Stress is something everyone deals with at different levels, different times, brought on by different measures. The key to living through your body’s natural response to change is learning what steps you can take to make it more manageable. While stress can have some short-term positive effects, over time it can negatively impact one’s physical and emotional well-being. Managing stress comes down to the decisions you make every day, even one as simple as deciding what to eat!
When I first mentioned the idea of this post to my boyfriend, he responded the way many people would, stating his idea of stress reducing foods is high sugar, high fat, comfort foods with an occasional beer here and there. While these foods may provide a quick fix, in the long run they actually increase stress. When your body is confronted with stressful situations, it responds by releasing the hormone cortisol. This hormone ultimately causes you to crave the very same foods that will actually increase its production.
Before I get down to the foods you should be eating to handle stress, I am going to briefly describe the foods you need to avoid and why. The first on this list is energy drinks and other caffeinated beverages. While energy drinks and sodas provide instant relief, the sugar crash that follows can be taxing on your body, increasing stress levels. Another caffeinated beverage, coffee, increases agitation and can cause dehydration further fueling stress symptoms. Next on the list are high sodium foods. The extra salt causes your body to retain more fluids putting extra stress on your heart and increasing blood pressure. The extra bloating and puffiness you experience can drain energy and in turn increase stress. Refined sugar is the next food to avoid when you are feeling stressed out. Refined sugars cause fluctuations in blood sugar leading to irritability and poor concentration. Finally, alcohol is one of the worst offenders when it comes to increased levels of stress. While one would think it improves mood and causes relaxation, studies show it actually “feeds” stress. It stimulates stress hormones and can prolong symptoms related to stress. Studies show that the pleasant feelings of alcohol diminish when the body is in a stressful state and even small amounts can increase spikes in cravings. Furthermore, alcohol is also dehydrating and can seriously impair sleep.
While you may be thinking there is no way to satisfy those stress-induced cravings, there is an answer! Below are the foods that can decrease the feelings of stress and help you continue on with everyday life without the harmful effects that stress can cause.
A key factor in mitigating the effects of stress is the regulation of a hormone called serotonin, also know as the “feel-good” hormone. Complex carbohydrates encourage the production of serotonin and are slowly digested to give you a strong, steady stream that lasts throughout the day. Simple carbohydrates also produce serotonin but offer only a quick relief. While simple carbohydrates can help when dealing with stress, experts suggest choosing complex carbohydrates for a healthy, long-term solution. These foods include whole grain cereals, breads, pastas, and old-fashioned oatmeal.
Try our No Bake Oatmeal Almond Date Bars for that complex carb boost! And don’t worry, you don’t have to make them into Easter Bunny shapes 😉
Studies show vitamin c slows the production of stress-produced hormones and strengthens immunity, further helping the body deal with excess stress. Nutritionists suggest oranges, cantaloupe, and even berries.
Our Vitamin Boost Juice is perfect for this!
The most suggested stress-relieving magnesium-rich food is spinach but can also include dried apricots, soybeans, green leafy vegetables, and even sushi with its magnesium rich seaweed and the outstanding benefits fish has. Magnesium deficiency leads to headaches and increased fatigue further fueling the production of stress hormones.
Try our Spinach Strawberry Salad for the perfect magnesium-filled lunch that is low in sodium and high in flavor!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, offer a variety of benefits due to their Omega-3 health properties. These fatty acids prevent spikes in cortisol and offer increased benefits protecting against heart disease and mood disorders.
Try our Mango Avocado Ahi Lettuce Wraps for a healthy and delicious fill of Omega-3’s!
Pistachios, Walnuts, Almonds
While high in fat, nuts contain many nutrients to fight against stress and bolster the immune system. The healthy fats in nuts help lower cholesterol, decrease inflammation, and protect against negative stress effects. Almonds further contain Vitamins E and B that help build resilience to depression and other stress-induced problems.
Our Pistachio Crusted Tilapia is made in only 20 minutes with 7 simple ingredients for a great stress-fighting dinner!
Avocados contain high amounts of potassium that reduce high blood pressure making your body more prepared to deal with the symptoms stress brings on.
Whip up our Strawberry Peach Guacamole and use vegetables for dipping to keep snacking during the day healthy!
Sleep Inducing Foods
One of the most important ways you can deal with stress is to ensure your body continues to stay on a normal sleep pattern. If stress is contributing to a loss of sleep, try drinking a warm glass of milk, chamomile tea, or having a light carb rich snack before bed. The calcium in milk eases feelings of anxiety and reduces moods swings. A light snack, such as whole-wheat toast, releases the feel-good hormone serotonin, and chamomile tea is proven to have properties that aid and promote sleep.
Beef contains high levels of zinc, iron, and vitamins that can help reduce mood swings. When you can, go for grass-fed options to avoid the added hormones and antibiotics.
This list is meant to give you the most basic understanding of what your body needs to best defend against feelings of stress and further fight against the onset of anxiety and mood disorders. On top of this list, it is suggested to exercise regularly and eat small meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar stable and cravings manageable. By following these steps, you can be confident in any stressful situation that you have the tools necessary to bounce back and keep your spirits high. Use the tools I have given you, listen to your body, and take on all that the world has to offer!