The impact of stress on our health cannot be underestimated. It is a known risk factor for chronic disease and can impact our sleep and general wellbeing greatly. In a recent cross-sectional study, eating more fruit and vegetables was linked to lower stress. The greatest benefit (a stress reduction of 16–36%) was seen with a combined intake of at least 400g per day. If you consider each potion of veg to be approximately 50g that equates to around 8 servings, we definitely need to up our 5 a day game!
Start as you mean to go on
If you want to eat more than three vegetable portions per day, you can’t leave it all until dinner. You are fighting a losing battle to get to 8 at that point! Vegetables go well with eggs for breakfast, for example spinach, tomatoes or mushrooms in an omelette. Trying to ensure you always have vegetables at lunch is a good benchmark to set. Then you will be well on your way to your target by the time the evening comes around. Aim to eat a vegetable-based soup or salad at least 3 or 4 days per week, as these typically include about three portions of vegetables. If you snack during the day, make at least one snack a veg based one.
One of the main benefits of eating fruit and veg is of course obtaining plenty of fibre. Not eating enough fibre can contribute to imbalanced blood sugars, digestive symptoms, high cholesterol, and even hormonal imbalances. On the other hand, a diet high in fibre reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and many other chronic health conditions. In order to get the full benefits of fibre, plant foods must be eaten in their whole form, or close to their whole form. While fresh fruit and vegetable juices contain vitamins and minerals, they do not contain the beneficial fibre found in their whole food form
Eat a rainbow of vegetables
Eating a variety is also important. Different coloured fruits and vegetables contain a different array of nutrients and antioxidants. To obtain the full spectrum of phytonutrients available to us we need to eat all the colours- red, yellow, orange, purple, black, white, green and brown! These chemical compounds can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation – elevations of which can lead to poorer mental health and less resilience to stress.
The bottom line is that eating vegetables is undoubtedly good for your health and may even lower your stress.
Suggested menu for a vegetable and fruit-rich day
Breakfast: scrambled egg with tomato and baby spinach, slice wholegrain bread
Snack: carrot sticks / sugar snap peas and hummus
Lunch: Vegetable and lentil soup or mixed salad with salmon
Snack: apple and palmful almonds
Dinner: Chicken / prawn and vegetable stir-fry with wholegrain rice, mandarin for dessert
Other stress management tactics
Day-to-day stress is unavoidable, but it does not have to turn into chronic stress that negatively impacts your health. There are many ways to manage
stress – from daily activities like deep breathing to longer-term strategies like counselling. Finding a variety of techniques that work for you will help you
build resilience and support your overall wellbeing for years to come. Here are some more ideas to help you manage stress (along with eating more vegetables of course!).
- Get at least 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night
- Exercise – but do something you enjoy
- Start a gratitude journal
- Start a meditation practice
- Create and reassess your “to-do” list; handoff things that others can help with and do more things that bring you joy
- Spend time in nature, get some vitamin N and some D if it’s a sunny day!
- Do a digital detox (e.g., no electronic devices for 24 hours or a weekend). A huge amount of our stress comes from social media comparison
- Reframe your self-talk, we wouldn’t talk to our best friend the way we talk to ourselves – e.g., instead of, ‘They rejected my job application’ think…..‘I wasn’t rejected. I’m being redirected toward something better’.
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