When work deadlines begin piling up and your social calendar is filling up due to the holiday season, your health habits often get set aside. When it comes to combating increasing stress levels, what you eat actually helps to relieve your tension. What you include in your diet will help you to feel good and stay healthy. Especially when you feel stressed.
When we encounter something stressful, our nervous system and adrenal glands send signals to the rest of our body to help us think more clearly and be ready for a physical response if necessary. Nearly 40% of Americans report overeating or eating unhealthy foods as a result of being stressed. Choosing healthy foods when you’re stressed can impact your mood on a positive note, helping to relieve tension, stabilize blood sugar, and send your stress packing!
Best Foods to Incorporate When Dealing with Stress
Had a long day in the office? Kids acting out all day? Feeling a financial crunch or relationship strain? Grab a plate and dig in to the following stress-busting superfoods.
- Leafy Green Vegetables
While it is tempting to reach for a burger when you’re stressed, try going green at lunch instead. Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain B Vitamins and folate, which produces dopamine, the feel-good hormone that helps to keep you calm. B Vitamins and folate can also help you to feel more energetic after dealing with something stressful.
If you’re a carb lover, it’s likely that nothing can come between you and a doughnut or bag of crisps when stress hit. However, instead of reaching for that sugary cookie, try going for a complex carb! Stress can cause your blood sugar to rise, so a complex carb like oatmeal (which is a good source of magnesium) won’t contribute to your already potential spike in glucose.
As bizarre as it may sound, the bacteria in your gut might be contributing to your stress levels. The secret to improving your mental health is in your gut, and unhealthy gut flora can have a negative impact of your brain – leading to issues like anxiety and depression. Consuming probiotics can help to improve your gut health and bring your microbiome into balance, thusly supporting a positive mood.
Anthocyanins are the pigments that give berries like blueberries and blackberries their deep color. These antioxidants aid your brain in the production of dopamine, the chemical necessary for boosting your mood and making you feel good.
- Dark Chocolate
Calling all chocoholics! A regular healthy indulgence (just a bite, not the whole bar) of dark chocolate may have the power to reduce stress levels. Do you best to go for varieties that contain at least 70% cocoa.
The mineral magnesium is well-known for its role in helping to regulate emotions and enhance wellbeing. Green leafy veggies, beans, nuts, and seeds (like pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds) are excellent sources on magnesium.
Avocados are packed with essential health-boosting nutrients, including potassium, vitamin E, B Vitamins, and folate. If you’re having a stressful day, incorporate an avocado into your diet to nourish your body with these healthy vitamins, monosaturated fat, and fiber!
What to Avoid When You’re Stressed
Many people equate “comfort” foods with carbs, but sugars and grains are among the worst foods to eat when you’re feeling stressed out. Read on to learn why!
Consuming sugar when you are stressed out can contribute to fluctuations in blood sugar, which can bring on mood swings and other unpleasant feelings. Consumption of sugar also triggers a saccade of chemical reactions in your body that promote irritation. Continuous sugar consumption can lead to disruptions of the normal functioning of your immune system which will affect your overall health and mood.
Gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley, may negatively impact mood and brain health. Wheat inhibits the production of serotonin. Neurotransmitters like serotonin can be found not just in your brain, but also in your gut. Consumption of gluten can really impact your overall mood and gut health.
- Processed Foods
Aside from sugar and gluten, processed foods including trans-fat, artificial colors, monosodium glutamate (MSG) artificial sweeteners, and other synthetic ingredients are linked to irritability and poor mood.
What Else Can I Do to Relieve Stress?
Your diet plays an important role in stress management, but there are also many things you can do that will compliment your body’s reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and relaxation techniques (such as meditation) are crucial ways that can also help you manage your stress. It’s time to rethink your comfort foods. By watching our diet, increasing our intake of stress-busting nutrients and limiting our intake of stress-inducing substances, we can feel better about ourselves and our well-being, as well as give our bodies the chance to cope with and recover from stressful situations.