Sick or fit as a fiddle, let food be thy medicine

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Sandhya Govind

Sandhya Govind

Auckland, November 18, 2021

         This story was updated on Thursday, November 18, 2021 at 2 am.                                                                              

Nutrition plays an important role in our wellbeing (Shutterstock Photo)

 Covid-19 and the successive lockdowns that have come along with it have given rise to umpteen unforeseen challenges. As we strive to cope with the new reality of living in the midst of a global pandemic, people of all ages and genders have been experiencing increased levels of chronic stress and anxiety.   

It is therefore of utmost importance that we stay physically and mentally healthy, in order to cope with this stress and anxiety which, among other things, might be due to worry about our finances, job security, our own health as well as the health and wellbeing of our family and friends.

Along with exercise and relaxation techniques, nutrition plays an important role in supporting health and wellbeing and helping us manage stress. 

The Greek physician Hippocrates, who is regarded as the ‘Father of Medicine’, recognized the link between wellbeing and food 2500 years ago when he stated, “Let food be thy medicine”.

When we are under a lot of stress, we either forget to eat and skip meals or we tend to eat more than usual. Stress and anxiety can also alter taste thresholds and we may crave foods that are high in fats and sugars – the so called ‘comfort foods’, thus affecting our food choices. However, rather than being beneficial, these foods actually increase the stress to our system.

During periods of stress, it is especially important that we do not skip meals and eat three meals a day.

A healthy diet can have a positive effect on brain health and stress-reduction by supplying key nutrients and increasing blood flow to the brain to help it function at an optimal level.

By following correct nutritional guidelines, we can reduce the impact that stress has on our body. Balanced nutrition also serves to prepare our body for any future stress. The following are basic nutritional guidelines that will assist us in keeping our body’s natural defences up and help us cope with stress.

 

Nature provides plenty of food lowering Cortisol

 Beneficial Foods

Cortisol-lowering foods

Cortisol is also known as the ‘stress hormone’. Though cortisol functions as a protective mechanism in the short term, when we experience chronic stress over long periods, the excessive secretion of cortisol can actually create more stress in the body, leading to increased inflammation and an elevated blood pressure. Thus, it is important to include cortisol-lowering anti-inflammatory foods in the diet such as: a) Dark chocolate b) Bananas c) Pears d) Garlic e) Green tea f) Fatty fish

Fermented foods

Ongoing research has helped clarify the link between our gut health and our mental health. Our digestive system is now considered by many researchers to be the ‘second brain’ as it produces more than 90% of the serotonin – the ‘happy’ hormone – in our body. Therefore, a healthy gut can create resilience to stress. It has also been found that the gut microbiota (the trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes that colonise our gut) can affect our emotional health and how we cope with stress and anxiety. The gut microbiota is greatly influenced by our diet, and incorporating fermented foods into our diet will increase the overall health of our gut, as these foods are rich in beneficial probiotic bacteria and enzymes that enhance the  gut microbiome. Beneficial fermented foods include: a) Greek yogurt b) Kefir c) Kimchi d) Kombucha e) Sauerkraut

Omega 3-Rich Foods

Omega 3 fatty acids are vital nutrients that help in the production of healthy nerve cells in the brain. Two major types of Omega 3’s – DHA (ducosahexanoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) play a role in the activation of the gene that produces serotonin, therefore helping us cope with the effects of psychological and physical stress. Some good sources of Omega 3 fatty acids are: a) Fatty fish (Salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, tuna, trout, anchovies) b) Oysters c) Avocados d) Sunflower, flax & chia seeds e) Olive oil & flax seed oil f) Walnuts

Magnesium-Rich Foods

Magnesium is a mineral that plays an important role in helping us deal with stress. It can help to relax muscles, regulate heartbeat, increase energy levels and reduce anxiety. Foods rich in magnesium include: a) Pumpkin seeds b) Brazil nuts c) Lentils d) Whole grains (Wheat, oats and barley) e) Quinoa f) Dark chocolate g) Avocados h) Bananas i) Broccoli j) Spinach & other green, leafy vegetables

 
Nutrition plays an important role in our wellbeing (Shutterstock Photo)

 B Vitamins-Rich Foods

B vitamins are essential for coping with stress as they help build up they help build up our metabolism and maintain our nervous system. Folate, the natural form of vitamin B9, has been shown to relieve stress and anxiety. Vitamin B5 is also called the ‘anti-stress vitamin’ as it supports the adrenal glands in the production of stress-related hormones. Foods rich in B vitamins include: a) Spinach, kale and other dark green, leafy vegetables b) Brussel sprouts and cabbage c) Whole grains d) Peanuts e) Asparagus f) Fish g) Chicken h) Eggs i) Fortified cereal j) Organ meats

Foods rich in folate include: a) Green vegetables b) Citrus fruits c) Liver d) Beans e) Fortified foods like marmite

Good nutrition is an important stress management tool. As much as possible, we should strive to achieve this through the food we eat rather than supplements. It is advisable to consult with a health care professional before taking any supplements. There are numerous herbs and botanical formulas that help with stress and anxiety, and naturopaths in New Zealand are trained to dispense individualised herbal formulas to suit a person’s specific needs.

If you are already taking medication or supplements, there may be some foods you need to avoid. Therefore, please consult with your health care provider and seek their professional advice about any dietary changes you may want to make.

Sometimes diet and nutrition, exercise and relaxation techniques alone are not enough to help with your stress. If you are finding it difficult to cope, do not hesitate to professional seek help. If you need support, there are several 24-hour helplines in New Zealand that you can call to talk to trained counsellors who will be able to guide you. These include: Youthline (for young people and their families); Free text 234; 0800-376633; Anxiety Helpline (Anxiety NZ): 0800-2694389; Lifeline: Free text 4357; 0800-543354.

My next article will be a continuation of this one with more dietary guidelines and information on foods to avoid in order to cope with stress.

Sandhya Govind is a qualified and trained Naturopath and runs the ‘Sandhya’s Naturopathy Clinic,’ an integrated Natural Medicine facility, which helps people rediscover optimal health, radiance and vitality naturally. She provides holistic support including Herbal Medicine, Supplements, Health Coaching, Diet Advice and Mineral Therapy. Ms Govind also creates Crossword and Word Search puzzles for Indian Newslink Digital Edition every fortnight. She can be contacted on 021-0709243. Email: sandhyanaturopathy@gmail.com; The above article should be read for general information purposes only and not taken as individual advice. Please always consult your GP or other authorised persons or agencies for personal advice. Indian Newslink and Sandhya Govind absolve themselves of all responsibility or liability in this connection.

 

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