Nutrition tips to help students cope with stress

During Stress Awareness Month, learn more about cooking and nutrition to help keep your stress level low! Caroline Litts, Lecturer in Food, Nutrition and Human Health at RGU, discusses how your diet can impact stress and shares some cooking tips and quick recipe ideas!

The potential relationship between nutrition and stress

Research suggests that stress might be associated with either increased, or decreased body weight. It is thought that individuals under high levels of stress might have a less healthy diet, than those under lower levels of stress. Stress has been associated with dietary patterns high in salt, fast foods and fat, and low in unsaturated fat, fish, fruit and vegetables.

While some research suggests that eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables and lower in salt might have beneficial effects on mental health and stress, the overall impact of dietary patterns on perceived stress is mixed. It therefore cannot be advised that eating certain foods will reduce stress, as this depends on a multitude of additional factors. However, there are some tips you can follow that might help you deal with stress & prevent stress-induced unhealthy eating.

6 nutrition tips to help with stress

1. Spend time cooking

Cooking can be considered a stress-relieving activity. It takes your mind off things and it makes you focus on something else. If you’re baking, for example if you’re making bread, not only can you get lost in the process of mixing, stirring or kneading dough, but you also get something tasty to eat as a result. This can take your mind off the stress for a while.

2. Plan meals and buy ingredients

Planning meals in advance and buying the necessary ingredients beforehand will prevent coming home to an empty fridge. Without a plan and low on food, you are more likely to order a takeaway or buy a quick meal at the supermarket. So make sure that you plan exactly what you want to eat throughout the week and get all the appropriate ingredients ahead of time.

3. Batch cook healthy meals

Try to batch cook meals at the weekend for the week ahead and freeze them to ensure they don’t go bad. This means that you will always have something in the freezer that you can grab and quickly heat up for lunch or dinner. Things like pasta and rice are good things to prepare because they don’t deteriorate. You don’t really need to prepare snacks in advance unless you want to have a melon or pineapple for example, which you can chop up, keep in the fridge and consume everyday of the week.

4. Eat a balanced healthy diet

Eating a balanced healthy diet will genuinely make you feel better overall. Good advice would be to consume a diet in line with the “Eatwell Guide“, which is mostly based on fruits and vegetables. For example, you should consume green leafy vegetables, fruits, pulses and legumes in high quantity. You should also eat starches such as pasta and rice to help you stay full for longer. Incorporating lean protein sources, such as beans, fish and white meat, as well as a little bit of dairy in your diet is also really important. Try to limit the consumption of saturated fat and food with a high sugar content. However, unsaturated fatty acids, such as oily fish or nuts, are important in promoting good health and preventing hunger.

5. Don’t skip breakfast and bring food to university

Make sure that you don’t skip breakfast in the morning, even if you’re feeling tired. This will prevent you feeling hungry later in the day. If you don’t have much time in the morning, you can prepare overnight oats beforehand as they last quite long. Or you could do baked oats on a Sunday and have some on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Even if you’re not skipping breakfast, you should still bring healthy snacks to university with you in case you are feeling hungry while you’re on campus. Fruits, yogurt, healthy bars and nuts are all good examples of snacks you can easily carry with you.

6. Cook with herbs and spices

The final tip is to cook with herbs and spices. This will reduce the need to add salt when you’re cooking and when you’re eating. There is some limited evidence that salt might contribute to an increase in stress. So just cooking with spices will help reduce your salt intake and maybe keep your stress level lower.

Quick lunch recipes ideas

As a student, you might sometimes feel too busy and overwhelmed with stress to cook. Here are some quick lunch ideas to ensure you don’t skip any meal:

  • Soups are a good option for a quick lunch! You could make a massive pot of soup on a Sunday and then take it to university with you everyday. There are some microwaves available on campus to reheat your food.
  • Salads are great for lunch as you could probably prepare them 3 days in advance. Just throw in some beans out of a tin, some lettuce leaves, tomatoes and feta cheese for a balanced meal.
  • Couscous is easy to make as all it needs is to be heated up with boiling water. You can then add in some vegetables and a protein source to stay full for longer. You can keep that in the fridge for a few days as well.
  • Pasta could also be a go-to for lunch everyday. I think pasta can sometimes be perceived as being unhealthy, but it’s not. An easy thing to do would be to make three days worth of pasta with pesto and put some tomatoes through it. If you want to eat wholemeal pasta, that’s even better! That way, you’re getting one of your five a day and some wholegrains.
  • Sandwiches are a good choice for a really easy lunch. Just like pasta, people perceive sandwiches as being unhealthy, even though they are a great alternative to cooking when you are busy.
  • Half a tin of tomato soup is a handy option if you are really short on time. This would be giving you one of your five a day, and with some bread, you have a really quick lunch.
  • Leftovers from dinner can be reheated for lunch. For example, if you have a bean stew for dinner, you could make a bit more and leave some of it for the next day.

Caroline Litts

If you are struggling with stress, you can contact RGU’s Counselling and Wellbeing team, who will be able to offer some help. Alternatively, you can organise a chat with one of the student volunteers from RGU Peer Support Group.

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