Best served chilled: Our 6-step diet plan to combat stress

Stress seems to be an inevitable fact of modern life.

But while we may not be able to wipe it out completely, eating the right foods can help our bodies cope.

Certain foods can actually exacerbate anxiety, while others will help you keep stress at bay.


The anti-stress eating plan aims to keep things on an even keel, avoiding energy highs and lows that further stress the body, and to supply key nutrients that will keep the central nervous system in optimum condition.

Step one – stop sugar

"Blood sugar imbalances with peaks of sugar in the bloodstream must be avoided," says nutritional therapist Khalid Kahn.

These imbalances put your energy levels on a rollercoaster ride. To combat high blood sugar your body releases insulin, which converts the glucose into energy, giving you a boost.

But when blood sugar levels drop, you are left feeling tired and craving foods that will give you the sugar ‘high' once more.

To halt the cycle cut back on sugary, refined foods and simple carbohydrates like white bread. Try to eat them in combination with high protein or fibre-rich foods to slow the release of the sugars into the blood.

Step two – curb caffeine

"Caffeine is a stimulant that promotes the stress reactions and resulting anxiety symptoms," explain Khalid. "Gradually cutting out caffeine may significantly improve and relieve anxiety."

Caffeine mimics the hormone adrenaline, triggering the ‘fight or flight' response that is the body's natural reaction to danger, increasing the heart and pulse rate and giving an instant energy kick.

In situations where no danger exists, however, it can cause palpitations, sweating and dizziness.

Step three – avoid alcohol

We know after a hard day at work the idea of a glass of wine is extremely attractive. But alcohol is high in sugar and can cause a build-up of lactic acid in the body. Lactic acid is produced and stored when we metabolise carbohydrates, and excessive amounts of it may cause anxiety.

Step four – choose whole foods

Carbohydrates trigger the body to release the soothing brain neurotransmitter serotonin.

The end result? You feel less anxious. In fact, one large serving of carbohydrates is thought to be enough to distress after a busy day.

By choosing unrefined, complex carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread or brown rice, you also give your body vital nutrients such as vitamin B, calcium and magnesium, as well as fibre, which can help alleviate stress-induced constipations.

Step five – fill up on fatty acids

Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids are vital for the proper functioning of the electrical pathways that power the central nervous system.

They have also been linked to mood as a diet deficient in these fatty acids, and may lower levels of serotonin and even lead to depression.

To stop this happening, eat plenty of oily fish – such as salmon, mackerel and tuna – walnuts, flaxseeds, olive oil, kidney and soya beans, and squash. If all else fails, you can always take an essential fatty acid supplement.

Step six – veg out

Eating more fruits and vegetables can also increase the brain's production of serotonin.

This is because they contain a form of L-tryptophan, an animo acid used in the production of serotonin, that is more easily absorbed than that found in meat.

L-tryptophan can also help beat stress-induced insomnia. Particularly good sources are bananas and plums.

By eating fruit and veg alongside complex carbohydrates you will ensure that even more is absorbed.