Is there a Link between Diet and Stress?
It might not occur to you that there is a link between stress and what you eat. It’s an important connection not just because being stressed can make you eat in a certain way, but because diet does have an influence over your recovery.
So what is this link between diet and stress?
When you become over-stressed you will have a tendency to eat either too much or too little. Doing either of these messes with your blood glucose levels. This can lead to mood swings, which in turn can cause your stress to intensify.
There is also an urge to eat unsuitable foods, such as those that are loaded with salt, sugar or fat. The so-called comfort foods. These are not good for us when we’re feeling fine, so when our digestive system has slowed down due to the release of stress hormones they become problematic.
They don’t provide the nutrient content your body needs to cope with the stress and normal body functioning, and they can cause side effects like indigestion and heartburn to add to your troubles.
Your immune system is affected as well. In stressful moments it weakens, leaving you vulnerable to illness and disease. Your body cannot fully fight against exposure to bacteria or viruses that can negatively impact your health.
Your first line of defense in fighting the ravages of stress is to keep your body as healthy as possible. You do this by fueling your body in the best way possible – with what you eat.
You need to eat foods that are rich in the nutrients your body needs for normal functioning, so that it is better placed to fight the harmful effects of stress; and you also need to avoid foods that can have a detrimental effect on your condition.
Food Types That Help You Fight the Effects of Stress
It’s not always easy to eat a completely balanced diet especially when we are stressed, but by picking stress-busting foods to eat, we can make a positive step towards reducing our stress levels. The important foods to concentrate on are natural plant foods.
It’s possible that some of these stress-relieving foods will not work for everyone. Just try as many as you can and see how they help your condition.
Just remember that these foods will help the physical needs of your body by providing the nutrient value that is depleted by stress.
The foods to concentrate on are complex carbohydrates. Carbs have an important role in the production of serotonin, the “feel-good” chemical produced by the body.
Complex carbohydrates are technically dietary starches that are rich in fiber and therefore healthy – the good carbs – whereas simple carbs are sugars and known as the bad carbs. Complex carbs are commonly found in natural foods such as grains, beans and vegetables.
These plant foods are rich in the vitamin and mineral nutrients that your body needs for normal functioning, including tryptophan, an amino acid necessary for the production of serotonin. The body digests and absorbs complex carbohydrates slower than simple carbs, and this tends to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Green Leaf Vegetables
Leafy greens are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. You can never eat too much of them.
Five of the healthiest dark green vegetables are broccoli, kale, romaine lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard. These vegetables, identifiable by their dark green color, are rich in antioxidants and usually have large amounts of phytochemicals. Whenever possible eat these foods in their natural, fresh form and not processed. They are easily prepared in salads or homemade smoothies
Fruit, like vegetables, contain a wealth of important vitamins and minerals which aid the body in many ways, including giving a boost to the immune system. Although they are simple carbohydrates, the sugars they contain are natural, unrefined and provide a good form of energy and we should not go without them.
They are rich in soluble dietary fiber which helps reduce cholesterol, and is good for the digestive system. Fiber intake also helps keep your bowels healthy.
Fruits make a good snack food as they are natural sugars that break down easily, and provide an instant source of energy.
Fish oil contains the essential Omega-3 fatty acid that isn’t produced by the body and which needs to come from dietary sources. It helps with serotonin uptake in the brain. Serotonin lifts your mood and enables your brain to cope better with stress.
Omega-3 fatty acids also help reduce cholesterol levels and inflammation, so they are good for your heart health which is also affected by stress. They are recommended by nutritionists.
You can get this essential oil by eating certain kinds of fresh oily fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, but if you are not a great fish eater you will need to buy fish oil supplements instead.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts help you maintain your proper blood sugar level. They also contain plenty of the vitamin B complex, which combats fatigue.
Nuts and seeds are a rich source of healthy Omega fats which are beneficial to your cardiovascular health. Almonds, pistachio and walnuts together with pumpkin, sesame, flax and sunflower seeds, may help reduce bad cholesterol levels in the blood and protect against cardiovascular disease. Additionally, almonds are a good source of Vitamin E and B, and walnuts are rich in magnesium which helps to reduce stress.
The more natural food you eat the more real benefit your body will gain from it.
What to Avoid
In times of stress it is best to avoid alcohol, candy, coffee, energy drinks, junk food and sodas. Keep away from all processed foods as much as possible. Processing removes much of the nutrient value, and often adds in too much fat, sugar and salt.
Avoid drinking coffee from mid-afternoon onwards. It takes anything up to ten hours to clear your system, depending on your metabolism, and can keep you awake at night.
Spicy foods should also be avoided at times of stress because of slowed metabolism.
Although having a healthy diet is very important in managing stress successfully, remember the other natural remedies you should take as well to manage your situation.
- Ensure you get an adequate amount of sleep.
- Make room in your daily schedule for some relaxation time.
- Become more physically active. Home exercise can be quick simple and effective.
- Don’t take on more work than you can handle. Learn to say No.
As you can see, there is indeed a link between diet and stress. Manage your stress better by eating in a way that supports your nutritional needs, and your body will be better placed to fight the physical effects of stress.