidence to tell us that this is the case, it won’t happen unless you first nourish your body and brain. The fact is, that if the biochemical balance of a person is out of whack, they’re a lot less likely to be able to create new coping mechanisms, however effective they may promise to be once you’ve mastered the habit of applying them. Supporting the nervous system and modulating the stress response often provides the key to unlocking our potential to leverage the benefits of other anxiety busting practices. In other words, the cultivation of a healthy body provides fertile ground for a healthy mind.
As a one time functional medical practitioner I have had plenty of cases to test this theory on. I observed that the food we put into our bodies is a fundamental basis to fortifying the body’s stress handling mechanisms. The bottom line is that if you want to maintain greater energy balance and reduce anxiety levels you need to eat in a way that achieves that and prevents an unnecessary cascade of stress hormones. The negative cascade is triggered by simple errors in judgment and time management such as:
- Skipping meals (I don’t have time for breakfast)
- Eating refined carbohydrates (office vending machines are evil!)
- Drinking too much coffee (I. Need. More. Caffeine.)
- Alcohol (I’ve been so busy I deserve a break),
Recognise yourself there, anyone? So what can we do instead to support out system? Her are my top 4 micro-nutrients to help you stay on top form and just why they are so important!
L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid. By “essential” we mean that it cannot be made in our body and therefore must be ingested. It is a building bock for compounds such as serotonin. A lack of L-Tryptophan in the diet will effect our mood and could cause anxiety and depression symptoms. L-Tryptophan rich foods include turkey, beans and bananas.
Antioxidants. Much like the chemical reaction that creates rust on metal, oxidization in the body creates free radicals that can destroy healthy cells. Changes in these cells can cause calcification of arteries, or changes in the DNA or the function of the cells and may be a catalyst for diseases. Although oxidisation is something that happens naturally in the body and cannot be avoided, it is exacerbated by stress and an unhealthy lifestyle. Therefore, eating antioxidants is a key factor in staying healthy. Antioxidants will neutralise free radicals or bolster cellular antioxidant defences. In general the best thing you can do is to have predominantly fresh vegetable and fruit and nuts in your diet. Vibrant, rainbow coloured foods such as grapes, swiss chard, butternut and onions are especially good as they deliver a broad spectrum of protective elements.
B vitamins. There is a wide range of B vitamins, carrying out various functions within the body. However, some of the key players include:
- B12 this is a key vitamin for maintaining concentration and reducing agitation, (including prevention of temper outbursts!). It also helps to prevent memory loss. B12 is primarily synthesised in the gut but can also be found in foods such as egg yolk, salmon and Swiss cheese.
- B6 helps the body turn food into energy and is vital for efficient neurotransmitter synthesis. B6 can be found in avocado, carrots, lentils and walnuts.
- Vitamin B1 is used by the adrenal cortex, which supports our overall get-up-and-go capabilities. It is also important for energy production and neurotransmission. You can get B1 from nuts, pork, rye and spirulina.
- B2 is known to alleviate fatigue and can be found in almonds, asparagus beans and broccoli.
- B9 – fosters the growth of red blood cells. Without this you may become anaemic and experience on-going fatigue. You can find B9 in barley, leafy green vegetables, sprouts and soybeans.
Magnesium. This mineral is responsible for over 300 enzymatic reactions involved in energy metabolism. It is also essential for muscular contraction, neuronal activity and neurotransmitter release. Modern food processing techniques, environmental factors and intensive farming methods have contributed to magnesium deficiency as a common phenomena throughout the world. Where a magnesium deficiency exists, stress increases risk of cardiovascular unpleasantries occurring including, hypertension, heart attacks and strokes. Having a diet which is high in fat, (think late-night ready meals, burgers, pizza and curries) and calcium (how many lattes would you use to get through a stressful day?) and you can unwittingly intensify a magnesium inadequacy during an extended, intense work period. So it doesn’t just help to supplement with magnesium, you need to support it with a healthier lifestyle.