Food and Stress
What is the relationship between food and stress?
For many years, both natural health advocates and conventional medical practitioners have warned the world about the connection between stress and the food that we eat.
Since stress itself can trigger a variety of health conditions or make them worse, it’s imperative that you focus on evaluating whether the food that you eat is making your stress worse or if your stress is causing you to eat very poorly.
Here are some nutritional guidelines that will help you shift to a diet that will fully support your stress management efforts:
1. Eat a Well-Balanced and Nutritious Diet
What’s in a person’s diet?
A person’s diet is often a reflection of his ability to manage stress.
If you tend to consume sodas, candies and junk food more frequently than healthy, whole food, it’s possible that you are experiencing a prolonged state of stress.
A well-balanced diet can definitely help stressed individuals by improving the overall physiological function and balance of the body. Regularly consuming fruits and vegetables can help you develop a more balanced and relaxed mindset as they provide the trace nutrients needed for normal mental function.
If you feel mentally fatigued and physically exhausted all the time, you will have a more difficult time managing your stress. You can help your body fight off stress by improving its efficiency in carrying out its various tasks.
Also, if your body is stressed from all the chemicals and preservatives in food, it may take longer for you to fully control your body’s natural stress response.
2. Reduce Your Consumption of Cola Beverages, Tea and Coffee
Why should you avoid drinking tea, coffee and cola products?
Popular beverages such as cola softdrinks, coffee and tea all have one thing in common: caffeine.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant that can produce physiological effects in the body that mimic or copy the stress response. Examples of these effects are elevated heart rate, a highly reactive nervous system and increased alertness.
People who are not dealing with excess levels of stress probably rely on these pseudo-stress effects of caffeine so they can work more efficiently. Caffeine acts upon the nervous system and is commonly used to “wake up” in the morning.
The problem with caffeine and other pseudo-stressors such as nicotine (from tobacco products) and theobromine (from tea) is that they not only mimic the natural signs of stress but they also make the nervous system more reactive than usual.
A highly reactive nervous system can cause a person to feel stressed out more frequently and at the slightest provocation.
So if you’re already stressed out from something, it is not a good idea to smoke, drink coffee or drink tea as these substances will not actually relax you – they will actually make you feel more stressed!
3. Avoid Foods and Beverages That Contain Flour, Refined Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup
Why should you avoid flour, sugar and HFCS?
These three ingredients are almost always added to commercial processed food because they’re relatively cheap to acquire in bulk and they “get the job done”.
However, current research suggests that these three ingredients can actually harm your body by causing imbalances in your nervous system.
It appears that when the body metabolizes these ingredients, the body uses up far more vitamin C and B vitamins to successfully break down flour, sugar and HFCS into a usable form called glucose.
When the human body doesn’t have sufficient B-vitamins and vitamin C, its nervous system begins to malfunction.
The human stress response is intimately connected to the nervous system because it is a sympathetic or automatic response to perceived threats or dangers.
We have no direct control over the stress response – we can only influence it indirectly through stress management techniques. Ask your doctor if further vitamin supplementation would be helpful in reducing your overall stress levels.
4. Cut Down on Salt
How can salt aggravate the effects of stress?
Salt has a profound effect on the human body: once ingested, it automatically increases the body’s ability to hold on to water. Salt’s natural aftereffect sounds fascinating but it’s actually a very harmful side effect that can damage your cardiovascular system, especially if you have high blood pressure.
When your body has an excess store of fluids due to high sodium intake, your blood pressure will have a tendency to go up.
If you are stressed all the time, your blood pressure will increase even more because as an effect of adrenaline which is naturally released in moments of severe stress.
Uncontrolled blood pressure can easily cause heart attacks or stroke in individuals who have cardiovascular conditions. It’s important that you control your sodium intake so you can maintain a healthier blood pressure level.
The upper limit for salt intake in healthy adults if 5,000 milligrams per day. If you have high blood pressure your doctor may have already advised you to shift to a low-salt diet to decrease your risk of exacerbating your condition.
5. Boost Your Fiber Intake
Why is dietary fiber important for stress management?
When a person consumes sufficient amount of dietary fiber per day, he automatically gains two distinct health benefits:
a.) Dietary fiber cuts down your body’s absorption of fats, particularly “bad cholesterol” or LDL (low-density lipoproteins) by coating the walls of the small intestines, which is the site of nutrient absorption in the digestive system.
b.) Dietary fiber also acts as a “broom” that sweeps away solid and semisolid wastes stuck to the large intestines. Since fiber cannot be digested by the body, it also acts as a rolling sponge that carries waste out.
Can fiber help cut your risk of developing cancer?
Medical studies show that you can reduce your chances of developing several types of cancer by consuming whole foods that are rich in dietary fiber.
Having more fiber in your diet means you will have a cleaner colon and wastes containing cancer-causing compounds and byproducts will no longer stay in your colon for long periods of time, where they can do the most damage.
Fiber can help with your stress management efforts by naturally detoxifying your body and thereby reducing the physical stress that you may already be experiencing because of a poor or imbalanced diet.
6. Minimize “Emotional Eating”
What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating occurs when a person consumes food to gain mental comfort from stress. Emotional eating is associated with a person’s appetite and is directly connected to his chosen diet.
The problem with emotional eating is that people often seek out high-calorie junk food to ease their stress.
Over time, an emotional eater becomes so accustomed to his habit that not being able to carry it out can actually trigger stress.
Another disadvantage associated with emotional eating is the guilt that a person feels after consuming large quantities of comfort food. To some people, comfort means chowing down on a large chocolate bar. To others, stress can melt away if there’s a large vat of ice cream ready while watching TV.
The guilt that a person feels after he indulges himself in food that he knows is unhealthy can exacerbate stress and can lead to even more emotional eating in the long term, thereby creating a vicious cycle.
7. Prioritize Protein
How can eating protein help quell excess caloric consumption?
People often consume carbohydrate-rich food first before proceeding to whatever protein source is available.
Nutritionists recommend reversing the sequence: eat your proteins first, greens next and carbohydrates last.
When you consume protein first, the body releases chemicals that accesses stored fat and turns it into energy. As you continue eating, your brain gradually receives a signal that it is full and so you feel fuller more quickly.
This can be extremely helpful for individuals who routinely consume large quantities of potatoes, bread or rice when they are stressed out because of the “rush” associated with eating these common comfort foods, which are also incidentally rich in carbohydrates.
Eating comfort food isn’t limited to emotional eating alone. A person can subscribe to the idea without being an emotional eater per se. However, the result is almost always overeating, which isn’t good for your overall wellbeing or your stress management efforts.