How Our Food Choices Impact Our Stress, Mood, Immunity, and Sleep
Dietician and nutritionist Dr. Dimitris Grigorakis shares his healthy eating tips.
What can we do to boost our immunity through nutrition?
A strong immune system makes the body resistant to germs, bacteria, viruses and infections. Foods rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits, red peppers, spinach, broccoli and kiwi can effectively shield our immune system. The combination of these foods with mild daily exercise, as well as with the consumption of at least six glasses of water per day, can help to protect and strengthen our immune system. Vitamin D can also protect us from illnesses.
How important is a healthy diet not only for our health and well-being, but also for our performance?
A proper and balanced diet is very important for maintaining our health and well-being. Food also plays an important role in our daily performance, memory, concentration and mental clarity. It may also have a preventive role in the development of dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders. Foods like eggs, avocados and almonds are not only delicious, but also important in protecting health, well-being and good brain function. The Mediterranean diet is the best for protecting brain functions since it encourages us to consume olive oil and nuts, which improve our memory.
Can also our mood be changed due to a healthy diet?
Diet can affect our mood by reducing stress. The combination of foods containing tryptophan (turkey, chicken, egg, fish, dairy, nuts) with those rich in magnesium (such as banana, dark green vegetables, almonds, sesame and tahini, sunflower seeds and dark chocolate) and zinc (shellfish, meat, eggs, legumes) can cheer us up every day. For a better mood, it is recommended to consume monounsaturated fats, i.e. avocado, olive oil and olives. Foods rich in vegetable fats increase the amount of endorphins produced in our brain and make us feel better.
What are the effects of an unhealthy diet?
The fast-paced rhythms of our everyday life, anxiety, stress, and lack of free time negatively affect the eating habits of adults and children. The consequences of the lack of a balanced and healthy diet include:
- The immune system weakens and the person becomes more vulnerable to viruses.
- The muscular system does not receive the necessary components and slowly shrinks.
- The skin loses its elasticity and ages faster.
- Bones lose their density and signs of osteoporosis appear.
- Body weight increases and often results in obesity.
- The risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes increases.
Are there any Microsteps we can incorporate into our daily lives to adopt healthier eating habits easily and effectively?
In everyday life, it often becomes difficult to adopt a proper way of eating that will benefit both health and mood. Below are some insights and tips that can help.
1. Chewing is good
Chewing food plays an important role in digestion. Studies show that for starchy foods, 30% of digestion occurs with saliva. After a meal, you need at least a two-hour break before going to bed. Digestion increases our metabolic activity, so if we sleep immediately, we will not sleep well or digest well! Depending on what we have eaten, a large part of the food may not be digested if we go to sleep immediately after eating.
2. The right food at the right time
Eating different foods at different times helps the body cope with changes in weather. So our diet in the summer becomes lighter and is enriched with fruits rich in water such as watermelon, which hydrate us, while in the winter it is enriched with grains and fats, which provide us with the energy we need. It is essential to follow the seasonal availability of food by choosing the appropriate fruits and vegetables for each season according to the needs of our body.
Are there foods that help us maintain our energy, concentration, and efficiency at the office?
Foods that help maintain energy, concentration and efficiency are the following:
- Salmon, tuna, sardines and nuts offer us an intake of Ω-3 fatty acids, ensuring a smoother development of the entire nervous system and helping us to perform better.
- Beef, liver, prunes, lentils, shellfish, and sesame enhance iron, the lack of which is closely linked to lower brain function.
- Pumpkins, shellfish, red meat, sardines, and liver enrich the body with zinc and strengthen memory.
- Milk, eggs, legumes, whole grain bread, brown rice, and whole grains/pasta provide B vitamins that participate in the production of acetylcholine, which improves our mental ability. The lack of these vitamins can lead to fatigue, depression, inability to concentrate and memory loss.
- Nuts, whole grains and green vegetables contain magnesium, which is essential for many body functions. In times of stress and fatigue, supplement the diet with magnesium to help yourself relax.
- Water: Dehydration can lead to fatigue and lethargy, which can cause you stress. We should consume 8-10 glasses of liquids (water, juices, tea, semi-skimmed milk) every day.
- Fruits. Fruits contain multiple beneficial (antioxidant) substances to provide us with the necessary energy.
It is essential to create our own program and our own “rules” adhering to basic nutrition principles in order to incorporate a balanced diet into our lives, both at home and at work. Good life and good health are in our hands. And always remember: “We are what we eat!”
Which are some healthy food options for a really busy day?
Healthy food options for a busy day are the following:
- Semi-fat yogurt with ½ Thessaloniki bun
- Unsalted nuts
- Toast from multi-grain wholemeal bread
- Nuts or multi-seed breadcrumbs with cheese or egg
- Vegetable smoothies
And as for sweet options:
- Seasonal fruit, plain or combined with semi-fat yogurt
- Rice wafers with tahini and honey
- Natural juices
- Health chocolate with a high cocoa content
- Whole grain cereal bars
What are your tips for eating well at the office, such as preparing meals at home or always having a bottle of water with us?
The night before, we can make a plan with snacks or small meals that we can take to the office or on our commute.
We could cook 1-2 times per week (preferably on the weekend) and eat the same food twice a week. As soon as we prepare the food, we can place it into plastic bags and then store it in the fridge and take one to work every day. If we can’t find the time to cook on the weekend, we can buy something already cooked from the supermarket, such as a whole grilled chicken, which can last for 2-3 days.
If we are at work and haven’t had time to prepare our meal, we can order some of the following from a restaurant that we know it uses high-quality ingredients, such us:
- 2 chicken straw skewers & country salad & 1 oiled pita
- Chef, caesar, or tuna salad, or Cretan dakos
- Arabic pie with cheese, turkey, vegetables
- Macaroni with tomato sauce & cheese
- Risotto with vegetables & mushrooms
- Burgers, roast chicken, turkey, steak, or seasonal salad
- Omelet with vegetables
Stress Eating: Why does it happen and how can it be treated?
In times of intense anxiety and stress, overeating is a reality, with food offering instant relief and pleasure. But when eating tends to turn into overconsumption, then we talk about stress eating: overeating due to intense emotions. But how is this eating behavior treated and how can our healthy relationship with food be restored?
1. Pay attention to your warning signs of stress
The body reacts to stressors. During this stage, the body begins to release cortisol and epinephrine. We have to realize it, try to eliminate it, and deal with stress in another way — for example, by going for a walk to clear our mind or by taking a few deep breaths.
2. Redefining food
Stress eating is unhealthy because most people are looking for foods without nutrients. This occurs because junk food offers immediate gratification in contrast to healthier food choices that are considered less interesting. We should therefore adopt a nutritional mindset, based on which food belongs to a forbidden category.
3. Ask yourself, “Am I hungry?”
In times of intense anxiety and stress, it is likely that one will consume the snack that is in their field of vision or that is easily accessible, even if they do not feel hungry. In this case we should ask ourselves if we are really hungry or if some other emotion is leading us to eat. In the second case, it is imperative to recognize these feelings and at the same time try to eliminate them. Simply asking yourself if you are hungry is a helpful start.
Do you think that we could cultivate the idea of healthy nutrition in children from an early age, so that they adopt the right eating habits that they will follow in their adult life?
As parents, we can be nutritional role models, taking advantage of children’s tendency to imitate. The example of a healthy and balanced diet shows children how to build healthy habits from a young age. It is much easier to create a correct eating behavior from the beginning than trying to correct a wrong one later in life!