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Posts in 'Nutrition & Food Information'

How, When and What you Eat can Affect Stress Levels

We all know that what we eat has a huge impact on our health, wellbeing and mood.  However, you may not be so aware that when we eat and how we eat also has an effect. 

Stress can affect your appetite in two ways.  Initially it will shut down your appetite as your brain reacts to stress by releasing hormones which supress appetite, at the same time as releasing adrenaline which triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response which also supresses appetite. 

However, if you’ve been soaking up the stress over a prolonged period of time, your brain starts to produce the cortisol hormone which increases appetite and the motivation to eat.  In addition to this, it is thought that stress affects food preferences and results in an increase intake of foods high in fat and/or sugar that actually supress stress related emotions in the short term – ergo comfort eating to counteract stress. 

exams stress unhealthy eating brain foods eat healthier

Stress also causes us to reach for caffeine or sugary ‘energy’ drinks, and often alcohol.  The knock on effect of these is lack of sleep, low energy and weight increase, note that one bottle of wine contains almost 650 calories  that are mainly derived from sugar.

Eating a balanced nutritional meal with slow release of sugars will stabilise your energy and insulin levels as well and help you get through to the next meal.  However, if you are stressed, you are more likely to snack on the run with convenience foods that are highly processed, fatty and often sugary which will result in a spike in insulin and you’ll be hungry again before you know it.  If you only have time for a snack, try to eat fruit or nuts, bananas and apples are great for soaking up stress, as are almonds, walnuts and Brazil nuts, all easier to eat and very good for stabilizing the brain. 

How you eat will have an impact on your stress levels.  Breakfast is a very important meal to set you up for the day, if you’re not a breakfast person, try to add bananas to your repertoire, it’s such an easy fruit to eat on the go, or pack a yoghurt in your bag.  If you can face it in the morning, oats in the form of muesli, granola or porridge are excellent; otherwise the humble boiled egg and toast is a great way to eat proteins and carbohydrates which is the best way to balance blood sugar levels and calm the brain. 

breakfast healthy eating nuts fruits exams brain foods

For other meals, try to sit down and take your time over the meal – eating slowly is a very good stress buster.  Think about what you’re eating and savour each forkful. This way you are appreciating what you eat and will not overload your system by eating too fast, your stomach will feel full and your brain will not think you are hungry.  Avoid eating your lunch at your desk, pick another spot – this small step will make a big difference to your state of mind.

To achieve this mindful eating, you need to be organised and have an idea of what you are going to eat during the week.  Like all good habits, it’s worth practising to get into the pattern of planning meals day by day, and shopping appropriately.  Batch cooking is good way to plan meals and eat well and cheaply.  Cooking at the weekend is an excellent way to destress.   This way you will be able to take charge of your eating habits which will in turn help you manage stress better.

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Eating for Exam Performance

Soon after the Easter holidays, young
people will be starting their GSCEs and A Levels.  This is an important time for those at
school, and the pressure to succeed and move on to the next stage of their
lives is very high to.  So how can eating
help our young people cope with the pressures, how can they eat to improve their exam performance? 

The key thing is to eat!  And be aware that pressure may lead to loss
of appetite.  Kicking off the day with a
healthy breakfast is key and will set you up for the day.  Try to eat oats – a granola, muesli or
porridge, as oats give you energy and are a slow burn carbohydrate.  Eggs and yoghurt are great for helping your
cognitive function and improve memory. 

For the rest of the day, try to eat regularly and avoid taking in too much caffeine and sugar as these will only give you a temporary boost.  The suggested ‘brain power foods’ are wholegrains, seeds and nuts; oily fish, eggs, blueberries and blackcurrants, tomatoes, broccoli and sage. Vitamin B6 & B12 are particularly important to brain health and preventing mental fatigue, so lentils would also be a good idea.  Make a brain boosting chilli bean con carne for dinner perhaps, find our very own recipe here!

Stay hydrated, with water which helps the
brain and body function efficiently, remember 85% of brain tissue is water. Dehydration can cause energy generation in
the brain to decrease.

Getting enough rest and relaxation is
essential and Sleep is King for peak performance.  It’s important to take breaks from the
revision and not cram through the night, you’re less likely to take in or
retain information.  Try to set up a
bedtime routine and give yourself time off from the revision – go for a walk, a
run or treat yourself. 

