The 5 Best Vegetables for a Stressed Stomach
Including a variety of soothing, easily-digested or nutrient-rich foods in your diet is a great way to support your digestive system when it’s under stress. With this year’s National Stress Month in full swing, it seems the perfect time to give digestion some special attention.
Let’s focus first on VEGETABLES. It’s possible to eat vegetables that support digestion, when you select them for their abundance of nutrients, their direct impact on your digestive organs, or their beneficial influence on your ‘good’ bacteria.
Why Stress Affects Your Digestion
Whichever way you look at it, stress is rubbish for digestive function. You may end up eating more, or less, than you normally do; not fully digesting and processing what you do eat; burning through the nutrients that you do glean from your diet; and feeling tired and uncomfortable too. It’s bad enough facing the daily hassle and pressure without the extra digestive upsets.
But there is a perfectly good reason why your digestion is so negatively affected by stress. It all boils down to prioritisation and survival.
In days of old, if your stress response kicked in, it meant there was some kind of danger to avoid. Stopping for a bite to eat if you were hungry, or digesting a meal that you’d already enjoyed was no longer on the to-do list. The chemical cascade throughout your body was solely focused on one outcome: for you to get up!…get ready… move or fight… until you were out of harm’s way.
Fast forward to the present day with its different pressures and stressors. How does your body respond to these new types of ‘dangers’? That’s right. Chemical signals tell you to get up!…get ready!!… move or fight. You respond in exactly the same way.
However, there is one difference to this modern-day response.
Imagine you’re called away from work because your child is unwell. When you first answer the phone your mouth dries and your heart races. Then comes the stress of rearranging your day and collecting your kid. You sit, stomach tense, as you wait at the GP surgery. On top of this, you find yourself silently fuming, thinking of all the catch-up work you’ll need to do. But in this situation, there’s no opportunity to ‘fight or flee’, you can’t escape this ‘danger’. Instead it sits and lingers, ready to flare up whenever you next remember this event.
These unresolved stressors can quickly build up to a chronic stress which has a negative impact on how well you digest.
How Vegetables Support A Stressed Stomach
Each time your stress response kicks in the same chemicals are needed.
- In the short term, adrenaline and noradrenaline are released from the adrenal medulla. This leads to an increase in energy, alertness, heart rate and blood flow to the muscles. This is the time when digestion gets put on the back burner and you ay notice your mouth getting dry.
- In the long term, cortisol is released from the adrenal cortex. This helps release glucose to maintain your energy and fuel your muscles. However, cortisol also decreases anti-inflammatory processes and the immune system.
This means that there are several areas of focus to support your digestive health when you are stressed. You might:
- replenish nutrients which are in most demand;
- nourish the overworked adrenal glands;
- stabilise your glucose levels;
- support immune system activity;
- reduce inflammation.
The best veggies are packed full of nutrients like vitamin C and magnesium that are used to throughout the stress response cascade. They’ll have lots of low GL carbs and fibre to keep your blood glucose in check. They’ll have prebiotic fibres and probiotics for immune boosting effects and anti-inflammatory actions.
Here are 5 veg that you’ll want to eat.
The 5 Best Vegetables For A Stressed Stomach
1. SWISS CHARD – a great source of magnesium and vitamin C
Dark green leafy vegetables are superb for your digestive health – for a start there’s all that lovely fibre. The nutrient profile of Swiss chard is pretty appealing; when cooked, a 175g portion delivers over a third of your daily magnesium requirement and more than half of your vitamin C needs.
Your requirement for both magnesium and vitamin C increases when you are stressed. For example, magnesium will move out of your cells and into the plasma to help buffer the adverse effects of acute stress. However, this can lead to depletion, which has further consequences. A low magnesium status allows more adrenaline to be released whenever you are stressed. It also allows for excitatory brain chemicals to be more active, and lowers synthesis and action of serotonin. This drop in feel-good-serotonin can leave you anxious, sleepless and more stressed!
If you can’t find Swiss chard in the shops, opt for other leafy greens like spinach and kale.
2. BROCCOLI – a nutrient-dense source of magnesium, vitamin C and the B vitamins
There’s evidence of how supplementing B vitamins, either alone or as part of a multi-nutrient, can benefit individuals during periods of stress. What if you don’t take supplements? There are many food sources of the B vitamins which can be included in your diet everyday, so you might start with those.
As a source of magnesium, vitamin C AND the B vitamins, broccoli is a digestive-stress-busting hero. When eaten raw broccoli can be hard to tolerate and cause bloating or general discomfort. A quick steam or stir fry can help overcome this.
3. CELERY – a naturally low GL carb to soothe digestive distress
Apart from it’s jaw-relaxing crunchy texture, what else does celery have going for it?
First it’s full of soluble and insoluble fibres, which as you know by now, help your digestive processes. Celery is also mainly water – around 95% – which is useful to keep your cells hydrated. Have you noticed how you sometimes forget to even have a drink when you’re under intense pressure? Finally, there are the polysaccharides – a type of sugar. They are shown to improve the lining of your digestive tract and help protect against ulcers.
4. JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE – a tasty carb-rich veg with plenty of prebiotic fibre
Jerusalem artichoke is a rich source of inulin, a prebiotic fibre. This is the type of fibre that your good-guy bacteria love to munch on. The good bacteria in your digestive tract are the first line of immune defence, so eating foods that nourish them can support your long-term health. As you read about Kimchi and Sauerkraut you’ll see why this is so important when you are stressed.
Jerusalem artichoke has a reputation for creating wind. It does depend on the amount of inulin it contains (which varies) and how you react to it (which is different from one person to the next). There’s more chance of this happening if you eat it raw – say grated into a salad. But when roasted – for around 45mins – the inulin and wind-potential start to break down.
See the recipe here: ROAST JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE
5. KIMCHI and SAUERKRAUT – fermented foods with natural probiotics to help give your immune system a boost
Cortisol is released as part of the long-term stress response, to prepare your body for bouts of endurance. Unfortunately, it also down-regulates your immune system, leaving you more prone to coughs, colds and other illnesses. That’s why it’s so useful to replenish the good bacteria. Fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut are both sources of beneficial probiotic. Whether you choose to buy them or take time to ferment your own, try eating a small portion everyday.
See the recipe here: SIMPLE KIMCHI
There’s a well-known link between stress and the digestive tract. I bet you can easily recall that feeling of having butterflies in your stomach. But there are other effects. The hormones which regulate the stress-response can affect weight management, sleeping patterns and energy levels. Which means that unmanaged, chronic stress has the potential to seriously impact your body from head to toe.
There are dietary adjustments that may help better manage this; such as eating vegetables for a stressed stomach. Consider combining them with lifestyle adjustments such as those that were discussed last week… Strategies to relax in 5 mins or less.
References Cuciureanu & Vink (2011) Magnesium in the central nervous system  Young et al (2019) A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of B Vitamin Supplementation on Depressive Symptoms, Anxiety, and Stress: Effects on Healthy and ‘At-Risk’ Individuals