Food is part of your everyday life. Unfortunately, so is stress. We tend to think about both a lot. However, we may not think about the relationship between them. Fortunately, certain nutrients actually reduce the effects of stress on your body. However, during times of stress, we sometimes approach food in the opposite way from what is healthy! We binge on “treats” that include salty, fatty, or low-nutrient foods.
Learn how to eat for stress relief the right way. Next time you’re pondering what to snack on, or what to make for dinner, choose stress-relieving foods.
How Food Affects Stress
Stress raises your body’s level of the hormone cortisol. Prevention magazine reported, “Cortisol causes food cravings.” They said that, in women especially, those cravings are for foods high in refined carbohydrates, so-called “comfort foods.” So, while your reflex may be to reach for sugary snack food when you’re stressed, think first. Plan ahead by stocking up on healthier options, and you’ll be ready when stress strikes.
Granted, choosing better dietary options isn’t a quick fix. You may not feel better instantly by eating certain foods (unless it’s dark chocolate, but more on that later). By balancing these nutrients over the long term, along with other healthy lifestyle choices, you should feel better. And, you really can’t lose by choosing these foods. In large part, the foods recommended to reduce stress are the same ones widely considered part of a healthy diet: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and “good” fats. So, your overall health will benefit!
What to Eat for Reduced Stress
Each of these nutrients can come from multiple sources. Whether you’re a meat-eater, vegetarian, or vegan, you have options. These are the key things to look for from your next nosh:
Folate occurs in green, leafy vegetables, as well as in citrus fruits and avocado. You’ll notice fruits and vegetables appearing multiple times on this list, and for good reason. A University of Otago study found that college students “tended to feel calmer, happier, and more energetic on days they ate more fruits and veggies.” The researchers went on to say, they “found that healthy eating seemed to predict a positive mood the next day.”
You might have heard of tryptophan as the culprit in your after-Thanksgiving-dinner-sleepiness. True, it’s abundant in turkey. However, Psychology Today notes, “Misconceptions and confusion [about tryptophan] abound, especially in the popular press.” Tryptophan helps your body produce serotonin, which promotes relaxation. So, yes, relaxation can lead to sleepiness, but it’s also critical to reduce stress. And, Tryptophan isn’t just found in turkey. Other foods high in this amino acid include nuts, seeds, tofu, fish, lentils, oats, beans, and eggs.
Carbohydrates are serotonin-booster. Oatmeal comes highly recommended, as it offers a range of health benefits and helps you feel full. You can also choose whole grain breads and pastas or beans and legumes. Certain vegetables, like squash and sweet potatoes, also provide complex carbohydrates.
Science is just beginning to understand the environment of bacteria living in the human gut. Managing the balance of that bacteria may affect stress. Harvard Health explains, “A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression.” When it comes to probiotics, we tend to think of yogurt. Other options include sauerkraut, miso soup, and even pickles. Remember to balance the probiotic benefits with other potential, less desirable, contents of these foods like high fat or sodium.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
WebMD says, “Some researchers have found that cultures that eat foods with high levels of omega-3s have lower levels of depression. Fish oil also seems to boost the effects of antidepressants and may help the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder.” Fish oil is, in fact, a great Omega-3s. Salmon is highly recommended. But, in addition to fish, try walnuts or chia seeds.
Vitamin D can improve mood, assist sleep, and boost immunity. All of those results can mean lower stress. Find vitamin D in many of the same foods listed above–salmon, yogurt, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Magnesium, a mineral, is another important substance present in nuts and seeds, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables. See a pattern?
Prevention magazine says, “Low levels of zinc have been linked to both anxiety and depression. Since our bodies have no way of storing zinc, it’s important to get some every day.” Get your zinc from cashews, spinach, kidney beans, or pumpkin seeds.
You might say we’ve saved the best for last, since this category includes dark chocolate
and helps lower blood pressure. Multiple studies have demonstrated that chocolate with a high cacao content, in small quantities, benefits your stress level and your overall health. Eating it regularly can reduce stress hormones. But, just enjoying the taste can bring you good feelings in the moment.
Other antioxidant champs include dark-colored produce, such as blueberries and pomegranates. Blueberries have some of the highest levels of an antioxidant known as anthocyanin, and they’ve been linked to all kinds of positive health outcomes, including sharper cognition. Garlic is another high-antioxidant food you may not think of as readily.
What About Supplements?
Many of the nutrients listed above come in supplement form, too. Talk to your doctor about the best way to ensure that you get what you need. As you age, your body is less able to absorb nutrients from food. A report from Harvard Medical School said, “The fresh food you eat is loaded with nutrients necessary for good health, such as magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A and C. But many older adults aren’t getting enough nutrients from their diets…even if you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, you may still fall short of needed nutrients.”
If you’re looking for ways to reduce your stress, addressing your food choices is a great place to start. Also work toward getting enough exercise, taking time to relax, and building healthy relationships. Talk with us about physical challenges we might help address through chiropractic treatment or acupuncture. In future posts we will aim to help you achieve all of these goals!