Six snack foods to bust work stress

4 Minute Read | Author: Claire Stewart

Understand why the feel-good factor lasts only five minutes for some snacks, but a lot longer for others.

Anxiety, frustration, confrontation and fatigue are familiar feelings for anyone in a modern, demanding workplace. Problematically, all can trigger a rise in the stress-related hormone cortisol, which influences food cravings for carbohydrates and sweet foods, and can lead to an increase in dangerous visceral fat deposits around internal organs.

While there isn’t a magic cure for reducing workplace stress levels if the rest of your diet and physical activity is out of whack, there are general nutritional strategies which will help you think clearer and sleep better.

Queensland-based nutritionist and founder of Life Nutrition, Carla Valmorbida says although all micronutrients have a role to play in the smooth running and interactions of our bodily systems, some nutrients are more related to mental health than others.

“These include omega-3 fatty acids, in particular EPA, folic acid (folate) some of the B group vitamins, notably thiamine, B6 and B12. Also significant to note in the context of mental health is Vitamin D, largely synthesised from the sun, iron and zinc.”

Is tryptophan the answer?

Valmorbida says it is common to hear about the serotonin-boosting benefits of a diet rich in tryptophan-containing foods such as bananas, turkey or nuts. However she warns that the absorption process is complex. To maximise the body's uptake of these "happy chemical trigger" foods, she suggests consuming them with carbohydrate sources rather than other high protein foods, to facilitate rather than hinder the absorption of tryptophan in the brain.

For snack suggestions she points towards foods with a mixture of macro nutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and recommends changing them daily to avoid getting stuck in a "food-rut”.

“Snacks should be appropriately sized. If they're too small, you may be under-fuelling your body and you'll get the dreaded hangries between meals. If they're too large, you divert too much blood to the digestive system, leaving you feeling sluggish, tired and impairing your cognition and ability to deal with stress.” A snack containing fibre, protein and slow release energy such as that provided by wholegrains and healthy fats will help you better cope with stress and sustain you between meals.

“A normal eating pattern for many of us is to have three meals and two snacks daily. Though the appropriate energy content of these snacks can vary significantly due to age, sex, activity level, weight or height, most women should be aiming for 100 to 200 calories per snack, including beverages, or 150 to 300 calories for men.”

Sadly, this is far less than the content of many processed or café-produced snack foods. Snacks that are considered health foods, such as muesli or oat bars, are often upwards of 20 per cent sugar by weight, and Valmorbida says those, and products like Bliss Balls, which use large amounts of coconut oil, dates, chia seed, honey, and nuts are “little calorie bombs for the unsuspecting”.

Graze well

Valmorbida’s recommendations:

  1. Snacks made out of high-folate vegetables, such as beans or lentils, asparagus, and broccoli. Adding citrus to any dressing will maximise how much iron you get from the snack. Wrap folate-rich veggies with sliced turkey in a wholegrain wrap to add tryptophan benefits.
  2. Dark chocolate with berries and just a few nuts. This combination provides antioxidants, flavonoids, polyphenols, fibre and protein. Dark chocolate is a great mood regulator and reduces cortisone.
  3. Oatmeal and fruit is a great satiating fibre combination. Oats are good for heart health and another food which helps produce serotonin.
  4. Salmon or other fatty fish for the EPA and satiation which comes from the fat/protein content. Mix fresh or canned fish with beans, wholegrains and/or vegies. Make up a batch of wholegrain pasta salad each week and take it in a cupful as a snack.
  5. Nuts and avocados: but be rigorous with portion control as these are very high in energy.
  6. Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse. Eat them boiled, with vegies, on wholegrain products. They’re a great source of everything from protein, to vitamin B12 and tryptophan.