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The Best And Worst Foods To Eat When You're Stressed

Give your body a helping hand.

Whether it's an impending work or uni deadline, life event or family drama, daily stresses can quickly build up, leaving you feeling overwhelmed, panicky and uneasy.

There are a number of ways to help manage stress, from mindfulness and meditation, to exercise and prioritising sleep. One strategy we often forget about, however, is our diet -- as the way we eat can have a significant effect on our mood.

While it's natural to crave quick energy and mood-boosters like lollies and biscuits, many of these foods actually end up having the opposite effect.

Here are the best and worst foods to eat when you're stressed.


1. Avoid: refined sugar

Refined sugar in lollies, pastries, soft drink, chocolate, ice cream and biscuits do give us a quick boost of energy, but this is followed by a sugar 'low'. This is all to do with how sugar affects our blood sugar levels.

Instead of those sweet treats, opt for fruit salad, a healthy, homemade fruit-sweetened muffin, or even a few squares of dark chocolate (ideally 85 percent or greater).

2. Avoid: 'white' carbs

As with sugar, simple carbohydrates like chips, pies and white flour, bread and pasta can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, followed by a period of low energy and a subsequent craving for more energy hits.

Rather than opening a bag of potato chips, choose slow-releasing carbohydrate snacks like whole grain crackers with natural peanut butter, wholemeal toast with avocado, or hummus with veggie sticks.

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3. Avoid: caffeine

We all know what can happen when we have one too many cups of coffee -- the jitters, heart palpitations and trouble sleeping. Particularly when our stress levels are already high, stimulants like coffee or energy drinks can leave us feeling worse than before.

In times of stress, reduce caffeine intake and try coffee-like chicory tea (available at health food shops) or fruit-infused water.

4. Eat: plant-based foods

Plant-based foods like vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains provide us with essential vitamins and minerals. Eating this way at all times, including during times of stress, will help our bodies to function optimally.

In fact, last year researchers looked at literature surrounding mental health and diet, and found that traditional dietary patterns -- specifically the Mediterranean, traditional Norwegian and traditional Japanese diets -- tend to be associated with better mental health.

If in doubt, follow Michael Pollan's simple rule for eating: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants".

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5. Eat: vitamin C-rich foods

Ever gotten sick with a cold or flu during stressful times, or right after? It's theorised that high stress levels are linked to a weakened immune system.

Regularly consuming foods rich in vitamin C -- such as kiwi fruit, oranges, berries, kale and capsicum -- can help support your immune system and give it a boost when you're stressed and under pressure.

6. Eat: prebiotic foods

Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible fibre compound in the form of food or supplement, which help feed or fertilise the friendly bacteria (probiotics) in our gut. This process improves digestion and helps keep our gastrointestinal tract healthy.

Stress affects the balance of bacteria in the gut and immune response, so it's a good idea to keep your gut healthy by eating enough prebiotic foods, such as garlic, onion, asparagus, legumes, unripe banana, whole grains and artichoke.

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7. Eat: magnesium-rich foods

Magnesium is a mineral which our bodies rely on to feel fit, healthy and full of vitality, and specifically helps promote energy, sleep, and blood sugar and hormone balance.

Magnesium-rich foods like green leafy veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds, raw cacao and seafood can help fight fatigue.

Low magnesium levels can lead to low mood, insomnia and high blood pressure, so if you suspect a magnesium deficiency, check in with your GP or healthcare professional.

8. Drink: herbal teas

The calming characteristics of herbal teas, such as chamomile, lavender and passionflower tea, can help you relax, destress and ease into sleep.

Not only are herbals teas a warming, soothing drink (without the stimulating effects of caffeine), but they also provide the perfect opportunity to kick back with a good read or TV show.

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