“Eating right is just as important as managing stress because vulnerability to stress increases with poor diet.” ~ Philip Rice, Stress and Health. Moorhead State University
The stress in your life has you stretched thin and on high alert most of the time. The continual demands at work and home leave you feeling overwhelmed, anxious and drained of energy. When you reach a peak point of distress, one of the most common instant fixes is to reach for a favourite comfort food.
In those moments, you may not even be hungry but your cravings for unhealthy food gets the better of you. As you bite into that luscious piece of chocolate cake, indulge in a glass of alcohol, strap on the potato chip bag, or head to the freezer with a giant spoon hunting for the ice cream container, all is momentarily right with life again. In that first bite or sip, a sense of power, control and satisfaction delivers you from the grip of anxiety and overwhelm.
When you are under stress (real or imagined), your body reacts by dumping high levels of cortisol into your system. This is part of the ‘fight or flight response’ and is your body’s instinctual way of preparing to meet a potential emergency. This extra cortisol causes bio-chemical changes in the brain that trigger cravings for high fat, sugary or salty foods short term. Chronically high cortisol levels play a primary role in high blood pressure, increased heart rate, inflammation, impairment in brain function and some chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Certain foods, when eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet, can lower high cortisol levels during stress events and can ultimately assist in reducing the intensity of your response to stress altogether. Here are a few tips on what to avoid and what to put on your grocery list for those unavoidable life stressors:
Avoid These Foods:
The three worst food groups to turn to in times of stress are Sugar, Caffeine and Processed Foods. The initial energy increase that any of these food groups provide will devolve into a deeper crash later on.
Eat These Instead:
Dark Chocolate promotes the production of brain chemistry that blocks depression and can lower cortisol levels.
Protein such as eggs, cheese or nuts can regulate blood sugar spikes and provide energy.
Bananas, Blueberries and blackberries deliver mood enhancers such as dopamine while bananas also provide calming B vitamins.
Vitamin C, as found in kiwi or oranges, help reduce the production of stress hormones and boosts your immune system to help avoid stress-related illness.
Omega 3 Fats in salmon or in supplements are known to assist in significantly reducing anxiety and depression.
Black Tea may have positive effects on certain stress hormones. In a UK study, subjects who drank tea were better able to cope with stress events.
Coffee appears to affect brain chemistry related to mood control so one morning cup could improve your outlook and general view of your wellbeing
When stress causes you to mindlessly reach for unhealthy foods, know that you have alternative nutritional sources that will provide more long-term positive solutions.
Your body, mind and spirit will be grateful !