When stress hits your life, do you hit the refrigerator? Or are you someone who simply stops eating when you’re too stressed out? You might think one way of coping is better than the other, but the reality is that no matter how stress is interfering with your eating patterns, it’s likely to cause major issues.
Eating too much isn’t the answer, especially when you’re turning to common comfort foods like simple carbohydrates, sweets, or chips that offer little in the way of nutrition. And though mac and cheese or sweet roll might make you feel better in the moment, the crash that follows will leave you more tired and stressed than before.
But eating too little can be just as damaging. The key to putting your food to work for you is not only eating the right things, but the right amounts at the right time.
Chronic stress can have real impacts on your health, and choosing foods high in sugar and unhealthy fats can make these worse. One study showed that chronically stressed women who chose these junk foods were more likely to have a larger waistline, more fat in their abdominal region, more insulin resistance and more oxidative damage. So those comfort foods you’re used to could be making your stress – and your health – worse!
Healthy Eating to Reduce Stress
It’s easy for your eating habits to spiral out of control when you’re experiencing stress, but did you know that there are foods that can help relieve that stress? Let’s take a look at six of my favorites:
Nuts and seeds
These are so easy to add to your diet – throw a handful on top of a salad, toss some into a stir fry, blend them up in a protein shake, or choose a natural nut butter. Almonds are high in both Vitamin E and B vitamins, which are depleted by stress. B vitamins can help you handle your fight-or-flight stress response. Pistachios are full of potassium, which can help reduce strain on your heart and lower blood pressure.
Adding some avocado to your meal – or simply making a snack out of a half of this tasty superfood- can help you feel more satisfied and give you the health fats you need. When you feel fuller and more satisfied, you can control those urges to reach for a snack when stress comes your way. Avocados are a great source of vitamin B and potassium as well.
Salmon is the obvious choice here, but if you don’t like the taste or it doesn’t fit your budget, it’s not the only option; light tuna or sardines are also great sources of the Omega-3s that make fatty fish a must-have. Omega-3s quiet inflammation in your body, and protect neurons against damage that chronic stress can cause. Omega-3s have also been found to help control symptoms of depression.
There are so many options, you never need to be bored when adding greens to your diet. Sautee some spinach and add it to scrambled eggs, include kale in a soup, or try a new recipe for a side dish that centers around greens. Spinach is full of magnesium, which helps regulate cortisol and blood pressure. When magnesium levels are low, people are more likely to have elevated C-reactive protein levels. And research has indicated that people with high CRP levels are at greater risk of depression and tend to be more stressed.
Sometimes, only something sweet will satisfy a craving. But if you dish yourself up an enormous serving of ice cream, you’ll probably only really enjoy the first few bites. And the crash that comes later could increase, not relieve, your stress levels. Instead, savor a small square of dark chocolate – even every day! One study found that eating 1 ½ ounces of dark chocolate a day for two weeks lowered the stress hormones in individuals who reported feeling highly stressed. So, if you’re feeling stressed, and chocolate is what you want, go for it – but make sure it contains 70 percent or higher cocoa.
Colorful fruits and vegetables
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now – color on your plate is great! Vibrant berries, oranges, and peppers can make a big difference in how you feel. Oranges get a lot of attention for their vitamin C content, but did you know that red peppers have almost twice as much? Vitamin C has been shown to lower blood pressure and lower cortisol. And berries are rich in antioxidants which can improve your body’s response to stress.
Keeping Stress at Bay
While it would be nice to think that if we eat these stress-reducing foods consistently, we’d get all the nutrients we needed, sadly it often isn’t true. Modern farming practices and environmental pollutants have often depleted essential nutrients in the food supply. Beyond making healthy food choices, you might need to supplement with a high-quality multivitamin, Omega-3 fatty acids, or specific nutrients. I offer a range of products packed with these stress-reducing powerhouses in my store here.
Just like your car won’t function properly if you fill it with the wrong kind of fuel – or none at all – your body won’t run as efficiently if you don’t fill up with the right stuff. And if you don’t get any fuel, it’s likely you’ll be so tired and worn down that you won’t be able to function at all. But making the right food choices, and supplementing to make sure you have the premium fuel you need, can keep you stress-free, relaxed and feeling great. And the above foods are so delicious, you’ll be happy to eat them. So, give them a try – you won’t regret it!