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Managing stress with Diet

Food for Mood are free-to-access community courses running across Bristol.

The students have been directed to us by social prescribers. Social prescribing is not a new concept, known previously as ‘community referral’, enabling health professionals to refer patients to a range of local health and wellbeing activities. This is integrative healthcare encouraging individuals to take greater control of their own health.

I have been given the opportunity to be part of this by delivering Food for Mood Courses in my local area.

This week we discussed the big subject of how stress adversely effects blood sugar regulation and in turn diet can help manage stress.

I used plenty of analogies to get across the complex interaction of hormones that are controlling these reactions.

We brainstormed all the perceived stressors that come up in everyday life. Financial worry, traffic, transport, pollution, relationships, family, weather, media, hunger were just a few that came up.

These unrelenting factors keep us in our fight or flight/sympathetic nervous response for much longer than we can cope with.

The moment we feel fear, worry, nervous, anxious, or overwhelm the hypothalamus in the centre of our brain sends a message via the pituitary gland to the adrenal glands, sitting atop each kidney, to release adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline increases our heart rate and send blood to our muscles to deal with an acute attack, whereas with prolonged stress cortisol keeps on going pushing us to exhaustion and beyond.

Insulin is released from the pancreas in response to food entering the stomach, it shuttles glucose into cells to make energy. Cortisol interferes with the action of insulin because it wants to keep glucose in circulation feeding muscle cells, preventing it from entering other cells to be made into energy.

Hyperglycaemia is the result of chronic stress. Putting us at risk of at least one non-communicable disease (NCD) - type 2 diabetes.

Dysregulated blood sugar has the side effects of – hanger, mood swings, sugar cravings, energy crashes and depression. The result of these side effects is poor food choices, we reach for the rapid energy release of simple carbohydrates in the forms of cake, biscuits, sugary drinks etc. These foods provide an addictive dopamine hit and some quick energy but are empty of nutrients with no benefit to our physical or mental health.

The top 3 risk factors for NCD’s (cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease commonly lived with over a long period of time) are blood glucose dysregulation, excess weight, and smoking.

Diet and lifestyle recommendations are essential elements that form part of the solution to a healthy and happy older age. GP’s do not have time to get this across in a standard 10-minute appointment and tend to prescribe medications to control symptoms.

To ease the burden on the NHS we need to take on the root cause, often with simple diet, and lifestyle changes.

Sharing a colourful, tasty Mediterranean style menu of quinoa stuffed red pepper, winter slaw and a homemade humous garnished with parsley and seeds, had an instant effect of lifting the mood on a grey, snowy day. I was delighted to hear the students chatting about dishes they had cooked, some weight loss and making more colourful choices in their fruit and veg shopping.

We condensed the Blue Zones principles of colour, flavour, healthy fats, plant proteins, activity, socializing and community into a few hours.

If we keep this up there may be some future centenarians among the groups!??

Quinoa stuffed red peppers with winter slaw and homemade humous



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