Scientists say this is the diet to follow when you’re feeling stressed

Whether it’s work, relationships or just the trials and tribulations of day-to-day life that have got you wound tighter than usual, stress can make you feel like there are an overwhelming number of factors that are out of your control.

One thing you can retain power over, however, is your diet – particularly as scientists have just revealed the best thing you can eat to help relieve stress and rebalance your mood.

The research, conducted by scientists at the University College Cork and published in The Journal of Physiology, showed that a high-fibre diet may reduce the effects of stress on our gut and behaviour.

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As for why? Fibre found in foods such as grains, legumes and vegetables will stimulate the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in the gut. The study involved feeding rodents the main SCFAs normally produced by gut bacteria and then subjecting them to stress.

Using behavioural tests the mice were assessed for anxiety and depressive-like behaviour, stress-responsiveness, cognition and sociability. Crucially, when SCFAs were introduced, the researchers noticed decreased levels of stress and anxiety-like behaviour.

Extended periods of stress can also cause ‘leakiness’ in the gut, which means undigested food particles, bacteria and germs can pass through the wall into the blood and cause inflammation. The research demonstrated that treatment with SCFAs can also reverse this process.

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It’s important to note that it’s not yet known why SCFAs have this effect, and fibre is certainly not a one-size-fits-all cure for stress and its related conditions. However, if it means incorporating more tasty, healthy foods like wholegrain cereals, brown pasta, fruit and veg and nuts into our lives, we’re up for giving it a go either way.

Professor John F. Cryan, the corresponding author on the research, commented on the findings: ‘There is a growing recognition of the role of gut bacteria and the chemicals they make in the regulation of physiology and behaviour.

‘The role of short-chain fatty acids in this process is poorly understood up until now. It will be crucial that we look at whether short-chain fatty acids can ameliorate symptoms of stress-related disorders in humans.’