Nutrition tips for stress

Stress is a topic we hear about a lot these days. Leading busy lives at work and home can result in physiological responses that can have negative consequences for our health. There are many lifestyle changes we can make to counteract the impact stress can have on our body, one of these is food. Below we share some nutrition tips for stress worth considering:

Why do we get stressed?

When we encounter a stressful situation, whether it’s physical or emotional, our nervous system and adrenal glands send a message to the rest of the body in preparation to cope with the stressful stimulus. Evolutionary speaking, increasing our heart rate, decreasing digestion and reverting blood flow to muscles, and increasing our breathing rate were vital to our survival; we needed to escape immediate danger from predators much larger than us! However, in the 21st century, these physiological responses are rarely needed. Prolonged activation of the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response can have negative consequences for our health.

Foods which have negative effects on the body when under stress

Caffeine
Caffeine causes the activation of our adrenal glands, releasing cortisol into the bloodstream. Individuals who are chronically stressed and consuming high amounts of caffeine may be sending their bodies into overdrive. High levels of caffeine consumption are linked to insomnia and nervousness; two symptoms linked to stress. Excessive caffeine consumption can deplete magnesium levels in the blood; magnesium is an essential mineral needed for energy production, and helps to support the nervous system.

Foods high in fat and sugar
Chronic stress causes some people to crave sugary foods, but it’s important to restrict consuming sugary/processed foods in large quantities. A large intake of sugar provides the body with a quick burst of energy, but it’s promptly followed by a low period, when blood sugar levels crash.

How does a healthy diet combat stress?

In general, a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lean proteins helps support the body by providing it with all the vitamins and minerals it needs to function optimally.

Quick tips:

  • Snack on healthy foods throughout the day, such as raw vegetables, yogurt, nuts, seeds, fresh fruit; these foods will keep your blood sugar levels stable.
  • On stressful days, it’s better to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day to minimize large drops in energy levels.
  • Don’t skip meals! For some chronically stressed sufferers, they may be prone to forgetting to eat; this increases the likelihood of reaching for sugary foods when hungry.

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Specific stress-busting, adrenal supporting foods

Green leafy vegetables: Rich in magnesium and folate. Folate helps to promote the body’s production of ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters; brain chemicals that help to regulate a happy mood.

Turkey breast: A source of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps to promote production of that feel good chemical, serotonin, in the brain.

Blueberries: Anthocyanins are pigments that give blueberries and blackberries their beautiful blue hue. Anthocyanins are antioxidants, which help protect the body from free radical damage.

Dark chocolate: Not only high in the nervous system nourishing mineral magnesium, dark chocolate, specifically cacao, contains a chemical called anandamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain which temporarily blocks depression.

Pistachios: Nuts and seeds in general contain vitamins and minerals that are protective of cardiovascular health, promoting vasodilation and relaxation.

Other ways of coping with stress

  • Cut down on smoking: Nicotine has calming effects short-term, but the long-term health consequences of smoking are not to be ignored. Cancer, heart disease, vascular disease, and breathing illnesses are all linked with chronic smoking.
  • Exercise more frequently: Exercise triggers the release of happy hormones, endorphins. Endorphins help to improve immunity and also help to modulate appetite.
  • Relaxation techniques: Whether it’s yoga, meditation, or breathing techniques, all provide great stress-relieving benefits, helping to improve overall health in the long run.

 

References
Mercola, J. 10 superfoods for stress relief. (April 27, 2015). Retrieved from http://https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/04/27/10-stress-relieving-superfoods.aspx.
Nutritionist Resources (2018). Stress. Retrieved from http://https://www.nutritionist-resource.org.uk/articles/stress.html.
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