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Stress Management for Health Course



"We don't know why people under stress seem to choose carbohydrate and fat-rich foods, one speculates that it might have something to do with the biochemistry of carbohydrates which increases serotonin's availability in the brain."

(Professor Jane Wardle)


Carbohydrates are the starchy foods like bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, breakfast cereals, etc. that supply the body with energy.

There are two different types of carbohydrates:

        Complex carbohydrates

       Refined carbohydrates

Starchy foods should form the basis of all meals, and are even better if we choose the wholemeal form as these have extra fibre. 

Carbohydrates have unfairly got a bad press as being a cause of obesity.  This is not so, it is refined carbohydrates that are the problem.  In fact complex carbohydrates only become very high in calories if we add fat to them when we cook or serve them.  Potatoes are low in calories unless we add butter when we mash them or bake them, or have them as chips.  One serving of chips has about three times the calories of one serving of boiled potatoes. 


Refined Carbohydrates

Chronic stress causes the brain to release a hormone called NPY, which causes us to crave sugary, fatty foods.

The average person in the UK has been shown to consume 100 pounds of sugar a year, that is nearly 2 pounds of sugar a week.  Many people will find it hard to believe they consume this much sugar but most of the sugar in the western diet is hidden in processed foods.  For example there are 8 teaspoons of sugar in a 12 oz can of cola and some breakfast cereals supply 50% of their calories in the form of refined sugars so choose a low, or no, sugar version.

Sugar only contains calories.  It has no other nutrients at all.  We don't need sugar for energy; we get all the energy we need from other foods, especially from complex carbohydrates.  Eating too much sugar can lead to obesity.  Many foods that are high in sugar also contain a lot of fat.  Excess sugar is also linked to tooth decay.

Refined Carbohydrates are robbed of vital fibre, vitamins, and minerals, they destabilize blood sugar, making insulin levels rise to fast.  Too many refined carbohydrates can cause our blood sugar levels to peak and trough, triggering insulin release.

Refined carbohydrates do not supply vitamins and minerals needed for the body to process food and refined carbohydrates rob the body of it's  depleted stores of B-group vitamins.  Refined carbohydrates reduce the available Vitamin C, and impair white cell function.


Complex Carbohydrates


"Complex carbohydrates stimulate our brains synthesis of neurotransmitter hormones.  Imbalance in serotonin can make a person more vulnerable to stress.  Serotonin plays a role in our brains stress management system and helps to make us feel more calm."


Research has shown that foods like complex carbohydrates help to reduce stress.  Poor nutrition can exacerbate any stress we are under.  A stress resistant diet is rich in complex carbohydrates (grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables) whereas foods like caffeine and refined carbohydrates increase any stress we are under.

The World Health Organisation recommends that complex, unrefined carbohydrates make up 50 - 80% of our daily calorie intake.

Complex carbohydrates include: 




       Whole grains

        Brown rice


       Wholegrain cereals

       Wholemeal Bread

Oats are unrefined, complex carbohydrate, which retain their fibre and nutrient content.  Aim to eat 6 portions of complex carbohydrates a day.

Complex carbohydrates like brown rice can help protect against several types of cancer and Heart Disease.  New research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown that eating lots of these foods reduces rates of heart disease by almost one-third. 


Whole grains

Research has shown that eating whole grains on a regular basis can help to lower an individual's risk of developing heart disease and cancer by a third.  More than 50 scientific studies have now shown that eating whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer by up to 30%.  In the United States Nurses Study people who consumed one portion of whole grains a day lowered their heart attack risk.

It is important to consume whole grains; they have higher fibre and nutrient content than refined carbohydrates.  They are more filling and help to keep our blood sugar levels stable.

Examples of Whole grains:


       Brown Rice

       Wholemeal Bread

          Wholegrain cereals


When whole grain rice is milled into white rice it retains less than half its vitamin B6, one third of its B3 and only 20% of its original B1. 

Stoneground wholemeal flour and stoneground bread have higher levels of B-group vitamins because of the grinding methods used.  When steel rollers are used a lot of heat is created which destroys the nutrient content of the gain, Stoneground flour uses stones instead of metal rollers so always consume stoneground wholemeal flour products and bread.


How to Reduce our Sugar Intake


       Reduce the amount of sugar you add to tea/coffee, brown sugar is not nutritionally superior to white sugar


        When buying soft drinks, choose low calorie versions 


       Switch to a breakfast cereal that has no added sugar 


       Use real fruit juices not juice drinks and dilute as 1 part fruit juice to 2 parts of water


       Cut down jam/marmalade.  Choose low sugar versions 


       When buying tinned fruit choose ones packed in natural juices not ones in glucose syrup


        Consume less biscuits, sweets and cakes 


        Reduce the intake of processed foods, most of the sugar in the western diet is hidden in processed foods


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