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We all know that comfort eating when you’re stressed can make you feel better, but there’s only so much cake you can eat and as stress levels rise with impending assignment deadlines, financial issues and strain of balancing social life and studies- can some foods actually lower stress levels?
The answer lies in science; there are certain chemicals produced in the body which give us feelings of happiness or calm. Certain foods also contain these chemicals, which is why we feel better after eating them. Chocolate for example contains endorphins. High doses of endorphins replicate the pain relieving properties of m0orphine, but when released into the body in a lower dose, endorphins induce a feeling of happiness and satisfaction, ideal for helping you to feel better about yourself and a perfect excuse to indulge once in a while!
For the body to be able to release endorphins as well as it can, the body needs B-vitamins. High concentrations of B-vitamins are found in dark green vegetables, animal protein, whole grains and in fortified cereals. You can also buy supplements if you’re feeling particularly low. As well as enabling the release of endorphins, B-vitamins also ease stress themselves, aid memory and boost your energy levels, perfect if you’re worried about your studies or assignment deadlines.
Some B-vitamins, such as vitamin B6 also help to make serotonin. Serotonin is another natural chemical which calms anxiety, eases tension and depression and aids sleep. Eating carbohydrates boosts serotonin levels, but again, always go for whole grains. They release their energy slowly, so you don’t get a dramatic change in blood sugar (going from a low before eating, to a sudden high shortly after eating, to a low again once the effects have worn off) as this can cause mood swings which can aggravate stress. The slow release of energy also keeps you more alert for longer, which is excellent if you have several thousand words to write!
As the clocks have changed and the nights get longer, we get less vitamin D (usually produced in our skin from exposure to sunlight) which can make us feel stressed and down. So if you get more stressed in Autumn/Winter, it’s worth making sure you’re getting enough vitamin D. Again, there are many foods which are fortified with vitamin D, but other good foods include salmon, tuna and mackerel. Mushrooms are also high in vitamin D.
Fruit and vegetables in general are high in feel good vitamins and minerals. Fruit and vegetables which have the shortest time between being harvested and being eaten retain the most vitamins, for example, vegetables frozen straight after being picked and fruit picked locally are the best for you, however all fruit and veg, whether its fresh, tinned, frozen, dried or smoothied counts towards your 5-a-day. It’s a good idea to have a packet of dried fruit or tinned fruit in the cupboard as it lasts a lot longer than fresh fruit.
A healthy diet promotes a healthy mind after all- so even though you may be stressing as the term’s deadlines loom, eat these vitamin rich foods to ensure you survive the stress.