To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, a leading dietician has revealed how changing the way we eat can help to tackle stress and anxiety. 

The easing of lockdown restrictions is welcome news for many Brits, but for others, getting back to the ways of life pre-pandemic will seem daunting. 

Ali Todd, a registered dietician at the Functional Gut Clinic, advises sticking to some basic rules to help keep your mind and body happy. 

She said: “I would encourage people to eat regularly and avoid skipping meals. If you do skip a meal, the resulting low blood sugars set in motion survival mechanisms designed to make you eat. 

“You can then end up craving salty or sweet foods that are lacking in the nutrients our bodies need. 

“And I would advise against coffee on an empty stomach. It can cause stomach pains and bloating but also coffee is a stimulant and can cause anxiety and palpitations in the chest.”

Carbohydrates are often seen as a food to avoid, but Ali says they are vital to help keeping your emotions in check. 

She said: “People, especially those who suffer from stress or anxiety, should be eating whole grain carbohydrates such as brown bread, wholegrain rice or pasta or quinoa, with every meal. 

“Carbs help to balance blood sugar levels which has a calming effect on the brain. They are really important.”

While maintaining healthy bacteria in the gut can help to regulate blood sugar levels, a balanced tummy can also help to regulate neurotransmitters - the chemicals in the brain responsible for happiness, sleep and motivation, experts say. 

But if you’re struggling with sleep, this can have a negative impact on the gut. 

Ali said: “I am seeing a lot of people not sleeping well at the moment. Often a lack of sleep can make you crave sugars because you want energy. 

“But a spike in blood sugars can actually cause anxiety - so it’s a vicious circle. 

“I am also seeing people who are heavily reliant on ready made meals which aren’t as rich in fruit and vegetables and have added preservatives. 

“This is food that doesn’t support the brain and doesn’t give the body the nutrients that it needs. 

“We’ve been in lockdown for a year now and I get people coming to me saying how they wish they had done something before lockdown had eased, because now things are opening up and they want to eat out with their friends and don’t want to change their diet.”

Ali also guards against excessive alcohol if you struggle with stress and anxiety. 

She said: “Alcohol is a stimulant and can have a knock on effect with the gut and with sleep. It’s all interlinked.”

Ali advises eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, pulses and nuts. 

The Functional Gut Clinic – which has bases in London, Manchester and Cambridge – specialises in tests and diagnosis for gut health concerns including acid reflux, abdominal pain and bloating.

Regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), it is the only gastrointestinal physiology service in the UK to receive an Improving Quality in Physiological Services (IQIPS) accreditation.