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Stress Management for Health Course

Nutrition - Introduction


"Many dietary factors can cause the same effects as stress by stimulating the adrenal glands."(Anthony Haynes, Nutritionist)


Stress Resistant Eating

Some people may wonder what on earth has nutrition to do with stress?  Research has shown that nutrition not only affects our physical health but can also influence our stress levels too.  Our western diet, because of it's high fat, sugar and salt content causes us to have an increased risk of developing a number of health problems specific to western nations such as heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, cancers and diabetes . When we add chronic, unmanaged stress to this, which in itself has been shown to cause blood pressure to increase, blood to clot more easily etc, this is a double whammy to our health. 

This course is not just about improving our stress resistance but it is also about improving our general disease resistance.  The aim of this nutrition module is to teach basic nutritional advice to help lower stress levels and at the same time the type of healthy eating plan that lowers stress levels will also help to lower the risk of developing western diseases like cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure etc.

In the last hundred years and even more so in the last couple of decades the UK diet has undergone radical change.  Our natural, plant-food based diet used to be mainly rich in foods like potatoes, vegetables, cereals and low in sugar and salt,  however this has been replaced by a diet that is full of fat, sugar, salt, animal products and is low in fibre, fruits, vegetables and wholegrain cereals.  Switching back to our natural diet would double our nutrient intake.

The type of diet we follow can have a very powerful influence on our ability to deal with stress.  Research on diet and stress by Patrick Holford of The Institute of Optimum Nutrition, showed that people who switch to healthier eating had stress levels half that of people who were on a poor diet.

In one Australian Research Project, Aborigines who had non-insulin dependent diabetes returned to their hunter-gatherer lifestyle.  They swapped their typical western diet full of fat, sugar and animal products which are low in fibre, and started to consume a lower fat, high fibre, natural aborigine diet.  The research data showed that by going back to this natural diet they lost weight, their blood sugar levels dropped to nearly normal and their blood fats fell.

More and more research is revealing the role that food can play in our psychological well-being.  The Food and Mood Project in Sussex has carried out research which indicates that a healthier diet does not only have physical benefits but psychological ones also.  People feel less fatigued, have more energy and their mood improves.  Recently the conservative British Nutrition Foundation held a one-day seminar on mood and food.

Under stress people often consume a diet loaded with caffeine, fat, refined carbohydrates and alcohol.  In excess these foods exacerbate any stress we are under and also increase our chances of developing one of the western diet related health problems such as high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, cancer etc. 

A healthy diet can help to lower blood pressure.  In one case a man who was over weight and changed his diet to a more healthy one lowered his blood pressure in only one week from 155/102 (high) to 144/95 (upper end of normal), and he lost 5 lbs in weight.  All of this achievement was gained in only a week.

A surprising amount of the stress we may experience on a daily basis, can be partly caused by a poor diet full of caffeine, refined sugar, alcohol etc., because these are chemical stressors which cause the body to trigger the fight/flight response stimulating the adrenal glands to secrete higher levels of adrenaline which, as you know, is a stress hormone.  Our levels are already elevated by stress and we push the adrenaline level up even higher by the type of diet we consume. 


The National Food Survey

A UK National food survey conducted in 1993 followed over 8,000 people.  The data from the study revealed that the average UK diet is deficient in a number of vitamins such as B1, B2, B6, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin D and minerals like zinc, magnesium, iron, calcium.  In the western diet fat and sugar supply over 60% of our daily calorie intake.  The problem with this is that there is no fibre or nutrients in fat and sugar except empty calories and this means that a very large portion of our diet supplies no fibre, no vitamins or minerals or other plant nutrients.  Switching to a more healthy, low fat, complex carbohydrate eating plan would dramatically increase our fibre, vitamin and mineral intake.

Many of us mistakenly believe we are eating a healthy diet, but scientific nutritional analysis of our diet content shows we are not.  The aim is to consume a low fat, high complex carbohydrate eating plan.  The function of food is not only to stop us feeling hungry, the numerous nutrients and chemicals in food have a powerful effect on our physical and psychological well-being.

It is amazing the physical and psychological health benefits that can be obtained by small changes in our diet.  A change to a healthy, more stress resistant diet is going to be cheaper than the standard diet.  We do not need a great deal of money to improve our diet.  Complex carbohydrates like vegetables, potatoes, whole grains, and cereals do not cost much when compared to the refined, processed foods.

It is important, however not to become obsessive over our eating, but try to eat as broad a variety of foods as possible.  We are not talking about a diet, we are talking about a flexible, healthy, eating plan.  A healthy eating plan is not about removing all the foods we enjoy like cakes, biscuits and chocolate, but it is about reducing the amounts of these foods that we eat and it is about making sure the diet is mainly comprised of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, fish and low-fat meats like chicken and turkey, etc.

Chronic, unmanaged stress can make us more vulnerable to a number of stress-related health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.  Stress can also lead us to consume a diet full of fat, refined sugars, alcohol, salt and caffeine and this type of diet on its own is known to increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.  By learning stress management techniques and making small alterations to our eating pattern, we can reduce our risk of developing many of the diet and stress related health problems, to lower than that of the general population who are not stressed.  In order to reduce our risk of disease we do not have to make drastic changes to our eating pattern, even small changes in the diet can have major beneficial effects.

The subject of nutrition and health is unfortunately too vast to be fully covered here and as a result we do recommend a number of useful books and websites in the resources section at the back of this session.


Nutrition Related Health Problems


"The modern diet is a first class menu for disease." (Dr Denis Burkitt)


No disease is ever caused by one factor on its own and is the result of a matrix of interacting factors.  However thousands of scientific studies and papers have shown that the poor western diet high in fat, salt and refined sugars has been found to be a major factor in causing or exacerbating many health problems such as:





























       High blood pressure

        Heart disease

        Heart attack



        Varicous veins


       High Cholesterol levels






       Diverticula disease

        Intestinal Polyps

        Hiatus hernias

       Gall bladder disease

        Stomach ulcers



        Diabetes  Mellitus










        Breast pain



       Macular degeneration




       Multiple Sclerosis


        Colds, flu


       Rheumatoid arthritis


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