Eating with others is also a boost to your
mood and wellbeing, so try to eat as a family wherever possible. 

See our attached ‘Brain Superfoods’ to keep
on the fridge as a reminder of what to eat.

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Seasonal Ingredients: Rocket

Rocket is coming into season in April.  It’s a dark green peppery leaf that can be
grown at home like other salad leaves, but is readily available in
supermarkets.  It is known as arugula in
Italian and particularly in the US.

The leaves have a slightly bitter peppery
flavour and are best when young tender shoots. 
If you do grow them at home, they may be speckled with small holes,
disregard the holes – it’s still perfectly fine and they taste just as
good.  As with most green vegetables it
is a rich source of iron as well as vitamin A and C. 

Rocket makes a great addition to salads, can be used for soups and can replace basil in pesto.  It goes very well with steak, on pizza and with cheese.

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Improve your cognitive function with Peanuts

A higher nut consumption could be the key to better cognitive health in older people according to new research from the University of South Australia.

In a study of 4822 Chinese adults aged 55+ years, researchers found that eating more than 10 grams of nuts a day was positively associated with better mental functioning, including improved thinking, reasoning and memory.

Lead researcher, UniSA's Dr. Ming Li, says the study is the first to report an association between cognition and nut intake in older Chinese adults, providing important insights into increasing mental health issues (including dementia) faced by an ageing population.

"Population ageing is one of the most substantial challenges of the twenty-first century. Not only are people living longer, but as they age, they require additional health support which is placing unprecedented pressure on aged-care and health services," Dr. Li says.

"In China, this is a massive issue, as the population is ageing far more rapidly than almost any other country in the world.  "Improved and preventative health care – including dietary modifications – can help address the challenges that an ageing population presents.

"By eating more than 10 grams (or two teaspoons) of nuts per day older people could improve their cognitive function by up to 60 per cent– compared to those not eating nuts – effectively warding off what would normally be experienced as a natural two-year cognition decline."  Dr. Li says peanuts have specific anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which can alleviate and reduce cognitive decline.

Nuts are known to be high in healthy fats, protein and fibre with nutritional properties that can lower cholesterol and improve cognitive health. While there is no cure at present for age-related cognition decline and neurogenerative disease, variations in what people eat are delivering improvements for older people.

The World Health Organization estimates that globally, the number of people living with dementia is at 47 million.

By 2030, this is projected to rise to 75 million and by 2050, global dementia cases are estimated to almost triple. China has the largest population of people with dementia.

As people age, they naturally experience changes to conceptual reasoning, memory, and processing speed. This is all part of the normal ageing process; however age is also the strongest known risk factor for cognitive disease. Thus finding ways to help older people retain their cognitive health and independence for longer is imperative, modifying their diet is a good start and absolutely worth the effort.

Research taken from University of South Australia – Dr li and Dr Shi  published January 2019
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Seasonality, The Spring Onion
The humble Spring Onion, also known as Scallion, is a worldwide star of cuisine appearing in many dishes from Afghanistan to Wales, via Mexico, Singapore and Latvia.

It is part of the allium family and shares many of the benefits that onions, leeks and garlic bring to us in terms of flavour and nutrients.  They can be eaten raw or cooked.  They are high in vitamin A, C and K; they assist digestion and help with blood circulation.

The name Scallion can be traced back to ancient Greece where it appeared in texts by the philosopher Theophrastus (perhaps in a favourite recipe!), and further back to the Bronze Age land of Canaan mentioned in the Bible, and to this day Scallions are used in the rituals for Passover.

Scallions and spring onions have a delicate flavour and are used as a garnish, in salads and salsa.  Many Asian foods ask for spring onions, often using the green part of the vegetable, beautifully sliced in a stir fry or broth.  They go well with seafood as they provide a more delicate flavour and colourful appearance than white onion.

They are an important part of food and festivals.  In Spain there is festival at the end of winter as Spring is beginning to appear, where Scallions are griddled and served with Romesco sauce.  In India they are eaten raw as an appetiser.  In Ireland, Champ is a traditional dish where spring onions are mixed into mashed potato with lots of butter.  In Asian countries such as the Philippines spring onions are ground into pastes with ginger and chillies to make a condiment; in Vietnam they are fermented for a traditional New Year delicacy.

Spring onions are readily available at supermarkets, however they are easy to grow, in a garden or tub and would enhance your herb garden.
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